Overthinking is a habit that if not taken under control can cause tremendous distress and suffering. When overthinking, our brain tries to convince us that all those worries and ruminations could be helpful. Many overthinkers have a firm belief that they can come up with a better solution or prevent themselves from making the same mistake if they spend more time thinking and analyzing. All these can lead to analysis paralysis which becomes a real problem. The more you think, the worse you feel. Overthinking often leads to anxiety, anger, frustration, fear, and other negative emotions that may cloud your judgment and prevent you from seeing the situation clearly. In this article, I want to share with you 6 effective tips on how to stop overthinking and take control of your mind.
What Is Overthinking?
Overthinking is basically what its name suggests – thinking too much. When you are going over the same thought, again and again, so that your brain becomes incapable of translating this thought into actions or positive outcomes. When you think about something too much or for too long, that you can’t get it out of your head and feel worried or stressed about it – this is overthinking.
Do you often worry about the future, catastrophic predictions about events that haven’t happened yet? Do you think with regret about your past, “should haves” and “could haves.” Do you fret over what others might think of you or let negative self-talk build up in your mind? These are examples of overthinking.
If you are one of those who tend to overthink an important decision, replaying all the options in your head, you may experience “paralysis by analysis”. You are so afraid of taking the wrong action, so you take no action at all.
Overthinking often leads to sleepless nights when your brain just won’t turn off, increased symptoms of depression, elevate your stress levels, and cloud your judgment.
Common Types Of Overthinking
Nick Wignall, a clinical psychologist, suggests four common types of overthinking:
This is one of the most common types of overthinking where we imagine possible problems or dangers in the future.
“Of course, anticipating problems or threats in the future is often a good thing to do! But helpful planning is different from unhelpful worry in that worry doesn’t actually lead to new information or insights that can be helpful. For example, your spouse is on a plane flight and you start worrying about different ways the plane could crash and kill your spouse. This kind of thinking doesn’t actually keep your spouse safe, plus it adds a lot of stress and anxiety to you.” – Nick Wignall
#2: Depressive Rumination
This type of overthinking is about replaying events from the past in an unhelpful way. A depressive rumination is a specific form of overthinking our own past mistakes or failures.
“As opposed to helpful reflection, depressive rumination is unproductive and doesn’t lead to anything but shame, guilt, and sadness at oneself. Depressive rumination is one of the key drivers of not only depression but also self-criticalness and low self-esteem.” – Nick Wignall
#3: Angry Rumination
This type of overthinking is similar to depressive rumination except the object of the overthinking is other people and their mistakes rather than yourself.
“For example, after a fight with your spouse, you find yourself replaying arguments you’ve had with them in the past and going over evidence of why you were right and they were wrong. Although it often feels good in the moment, angry rumination tends to lead to aggression, resentment, and distorted beliefs about other people in our lives.” – Nick Wignall
#4: Fix-It Mode
This type of overthinking happens when someone is sharing a painful or difficult experience with you and you have a hard time tolerating the anxiety that comes from hearing it. It affects you in a way that you begin thinking about best ways to fix the problem or do things differently.
“Fix-It Mode is a form of overthinking because you’re applying problem-solving-style thinking when what would be more helpful is to simply listen empathetically and validate the person’s difficulty rather than trying to fix it (and make yourself feel better in the process).” – Nick Wignall
Of course, there are many other types of overthinking. But the four listed tend to be the most common and often produce the most suffering.
Why Do We Overthink?
Often, the tendency to overthink roots in unhealed trauma or deep emotional issue. Here are the most common reasons why we overthink:
- childhood trauma
- obsessive desire to control the situation
- intolerance of uncertainty and tendency to pretend that things are more predictable than they are
- perfectionism (as intolerance of feeling less than perfect)
- an excuse for procrastinating or avoiding decisions
- you see everything as a problem to be solved with lots of thinking
- excessive fear of conflict
Of course, there are many more reasons of overthinking. But the listed seven are some of the most common. The above causes are a good place to start if you want to stop overthinking.
How To Stop Overthinking?
Now let’s talk about how to stop overthinking. Here are six strategies that I find most effective.
#1: Identify the Emotions Behind Overthinking
First, try to identify what emotion is hiding behind your overthinking. For example, when you start overthinking by worrying about future events, it might be the case that overthinking is functioning to relieve or alleviate some anxiety you have about your future. Overthinking may temporarily distract you from your anxiety temporarily and give you the illusion of control in a short term. However, it’s not solving the problem but only makes it worse. Therefore, it’s essential to look for the emotions behind overthinking and ask yourself if there’s a better way to deal with them.
When you take time to identify your emotions and validate them, it helps you to become more productive in the long run.
#2: Challenge Negative Thoughts
Overthinking is often a response to feeling bad emotionally. But if you allow your negative thoughts to take control of your mind, you end up feeling even worse. It’s easy to get carried away with negative thoughts. The most effective way to switch the frequency of your thought patterns is to practice positive self-talk.
Next time when you start overthinking, pause for a moment and point out that your thinking is not entirely accurate. This simple technique will help you to achieve a more balanced and emotionally neutral way of thinking. With practice, you’ll learn to recognize and replace negative thinking patterns, before they work you up into complete insanity.
#3: Focus On Problem Solving
Overthinking your problems isn’t helpful – but looking for solutions is. If it’s something you have some control over, think about how you can prevent the problem or challenge yourself to identify a couple of potential solutions. If it’s something you have no control over – think about the strategies you can use to cope with it. Instead of overthinking your problems, focus on the things you can control, like your attitude and your effort.
#4: Schedule Time For Reflection
Instead of dwelling on your problems for long periods of time, try to take a brief reflection on them. Constructive reflection can help you to see more clearly how you could do things differently, recognize potential pitfalls to your plan, and perform better in the future.
For example, you could schedule 10 minutes of “thinking time”. During that time period let yourself think, analyze, or mull over whatever you want. But when your time is up, move onto something else. And when you start overthinking things outside of your scheduled thinking time, simply remind yourself that you’ll need to wait until your next “thinking time” session to address those issues in your mind.
You can’t simply make yourself stop worrying. But this simple strategy will train your mind to do it at the right time.
#5: Change Your Activity
If you can’t make yourself stop thinking about something, try to change your activity. Things like exercising, engaging in conversation on a completely different subject, or working on a project can help you to switch the focus of your attention and stop overthinking. Doing something different will put an end to the negative internal dialogue.
#6: Practice Mindfulness
The mindfulness practice will help you to train yourself to be aware of things without thinking about them. By practicing mindfulness we become able to notice when negative thought patterns arise and shift our attention out of thinking mode and into awareness mode.
You can start practicing mindfulness by simply paying attention to the experience of every activity during daily life rather than thinking about it. Or, you can practice mindfulness meditation. For doing it, simply sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your breath for 20 minutes.
The Bottom Line
Overthinking takes a lot of energy. It takes away your inner peace and harmony. But the good news is that overthinking is a habit and habits can be broken with the right approach and enough patience. If you want to stop overthinking, the key is to understand why you do it and then implement the strategies to eliminate it.