How to Stop Overthinking
Are you an overthinker?
Do you spend so much time thinking that sometimes you feel stuck in your own head, like your mind is spinning and it’s not really getting you anywhere? You’re not alone. It’s fairly common to get stuck overthinking things when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, worried, or faced with uncertainty.
Sometimes it’s because you’re trying to figure something out or trying to understand and make sense of an interaction or an experience from the past by rehashing it over and over again. Other times you might be looking to the future, trying to prepare yourself for all possible outcomes, especially negative ones, so you’re playing through all of the worst case scenarios and trying to predict what could happen next.
Whatever the case, overthinking is often an attempt to gain a sense of control over the situation. If you feel like you’ve figured something out or you’ve thought through every possible scenario you get the feeling of being in control, which can give you a feeling of empowerment, even if it is fleeting.
What’s the problem with overthinking?
Taking the time to think things through and using critical thinking is important and valuable, but you can overdo it. It can sometimes get to the point where it feels like you can’t control your thoughts or worries, you’re obsessing over something, stuck in a loop, and you can’t turn your mind off. You may have a hard time falling asleep or you wake up in the night thinking. You may have a hard time focusing or staying present because you're dwelling on things that happened in the past or you're worried about the future. This not only is exhausting, but it can add to your stress and anxiety and you can start to feel worse and worse about yourself for not being able to get a handle on things. Not to mention that if you are stuck spinning inside your own head you can quickly lose perspective and start creating false or unrealistic interpretations of people or situations, which then creates even more unnecessary stress and overwhelm.
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So how can you stop overthinking?
Recognize when you’re doing it and name it when it happens. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of overthinking that becomes so routine and normal that you don’t even recognize when you start doing it. You have to be able to catch yourself, the earlier the better, so that you can then work toward making a change. Call your attention to your overthinking as soon as you notice it by saying to yourself something like:
“I’m overthinking right now” or "I’m thinking about it again”.
Naming it allows you to step back and pause your thoughts for a moment which then slows things down and opens up space for you to make a choice about how you want to proceed.
Get moving. Go for a walk, exercise, or change what you’re physically doing so that you can redirect your energy. Moving your body is also a great tool for relieving stress.
Calm your body. A calm body can help calm your mind. Focus on breathing, and only breathing, for a minute. Create a relaxing or soothing environment for yourself. Take a bath. Lay down. Listen to soothing music. The idea is to slow down and relax as best as you can to give your mind and body a break, even if it is just for a few minutes at a time.
Find ways to use your mind in a different way. Focus on something else, anything other than what you’ve been thinking about. Do something that captures your attention or that requires some focus. Focus on a project, watch something soothing or enjoyable, read, do a puzzle, play a game, or engage in a conversation about anything other than that thing you've been overthinking.
Coach yourself through it. Tell yourself that it’s ok to take a break from thinking for a while or offer yourself some reassurance or soothing. Reason with yourself and remember to be kind and realistic, not harsh or critical. It’s unrealistic to expect that you will simply stop thinking about something altogether, so try scheduling a specific time to think or journal about it and hold yourself to it. For instance, when you find yourself awake at 3 am thinking about something, you can remind yourself that you don’t need to think about things at that hour, and that you can think about it more clearly at a later time.
Ask for help. The strategies mentioned here can be helpful, especially if you put them into practice with consistency, but you also may find yourself needing more. It can be hard to come up with strategies on your own and to have the self-discipline needed to make a change. Sometimes you need more accountability and support.
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