For the last three days, my brain has been in overdrive. In fact, it’s happened several times over the last couple of weeks, and I’m really starting to feel the resulting stress. It’s like the opposite of brain fog – when I’m struggling with brain fog, my mind feels sluggish and I can’t focus. But when my brain is in overdrive, I can’t stop thinking. I have hundreds and hundreds of thoughts running around in my head and they – just – won’t – stop.
I remember trying to explain this brain state to my therapist when I was going to CBT. She assumed it was anxiety, but I don’t see it that way. To me, anxiety is uncontrolled worry, it’s a deluge of negative thoughts, of troubling “what ifs”. The thoughts that are running round in my head right now aren’t troubling, they aren’t even particularly negative, but they’re overwhelming, they’re interrupting my ability to focus, and they – just – won’t – stop.
My brain overdrive is usually triggered when something out of the ordinary happens, particularly something that requires my mind to focus in a way that’s not part of my normal daily routine. I’m an introvert, so socializing doesn’t come naturally to me. But I do have a small group of friends that I meet up with once in a while – and although I love spending time with them, I don’t love the brain overdrive it causes. If I go out in the evening, I know that no matter how late it is when I get home, or how tired I am, it’s going to take me two or three hours to fall asleep because my brain is still deep in conversation. My mind is still in the restaurant chatting to my friends, turning over everything that we talked about – not in a ruminating, anxious or worrying way, not analyzing the experience or seeking to judge it, just not able to stop. Having got my mind into that higher gear, I can’t slow it down again.
I suspect that brain fog and brain overdrive are, at least for me, two sides of the same coin. When I have brain fog, my mind is working too slowly and I can’t speed it up enough to get anything done. When I am in brain overdrive, my mind is working too fast, and I can’t slow it down enough to get anything done. In both cases, the frustrating part is not being able to control my thoughts or the speed at which my mind is functioning to allow me to focus on the task at hand.
I don’t claim to have any answers to this one yet, but, as with so many other aspects of mental wellbeing, I feel the first step is learning to take care of me. Although I can’t always fix my brain overdrive, there are a few things that I know help, and for the most part they’re the things we should all be doing to safeguard our mental health anyway:
- It’s really hard to get to sleep when my brain is in overdrive, but when I wake up in the morning the overdrive has usually gone down at least a gear or two.
- Channeling all my energy into something physical sometimes helps to take the excess energy out of my thoughts.
- Nourishing food. I tend to be more prone to brain overload when I’ve been eating too much sugar. Resetting my diet and focusing on vegetables and fruit helps me to calm my mind and feel nurtured.