Do you find yourself rehashing past mistakes or fixating on situations you can’t control? Chances are you’re an overthinker. If you’re wondering what causes overthinking, it can be brought on by self-doubt, negative childhood experiences or traumatic events. Overthinking can also be an early warning sign of anxiety or depression.
Although we all mull things over from time to time, frequent overthinking can have harmful effects. It can prevent you from making decisions, keep you from taking action, affect your relationships and interrupt your sleep.
When you want to learn how to stop overthinking, a few tips for managing your thoughts might help.
Catch yourself in the act
Being aware that you’re overthinking is the first step toward stopping. When you’re stuck in a thought loop, ask yourself if you’re able to problem-solve or make a plan. These are coping strategies that help ease worries. If a situation you’re thinking about is beyond your control, you’ll need to find a way to let it go.
Be an observer
Sometimes, trying to stop thinking about something can have the opposite effect. When you’re wrapped up in overthinking anxiety, try not to get too frustrated.
Concentrate on shifting your focus from thinker to observer. Listen to the sound of your breath. Note how your body is feeling. Look at your thoughts as visitors that will leave. When you’re able to move from thinker to observer, upsetting thoughts may start showing up less often.
Set aside some worry time
What if you were encouraged to worry for a set period of time? By giving yourself 15 minutes each day to do nothing but worry, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to subdue these thoughts at other times of the day. If they do make an appearance, try to set them aside for tomorrow’s worry session.
Often, the best antidote to worry is distraction. Activities that involve your senses are particularly helpful. They can shift your mind to what you’re hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, tasting or feeling.
A few suggestions for mind-shifting distractions include:
- Doing a jigsaw puzzle
- Eating chocolate
- Listening to opera
- Petting your dog
- Riding a bicycle
- Sipping lemonade
- Taking a scented bubble bath
- Watching a funny movie
Limit negative information
If you’re struggling with how to overcome overthinking and negative thoughts, consider the information you’re taking in. Whether it comes through social media or the nightly news, negative information can affect your body and mind. Angry comments and bleak news stories can raise your stress levels. And this fuels the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These fight-or-flight hormones are good in cases of emergency, but long-term exposure can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.
Negative information also boosts your anxiety levels because you have no control over much of what you read or hear. Whether you’re an overthinker or not, it’s a good idea to limit your exposure to the news and social media. Allow yourself some time each day to gather the information you need to stay informed, and then shut your TV, phone, laptop or tablet off. Plan to get your news well in advance of bedtime so that you can unwind before sleep.
Take control over your response
You may not have control over a particular situation. But you DO have control over how you respond to it. When a problem first arises, start by allowing yourself a little space between the incident and your response.
This could mean:
- Counting to 100
- Going for a short walk
- Setting a timer for five minutes
- Telling someone you’ll call them back
For five to 10 minutes, try to avoid reacting and just take some deep breaths. When it’s time to re-engage with the problem, you’ll feel calmer and more focused.
Trying to deal with all your problems at once adds to overthinking. Instead of multitasking your problems, tackle them one at a time. When you’re fully engaged, you’re able to deal with a problem quicker and move on to the next one.
Seek professional help
If runaway thoughts are interfering with your ability to function, there’s help available. A professional therapist can give you the tools to learn how to stop overthinking and relax.
Learn about the behavioral and mental health services we offer at Bon Secours.