As a natural overthinker, I know how hard it is to stop that pattern in its path. Understanding how to stop overthinking is just really hard and frustrating. And if you’re anything like me, you know the feeling too.
Overthinking leads to anxiety and worry. It makes you second-guess yourself. It makes you question everything. And more often than not, none of the things you thought about even end up mattering.
All overthinking does is drive you crazy. It doesn’t really prepare you for any outcome. It doesn’t calm you down. Overthinking really has no benefit.
So, why do we do it? And, how do we stop?
[Read: 13 very avoidable habits that WILL change your life for the worse *includes OVERTHINKING!*]
What is overthinking?
Just as it sounds, overthinking is thinking too much. For many of us, that is just our nature. When making a decision, preparing for an event, or even doing everyday errands, we overthink. We wonder what might happen. And we think of the worst-case scenario.
We do this when deciding whether or not to take a job in a new city, and even when deciding on what to have for dinner.
Instead of taking the necessary fragments of a decision into consideration and deciding, we let things fester. We think about things that don’t matter. We go back and forth. This overthinking doesn’t actually help us make better decisions though. What it does is make us mentally exhausted.
[Read: Why am I so indecisive? 15 reasons why you do this and the best ways to stop it for good]
Overthinking tires us out. It gives us anxiety. It creates false possibilities in our minds. And it makes us work through make-believe stressors. In fact, not learning how to stop overthinking can cause us such serious internal trauma it leaks into our real lives.
Dealing with the fallout of overthinking can leave you so anxious or mentally exhausted that you cancel plans, struggle to make even small decisions, and hesitate about doing anything you can’t control.
That is the thing with overthinking. It usually isn’t positive. It isn’t us analyzing our behaviors in a positive way or encouraging ourselves. Overthinking is almost always negative.
We think so hard about something, we turn it into something negative even when it isn’t.
This can impact your life so severely without you even realizing it. So, if you find yourself overthinking regularly, it is definitely time you learn how to stop overthinking and lead a better life.
[Read: What do your late night thoughts really mean about your life and its direction]
Are you overthinking?
Do you often find yourself feeling overwhelmed? Do you feel stressed even when you don’t have that much on your plate?
Do you overanalyze your own actions? Do you think too hard and too long about what other people think of you? Do you overthink your own thoughts?
Do you question yourself and what you’re thinking? Do you try to control your thoughts?
Do you find it hard to communicate your thoughts? Do you struggle getting to sleep because your mind won’t stop overthinking and racing?
If you answered yes to some or most of these questions, you are probably guilty of overthinking. But, all hope isn’t lost. Overthinking doesn’t have to be a lifetime struggle. It is something you can train yourself out of. Before you can do that, you need to understand what causes overthinking so you can stop overthinking and get ahead of it.
[Read: How to stop ruminating, leave your past behind and look to your future instead]
What causes overthinking?
Overthinking may have a similar effect on our lives, but it isn’t the same for everyone.
For some, overthinking could be caused by the unknowns of the future. For others, it could be caused by bringing up the past. It is also something many people do when receiving any sort of feedback from others.
Most of this is caused by the unknown or self-doubt. [Read: How to stop self-doubt and get on the path of self-enlightenment]
The fact that overthinking is so often triggered by things like performing, replaying scenarios, and what-ifs show just how easily overthinking begins, and how hard it is to stop overthinking.
Thoughts intrude on your mind and can often become obsessive. Instead of having an awkward conversation with a coworker and moving on, overthinking would lead you to replay that conversation over and over. It will make you consider what you should have said or how you could have been funnier or more charming.
This is not only caused by your desire to be accepted by others, but also your need for control.
We carry around the ideas of what others think of us at the forefront of our minds. We worry about if people like us and if we’ll be accepted.
This uncertainty of how others view us is a leading cause of overthinking. And worst of all, it leads to negative self-talk. Wondering if someone doesn’t like us, thinks we’re weird, or judges us, makes us reassess how we view ourselves. That bleeds over into all aspects of life. See how overthinking can truly impact you? [Read: 20 signs you’re a people pleaser but you just don’t realize it yet]
This also holds true for unknowns. The overthinking you fall into, before a work presentation or a date, can actually make you physically ill.
You go straight to the worst case scenario. You worry something bad will happen even if it is so far off from rational. And that’s the thing, overthinking turns rational thoughts into irrational fears and worries.
All of this overthinking is brought on by fear and only exacerbates it. But, being told to stop overthinking or even that you’re overthinking usually has the opposite effect. Knowing you’re overthinking only makes you overthink more about why you’re overthinking. I know, that’s a lot!
[Read: The imposter syndrome – 20 signs and ways to stop thinking you’re a fake]
How to stop overthinking – The 13 steps that can lead you to a better life
I know that so far, all this article has done is led to even more overthinking. But, that is about to change.
There are also ways you can learn how to stop overthinking. I do want to remind you that none of these are instant. Some may help more in the moment than others, but all of them take time.
Your brain is used to overthinking. It is your norm, your default. To retrain your brain to stop this vicious cycle requires a lot of practice, focus, and patience.
For many people, breaking the pattern of overthinking also requires the help of a therapist. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Therapy isn’t only for those with diagnosable mental illnesses.
In this case, therapy is a great way to have support in your journey to learn how to stop overthinking. A therapist listens and can remind you of methods to take when your mind goes back to its overthinking.
I will provide you with ways to stop overthinking and many of these are what a therapist will suggest as well. Now, this article is not a substitute for years of professional therapy, but it can be a starting point.
#1 Meditation. I know you probably gassed over that word. Meditation isn’t for everyone, but for those with the focus and patience for it, it can do a great deal of good for your mental health.
Meditation or mindful thinking doesn’t need to be done with flute music or sitting cross-legged if that isn’t your thing. You can sit in a chair, on the sofa, and play your favorite music or a mediation app, even a podcast.
This is about controlling your attention and awareness to reach a calm and stable mental state, even if only for a few minutes.
Doing this for 5 minutes a day can help as a reminder that you have control over your mind in other situations.
[Read: How to find happiness within yourself and manifest a better tomorrow with meditation]
#2 Live in the present. I know this sounds like a cliché when it comes to learning how to stop overthinking, but give it a chance. Most of our overthinking takes place in the past or the future. We think about what is going to happen or what has happened.
This prevents us from enjoying what is actually happening right now. Try to focus on the present as it’s happening. You can do this by training your mind. If you feel yourself drifting to a state of overthinking, switch back to something happening now.
#3 Schedule your thinking. The issue with overthinking is that it becomes obsessive and overrides other parts of the day. To avoid this, schedule time for your thinking. It is okay to think about the past and the future and work through your issues, of course, but overdoing it is the issue.
Give yourself a half-hour in the morning or whenever works for you. You can take this time to jot down your issues or what’s bothering you. Work through it on paper and let it go so you can get back to living your life instead of overthinking it. [Read: How to stop your self-destructive behaviors and live a better life]
#4 Limit your decision-making time. If you overthink about decisions like whether to forgive a loved one or just what color to paint your bedroom, time those decisions. Give yourself time to decide so it doesn’t become overwhelming.
For things like picking a paint color, give yourself a week of actively picking swatches, trying samples, etc. This will prevent you from procrastinating and overthinking. The same goes for bigger decisions. Give yourself an appropriate amount of time to weigh the pros and cons without overdoing it.
#5 Take small steps. Swaying your overthinking won’t happen overnight. It will take time. Celebrate small wins. Be happy when you chatted to a gossipy person at work and didn’t overthink everything you said.
#6 Identify your triggers. Often when we overthink, there is something that leads to it. For you, it could be social situations or planning for the future. Try to notice when your mind begins to overthink. What is the subject? What brought this on?
If you can identify what caused you to start overthinking, you can rearrange your thoughts as those triggers occur to stop overthinking. Knowing when you are expecting to overthink can help you prevent it and refocus your thoughts ahead of time. [Read: Indecisiveness – When your inability to decide is a decision too]
#7 Switch your thinking. As I said, overthinking is usually negative. We tend to worry we aren’t doing enough or something bad will happen. When those negative thoughts intrude on your mind, rework them into something positive.
You don’t have to be blindly positive. But in those moments, positive thinking can help you feel better. Think about when things have gone well. Think about your best qualities. [Read: 21 steps to raise your sense of self and feel like a million bucks all the time]
#8 Distract yourself. Distraction is a wonderful technique to avoid overthinking. Actively focusing on something other than what is causing you to overthink is very useful. Watch TV, play a game, chat with a friend, or take on a hobby. Doing something relaxing, or even proactive and productive, stops you from getting ahead of yourself and makes you feel better.
#9 Exercise. I know this is something you don’t want to do, but hear me out. Exercise isn’t just good for your physical health, but your mental health too. Moving your body aids in your ability to create feel-good hormones. Exercise can be even something as mild as a brisk walk outside.
Fresh air, getting your heart rate up, and even sweating lets you feel your body and be in the moment. And this small change can help you stop overthinking, especially when you feel better and more confident about yourself. [Read: 25 inspirational tips to get motivated to work out]
#10 Talk to a friend. Overthinking leads to loneliness. When you overthink, your thoughts become disorganized and overwhelming. This is what makes this pattern so hard to break. If you are overthinking something, you do need to work through, so discuss it with someone you trust.
Letting those thoughts out into the world helps you make sense of them so you can move forward.
#11 Accept imperfection. The process of learning how to stop overthinking isn’t going to be an uphill battle. It will vary. You’ll likely have good days and bad days. Some days, you’ll find yourself living in the moment and wondering when the last time you overthought was, and others won’t be so simple.
Accept that. People are complicated. It is okay to fall back. You just keep pushing forward.
#12 Focus on things you have control over. Overthinking often revolved around things we have no control over. We relive moments from the past. Then we think about regrets. And we also think about what could go wrong in the future.
Instead, focus your mind on things you can control. Make a list of projects you’re working on. Write down everything from major to minor. This could be finding a new job to taking out the trash. Focus on the things you can do to accomplish what you want. [Read: How to focus on yourself and 27 ways to start building your own sunshine]
#13 Actively think about what your overthinking has done for you. Rational thought doesn’t always overpower irrational fears. But it can help remind you to take some of these other steps.
One of the reasons overthinking is so common is because we think it will benefit us. We believe that overthinking will prepare us for the unknown, or fix mistakes from the past. But, when you consider what overthinking has done for you, you will realize the truth.
Overthinking only leaves you feeling anxious, exhausted, and more worried. It doesn’t provide any true benefit to you. Realizing and accepting this fact can help you let things go, so you can focus on more productive things and feel less stressful.
[Read: How to handle the worldly pressure to live life to the fullest and learn to thrive]
Learning how to stop overthinking takes time but with focus, you can let go of what’s holding you back. Try these small steps, seriously, what have you got to lose?! Just a few minutes a day to begin with, and you’ll start to experience the first glimpses of a beautiful life that isn’t marred by overthinking and anxiety.
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