We all have had a lot to think about in 2020. 

We are all juggling classes, work, extra-curricular activities, clubs, mental and physical health, and human connection while staying extremely cautious about our outings since the pandemic outbreak. The combination of all these stresses could cause us to feel overwhelmed—I know I felt that. 

In previous posts, I discussed a few ways to cope with stress in “Writing Might Save Your Life” and “Musical Escapism: The (Cheap) Stress Relief You Need.” If these options aren’t your forte, that’s okay. I have another surprising option to try.

To preface, the questions that I kept asking myself for the past couple of months are: “Am I overthinking this? Am I doing enough? Too much?” 

That’s where Michelle Rial’s book of charts, Am I Overthinking This? (2019) comes in handy. 

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Using 101 charts to visually describe what Michelle was thinking about and feeling helped me minimize my mental clutter. Without the need of a single paragraph, Michelle organized a cluster of thoughts into sections. Each section began with the title,

“Overthinking _____”

that was followed by a series of questions related to that theme. Michelle thought about the following topics: 

  • [her] Daily Routine
  • Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
  • the Subject Line
  • Adult Life
  • Relationships
  • the Small Stuff
  • the Big Stuff

While the themes in this list may sound daunting, Michelle’s approach to presenting her thought process is simpler than many of us would expect. Instead of long paragraphs with complex sentences, Michelle illustrated what she was overthinking into charts and graphs. 

From bar graphs, arrow and Venn diagrams, to pie charts, Michelle ensures everyone can understand her book. Michelle highlights in the Introduction section of her book that 

“This book didn’t cure [Michelle], but it did give [her] a reason to keep going” (21).

This reflection caught my attention the most as it highlighted that learning to cope with our life is a progression and not a finite conclusion. Because we continue to change, grow, and learn every day at work and school, our ways to adjust to the chaos is also continuous and everchanging. 

In each chart in Michelle’s book, she used everyday items to frame her thoughts in a fixed form. For example, in the section “Overthinking the Small Stuff,” she used the stains painted from the bottom of her cup of coffee to draw a Venn diagram. The three rings in the coffee-stained Venn diagram answered the question, “Has this* ever happened to you? (*Vacation Constipation).” 

Besides making her “poop, happy, and anxious,” Michelle highlights in the diagram that vacation constipation reminds her of a “big scare, childbirth, and being away from home,” (195). The common factor amongst all these thoughts is the coffee. (If you prefer wine instead of coffee, Michelle also has a Venn diagram made of wine stains, too.)

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While writing and creating charts isn’t for everyone, Michelle’s approach to coping with the habit of overthinking is to take the thoughts out of your mind and onto paper. When we overthink, we continuously dig deeper into each idea we have as if we are stuck in a thought cycle or an endless train of thoughts. 

The key takeaway is that Michelle’s approach shows us how to appreciate the little moments and objects to get us through the day, week, month, and year. Besides the coffee and wine stains, she also used hair ties, a comb, the L-shaped IKEA tool required to assemble almost every IKEA furniture, a straw, and a slice of watermelon. 

When we produce a fixed form of our thoughts in illustrations, charts, or words, we can think clearer and communicate our ideas more accurately to others. Take 10 seconds to imagine if we could tell the people we interact with our thoughts in the most accurate way. We could eliminate the common miscommunication and misunderstanding issues that disrupt our relationships!

Get inspiration on how you can combat overthinking and feelings of overwhelm by checking out Am I Overthinking This? (2019) by Michelle Rial at your local library. 

(I found an e-book copy from the Vancouver Public Library (VPL)! If you want a physical copy, visit Michelle Rial’s website to purchase one.) 

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Jessica Lee writes to share stories worth learning about to help readers improve their lives. Jessica believes we can learn something from the stories we find anywhere in articles, books, graphic novels to film and television series. Read Jessica’s other posts about films, literature, and tips to optimize your day on https://jessicalee.ubcarts.ca/.

Works Cited:

Rial, Michelle. Am I Overthinking This? Chronicle Books LLC, 2019. 

Images:

“Charting Goals and Progress” Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash.

“Wood block stacking as step stair” Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash.

“Coffee cup stain” Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.

“How a flower grows.” Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash.