Do you stay up all night visualizing worst-case scenarios in your life? Are you sometimes sucked into a vortex of negative thoughts?
The average human being has over 6,000 thoughts every day.
While thinking is a wonderful gift that has allowed us to make decisions and get work done, overthinking can take a huge toll on our well-being.
Defining overthinking and why we do it
Overthinking is an obsessive manner of thinking involving excessive, repetitive thoughts—which hinders our other mental activities as a result.
As compared to self-reflection, which is purposeful and vital for our well-being, overthinking is rooted in uncertainty and fear.
Overthinking has also been linked to many other psychological and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.
There are two main forms of overthinking: brooding over the past and worrying about the future.
An important term to remember is rumination, which is what psychologists call when an individual is mentally stuck in dwelling on negative emotional experiences.
If you are constantly having trouble shutting off your mind, here are some coping strategies on how to stop overthinking.
1. Become hyper aware of your thoughts.
It is important to understand that overthinking is a habit that we have cultivated within ourselves.
Like with every other habit, we must first become conscious of the problem before we can change it.
Whenever you find yourself slipping into a downward spiral, be upfront with yourself and acknowledge that you are overthinking.
A great way to start is to spend a few minutes every day repeating positive affirmations to recalibrate the way you think about yourself and the situation you are currently in.
2. Practice being present.
Dwelling on the past will do nothing to change it; conversely, it prevents you from living in the present.
The next time you find yourself overthinking about things that have already happened, try grounding yourself using breathing exercises and mindfulness to help process your thoughts.
There are plenty of apps that can help you with this, too.
Identify what you see, hear and smell in the moment, and realize that your thoughts often don’t reflect what’s really happening.
By doing so, you are reinforcing the mindset that your thoughts do not define or control you.
3. Distract yourself with healthy alternatives.
When you’re busy doing something that makes you happy, it’s much easier to keep negative thoughts and worries at bay.
Activities like exercising, learning something new, volunteering and engaging in creative projects can help you to prevent constant overanalyzing.
Don’t know where to start? Yoga is one of the best ways to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone in our body, and help lower anxiety.
It also helps you sleep better at night, replenishing you with all the energy you need to tackle overthinking!
4. Think of the bigger picture.
Often, overthinking zooms in on small, teensy-weensy details that don’t really matter once you look at the bigger picture.
Calling in sick this week because you are drained and need some rest is not going to cost you your job. Likewise, being ghosted by someone you care about doesn’t make you an unlovable person.
Practice thinking about the bigger picture and you will find that things are often not as catastrophic as they are in your head. Learn to take an objective stance and judge the situation for what it really is.
If you don’t have all the information, you’re only hurting yourself by making assumptions.
5. Set aside worry-time.
It may sound counterintuitive at first, but setting aside a certain amount of time to overthink can help stop it altogether.
A study of 53 individuals with generalized anxiety disorder who were assigned to worry freely for 30 minutes a day experienced decreased anxiety and better quality sleep than the group that didn’t.
Journaling can also help you to gain clarity and focus on more productive endeavors that are better worth your time and energy.
Start rewriting your narrative from “I am the worst” to “I am growing and doing my best“.
6. Aim for progress, not perfection.
Perfectionists who have an “all-or-nothing” attitude may be more inclined towards overthinking.
As cliché as it sounds, nobody is perfect.
Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for progress. Stop telling yourself that you aren’t smart or rich enough to do something.
Rather than trying to achieve everything at once, work on setting smaller goals that set you up for success.
7. Focus on problem-solving.
While overthinking involves dwelling on the issue, problem-solving focuses on dealing with it head-on.
Are your problems something that you can control? If yes, what steps can you start taking to fix it?
If no, then why not focus your energy on things that you can change instead of worrying about the things you can’t?
When you’re constantly focused on growing and improving as a person, you’ll eventually be able to steer away from excessive dwelling.
8. Surround yourself with positivity.
Sometimes we just need a break from depressing news and information.
Try going on a digital detox for a day (you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results).
Whether it’s making a fort out of blankets, listening to a podcast, or being one with nature, we all have different ideas of a safe space.
Immersing ourselves in these places can help calm and soothe negative thoughts.
Consistency is key
Overthinking can stop us from living the life that we truly desire.
It may not happen overnight, but consciously learning to deal with your negative thoughts that don’t serve you and practicing healthier habits will eventually help you to overcome overthinking.
We are often our own harshest critics, so there’s no better time than the present to stand up to our own thoughts and start loving ourselves a little more.