How Can I Stop Overthinking & Worrying So Much?
Got a case of the “what if's?"
When you often find yourself thinking through all of the worst case scenarios or possible negative outcomes, no matter how unrealistic or unlikely they are.
Or how about “over-analysis paralysis”?
When you’re so busy overthinking everything and worried about doing the wrong thing or making the wrong choice that you become incapable of making a decision or moving forward.
If you’ve experienced these things, you’re certainly not alone. Particularly during times of uncertainty the tendency to try to think your way out of the uncertainty is fairly common.
Sometimes it can help to worry a little and think things through, but it’s important to remember that a large portion of the things that you worry about never actually happen. You can end up spending a great deal of energy and time spinning around in your mind, thinking of all of the possible outcomes, picking apart what was said or done, planning and troubleshooting…with little to show for it except for the added stress.
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” ~Winston Churchill
Fortunately, you have a choice and you can learn to control your worries so that your worries don’t end up taking control of you.
Here are 9 quick tips to help you stop overthinking and worrying so much:
1. Notice and name it. Step out of your thought process for a moment to notice what you’re doing. Then consciously acknowledge it and name it to yourself: “I’m worrying right now” or “I’m overthinking this”. This simple act can interrupt your thought process and open up an opportunity for you to do something different, rather than continuing in your thought spiral.
2. Be curious. Take a closer look at what you’re thinking about and notice any general themes to what you’re worrying about. Are you often worrying about what other people think? Or worrying about the health and safety of yourself or others? Paying attention to what your worries are can help you see what’s most important to you and point to an unmet need. By calling attention to your needs, you can then work to troubleshoot how you might be able to get that need met. Ask yourself: What will help relieve my worry? What do I need right now?
3. Weigh the pros and cons. When you’re trying to take a break from worrying, you might notice that you are resistant to letting go of your worries completely. You can become attached to your worries and not want to let them go because you may be afraid of what will happen if you do. Worrying does serve a purpose and not all worrying is a bad thing necessarily. It’s when your worrying gets out of hand that it can become a problem. Take a look at why you’re reluctant to let go of your worries and then weigh the pros and cons of worrying to help you determine if your worrying is actually helping or not. If it's not helping, is there something that you can do that can either help the situation or help you let go of the worry for the time being?
4. Reality check. You can spend an outrageous amount of time and energy worrying about things that never end up happening or that are completely imagined in your mind. One way to limit this is to ask yourself: Is what I’m worrying about really true or realistic? What’s true right now? Is there any evidence to support my worries? Any evidence to disprove them? This can help keep you focused on the reality of the situation rather than blowing things out of proportion or creating more fear and stress than is necessary.
5. Play it out. If you decide that what you’re worrying about is a realistic outcome, play it out in your head by asking yourself: And then what will happen? Once you've answered, ask yourself again - and then what? - and keep asking this over and over again to really walk through the sequence of potential consequences. Sometimes when you take a closer look at the potential consequences you can find that it’s a lot more manageable than what you originally feared and that regardless of what happens, you’ll find a way to deal with it. It may not be pretty or pleasant, but you'll find a way through. Playing out the consequences of the worst case scenarios can also help you troubleshoot and prepare in advance which can help you feel better equipped to handle whatever situation might arise.
6. Redirect your attention. Sometimes the quickest and most direct way to take a break from worrying is to do something else. Do something that requires some focus or do something physical that allows you to move your body so that you redirect your attention out of your mind and into an activity, or out of thinking and into doing. Preferably choose activities that are enjoyable or soothing that can not only give your mind a break, but also help you relax and unwind.
7. Get perspective. Sometimes when you’re worrying you develop a really narrow focus and the problems in front of you can seem a lot bigger and significant than they actually are. When that’s the case it can help to broaden your perspective. Try to look at the bigger picture or the greater context, or simply step away from whatever you’re focused on by changing scenery, going outside, or going somewhere with a view where you can broaden your actual visual perspective. You can also get perspective by taking time to look at what’s working and what you’re grateful for rather than what’s lacking, or problematic, or uncertain.
8. Imagine a positive outcome. Instead of looking at all of the negative “what ifs”, see if you can imagine some of the positive “what ifs”: What if it all worked out? What if this is a blessing in disguise? What if this leads you in a better direction?
Then try to imagine a positive outcome. The more you can stay focused on a positive outcome, the more likely you’ll be to see opportunities and solutions that can move you in that direction.
9. Ask for help. If you’re having a hard time keeping perspective, reality checking your worries, redirecting your attention, and taking a break from your worries, consider asking for help. This can be in terms of seeking professional help, like a therapist or a counselor who works with anxiety and worry, or really anyone who can help offer you a different perspective, reality check your fears, and help pull you out of your thoughts from time to time.
Anything you can do to help give yourself a break from your worries can help. And it's worth it. By taking the steps to start shifting your thinking away from your worries you can significantly decrease your stress, help clear your mind, and ultimately begin to feel more at peace and at ease.