Metacognition: A proved tool to tame worrying and overthinking

Have you ever found yourself lying awake at 2AM, your mind racing with an endless stream of 'what ifs' and 'I should haves'? 


Welcome to the world of overthinking, a place many of us visit frequently. But what if I told you that the key to locking up this whirlwind of worries lies within the very thing causing it: your mind! This is where ‘metacognition’ or ‘thinking about your thinking’ comes into play. 

It is a superpower we all possess. In this article, we will dive into the playful yet profound world of metacognition to learn how it can be your ally in taming the wild beast of worrying, overthinking and of course, anxiety.

What is metacognition?

Metacognition might sound like a high-level scientific concept, but it's actually as familiar as your morning cup of coffee. In simple terms, it is your brain's ability to observe and regulate its own processes. Think of it like having a mini-you sitting in a control room inside your head, watching over all your thoughts and pulling levers accordingly.

Now, let's differentiate it from regular thinking. Imagine regular thinking as autopilot mode, where you react and make decisions without much conscious deliberation. Metacognition, on the other hand, is like switching to manual mode. It is when you step back and think, "Hold on, why am I worrying about this? Is there a different way to look at it?"

Consider metacognition as the director of your mind's movie. While regular thoughts are the actors going about their roles, metacognition directs the scene, deciding which thoughts get the spotlight and which should be cut from the script. This directorial skill is what helps manage the chaos of worrying and overthinking.

The trap of overthinking

It often starts innocuously, perhaps with a simple concern like, "Did I say something wrong at the meeting?” But soon, this single thought multiplies, creating a cascade of worries and what-ifs. Overthinking is a bit like getting caught in a mental quicksand - the more you struggle with your thoughts, the deeper you sink.

This kind of overthinking can be exhausting. It's like having a browser with too many tabs open in your mind, each playing a different, anxiety-inducing video. The key to managing this is not to stop thinking altogether but to learn how to direct your thoughts more constructively.

How can metacognition help to manage overthinking and worrying?

By promoting awareness and control over their thought processes, here are some ways metacognition can be used to address overthinking and worrying:

1. Self-awareness: Recognizing your thought patterns

The first step in using metacognition is to become a keen observer of your own thoughts. It's like being a detective in your mind, noticing when you're falling into overthinking/worrying patterns. 

For instance, if you find yourself worrying about every possible outcome of an upcoming event, acknowledge it. Think, "Ah, I'm doing that thing again where I try to predict the future." This awareness is the first step to rerouting your thought train.

Self-awareness can also help to identify other patterns like perfectionism, helping the individual to set realistic expectations and therefore avoiding paralysis, anxiety and mental strain.

2. Setting boundaries

By recognizing when they are ruminating excessively or catastrophizing about future events, individuals can set limits on their thinking and redirect their focus to more productive activities.

3. Developing coping strategies

Metacognition enables individuals to develop coping strategies for managing overthinking and worrying. This may involve techniques such as problem-solving, distraction, relaxation exercises, or seeking social support.

4. Mindfulness: Staying in the present

Mindfulness is like a mental anchor that keeps you grounded in the present moment. When you're mindful, you're focusing on the here and now, not on the imaginary catastrophes of tomorrow or the regrets of yesterday. 

Mindfulness practices involve metacognitive awareness of one's thoughts and emotions without judgment. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation can help individuals observe their thoughts without becoming entangled in them, reducing the impact of overthinking and worry.

5. Reflective journaling: Writing to understand your thoughts

This is where you put pen to paper and spill out your thoughts. It's not just about venting, though. Reflective journaling is a dialogue with yourself. As you write, ask yourself questions like, "Why does this worry me?" or "What can I do about it?" Often, you'll find that writing provides clarity and a new perspective on your worries.

For instance, if you tend to worry about the future, reflective journaling can help you understand your fears and develop action plans.

Metacognition in action: Techniques to tackle worrying

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques

Monitoring, identifying, challenging or cognitive restructuring techniques allows individuals to intervene early and interrupt the cycle of negative thinking and develop more balanced and realistic perspectives, constructive thoughts and reduce overthinking a worrying.

Hypnotherapy techniques

From relaxation and stress reduction to suggestion and visualization techniques, hypnotherapy is a valuable tool in developing metacognition, specifically developing:

  • Awareness of thought patterns.
  • Changing negative thought patterns with more positive ones.
  • Building coping skills by developing a more positive outlook on challenging situations.
  • Improving self-reflection by understanding the triggers and root causes of the anxiety.
  • Empowerment and self-efficacy by managing thoughts, processes and emotional responses.

Metacognition isn't just an abstract psychological concept; it is a practical, powerful tool in our mental toolkit. Remember, the mind is a magnificent entity, capable of both creating and solving its own puzzles. You have the power to direct the movie of your mind; make it a blockbuster hit!

If you’re ready to tackle the worry, overthinking and anxiety, email me today, I’m here to help.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Manchester M25 & M26
Written by Carolina Ramirez Valencia, Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist for Anxiety
Manchester M25 & M26

Carolina is a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist for Anxiety, her passion is helping people to overcome anxiety using different approaches like CBT, Hypnotherapy and self-regulation techniques.

Carolina works online and face-to-face. (CBH Certified by the NCH and HeartMath Clinical Certified for Stress, Anxiety and Self-Regulation.)

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