Ever find yourself replaying scenarios over and over again in your head? Fretting about mistakes made, things you said, what will happen next, and what others will think are all signs of overthinking. Overthinkers commonly suffer from the inability to get out of their own heads and calm a busy mind. While this is normal every once in a while, some people quietly suffer from an overwhelming barrage of thoughts. Thankfully, there are some excellent techniques on how to stop overthinking.
Overthinking can take a serious toll on your overall well-being; dwelling on mistakes, problems, and worries is a burden on our mental health. It also comes with emotional distress that, for many, leads to unhealthy coping strategies like pigging out or reaching for a glass of wine. The tendency to overthink can hold us back, cloud our judgement, and divert us from a productive mindset.
Two Types of Overthinking
Ruminating: This involves revisiting the past in an unhealthy manner. Self-criticising actions, things you said, decisions you made, or even agreeing with past criticism from others. No matter how long ago, past criticism can hit hard in moments of rumination.
Worrying: This involves negative predictions about the future. For example, worrying about events, conversations, or actions in the foreseeable future. It can also involve catastrophic predictions about the not-so-near future.
Research shows that overthinking can resort to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Thankfully, we can prevent the onset of these mental health declines. Though it is not easy, with practice and persistence we can train our minds to overcome this. Here are five strategies on how to stop overthinking.
Firstly, notice when you’re thinking too much. Pay attention to the way you think because awareness is the first step. If you find yourself replaying conversations or events in your mind, acknowledge the detrimental effect it has on your health and well-being. Are you fretting about what could go wrong tomorrow or potential catastrophic events in the future? Acknowledging overthinking is the first step because it enables us to be proactive.
Challenge Unhealthy Thoughts
Overthinking often means getting carried away with negative thoughts, which can often result in a vicious cycle of regret, anxiety, or worry. It makes way for self-criticism, what-ifs, and an abundance of irrational conclusions. Ask yourself if you may be exaggerating or being overly hard on yourself. A critical mind may struggle to recognise that these thoughts don’t define you. We can challenge these thoughts in a healthy manner. For those that frequently struggle with overthinking and negative thought patterns, there are tools we can make in just ten minutes.
Firstly, create a list of all your achievements. Write down what you have achieved so far that you are proud of. Secondly, make a list of all the compliments you have received no matter how trivial they may seem. These pre-devised lists will come in handy when we fall into the trap of negativity. We can use these tools to challenge the negative thoughts that consequently accompany overthinking. If you commonly face your inner critic, here’s a guide with techniques on how to stop overthinking.
In some cases, there may be an important matter at hand. Maybe you have an important decision to make or a mistake to rectify. Dedicating a long period of time worrying about the matter is not productive, but neither is burying your head under the sand. For that reason, we can schedule a dedicated amount of time to reflect on it. Incorporate 15 minutes of reflection time into your schedule, which can be extended or shortened depending on the importance or urgency of the issue. It may help to get it down on paper in order to truly understand exactly what is troubling you. Dive deeper into the issue until you feel you have a better grasp of what it is that went wrong or what causes such concern for the future. Reflecting on the matter, identify any underlying and evident issues.
Most of the time, dwelling on the problem is not productive, whereas being proactive is. Look for solutions by asking yourself what steps you can take. Rather than worrying about what you said or did, ask yourself what you can do about it now. Avoid repeating the same mistakes by learning from them. For example, maybe you are worried about how badly you are doing in your studies. That worrying gets you nowhere. Instead, focus on what action you can take to change that. Can you dedicate more time to your studies, find a tutor or experiment with new studying methods to retain information? If you cannot work it out yourself, ask for help or advice. Whether it be a specialist or a loved one, there’s no need to struggle alone. In fact, that could further heighten the problem.
Change the Tune
The times in which you are aware that certain overthinking is neither healthy nor productive, change the channel for your own well-being. Sometimes it backfires as the more we try to stop thinking about something, the more we actually think about it. In order to stop the barrage of negative thoughts, calm your mind with another topic. Listen to music, put a podcast on, get lost in a book, exercise, focus on breathwork, engage in conversation (about a different topic), or work on a project. That way you will calm your mind by distracting yourself from unhealthy, unproductive thoughts. Plan for those moments in which you find yourself ruminating or worrying by creating healthy replacement habits at those particular times. Before bed, on route to work, whenever it may be, set yourself up to change the channel in your mind.
Overthinking is completely normal at certain points in life, particularly when faced with hard decisions, or important events. Nevertheless, repetitive overthinking brings consequences particularly detrimental to our mental health, self-esteem, and rationality. Now we know how to stop overthinking. First, acknowledge it. Second, challenge it. Is your mind playing tricks on you or has your inner critic come out to play? If it’s an issue you need to work on, schedule time to reflect on it. Be proactive and take action. Lastly, when there’s no stopping a barrage of negativity or overthinking, change the channel and find something else to occupy your mind.
These coping mechanisms allow you to work on a complex matter that can be solved. Though these steps may seem trivial, they have the ability to train your mind for calm, rationality, and a success mindset. After all, the benefits by far outweigh the effort it requires. What are your coping mechanisms for overthinking?