At one point in our lives, we all engage in overthinking. However, for some people overthinking is a constant thought pattern. Try as they might, they cannot stop the process. In my previous blog post, I discussed overthinking, what causes it, and the effect of overthinking on the overthinker’s life and well-being. In this blog post, I will focus on the strategies to overcome overthinking and how to break free of the loop.
If you wish to know more about mindful living and staying positive through difficult times, please subscribe to Guilt Free Mind. The subscription option is present in the sidebar. If you like watching videos, please subscribe to the YouTube channel of Guilt Free Mind. Remember to ring the notification bell and set it to ALL. This will allow YouTube to notify you the moment the next video releases from the channel.
Strategies to overcome overthinking
Overthinking involves getting stuck in a labyrinth of negative thoughts from which we cannot get out no matter how much we want to. Overthinking is quite common but it can have a profound impact on a person’s thoughts, life, and work. To break free of this, you need to first understand the nature of overthinking. This has been covered in the previous blog post. If you haven’t read it yet, you should go through it first and then read the rest of this blog post. Let’s understand the strategies to overcome overthinking.
So far research has shown that ceasing to think about the problem at hand is actually the one method that can stop your overthinking. Here are some strategies to stop yourself from getting stuck on one thought.
Strategies to overcome overthinking: embrace empowerment and clarity
Overthinking feels like an insurmountable barrier. It holds us back from participating or actively engaging in activities that bring us joy or peace. Breaking free of the overthinking cycle is difficult but not impossible. Releasing yourself from this loop also brings along with it a sense of empowerment. If you choose to implement the following strategies to overcome overthinking, you will develop a compassionate mindset and reclaim control over your thoughts. This will allow you to lead a life of mindfulness and balanced existence.
Instead of sitting and focusing on the problem at hand for a prolonged amount of time , you should focus on distracting yourself and putting the existing problem on the back burner in your mind.
Our brain is pretty good at working on solutions to the current problems in the background, while you focus your conscious energy on other tasks, eg:- working on your garden. An alternative method is to “sleep on the issue”. While you sleep, your brain is still working on the problem at hand. There is a huge chance that your brain will find a solution to your current problem while you sleep.
When you distract yourself with other tasks, your brain gets a break from the endless thinking loop. It can also help you focus on other tasks and actually get some work done. While you push the problem in the background, your brain still works on it and finds a solution. Thus, you can kill three birds with one stone :
- Stop the overthinking
- Find a solution to the primary problem
- Get some additional work done in the meanwhile.
Challenge the negative thought pattern
The next one in the strategies to overcome overthinking is to challenge the negative thoughts that fuel overthinking. When in the throes of overthinking, remind yourself that your thoughts are not true facts. Not all the thoughts in your head are accurate, realistic or even truthful. The first step in stopping overthinking is to reframe your thoughts so you at look at the situation in a positive manner.
To get out of overthinking, focus on challenging the thoughts. Question yourself on whether the thoughts are even realistic. Focus on alternative scenarios. Initially, it may seem very hard. However learning to identify your overthinking pattern can allow you to understand how to replace the negative thoughts with others positive and more helpful thoughts.
Focus on your interpersonal skills
Research has shown that when you improve your interpersonal skills, it can have a positive effect on reducing and eventually stopping overthinking. These skills have a positive effect on the overall habit of overthinking. Here are some ways by which you can develop stronger interpersonal skills:
- Boosting your self-awareness.
- Increasing your self-confidence
- Practicing self-control.
One of the perfect strategies to overcome overthinking is meditation. Meditation is the best method to redirect your negative thoughts towards more positive ones. When you meditate, you focus on your breath. Your focus is on the air moving in and out of your lungs. The purpose of this act is not to clear your mind. Instead, the purpose here is to focus your entire attention on one thing: your breath; and learn to bring your thoughts back to that one point from wherever they have wandered to.
Meditation will not be easy. Initially, your thoughts may spin out of control. You may feel that meditation further fuels your thoughts and pushes you further into the darkness. However, your focus should be on your breath, let the thoughts flow, and just bring your attention back to your breathing. Every time. A few weeks in, you will start to see the change in your personality.
Research has shown has doing a meditation exercise for 10 mins every day can positively impact your overthinking behavior and reduce worry and intrusive thoughts.
Focus on self-acceptance
Most of the overthinking occurs because we focus on the past, the mistakes we made and the things from our past that we cannot change. Instead of beating yourself up over what is not in your control, work towards accepting yourself and develop self-compassion. Thus, the next one in the strategies to overcome overthinking is developing self-compassion. Research studies show that those who focus on self-compassion are more likely to use adaptive coping strategies.
Strategies to boost self-compassion:
- Regularly practicing gratitude and reminding yourself of everything you appreciate in yourself.
- Developing a strong support system. This support system is made up of those who can provide you with encouragement and love.
- Learn to forgive yourself for your past mistakes but learn from them at the same time.
Enter into therapy
If it seems impossible for you to free yourself of the loop of overthinking, you should focus on getting professional help. Constant overthinking can also be a sign of a bigger mental health issue like depression or severe anxiety. On the other hand, overthinking can also increase your chances of developing mental health issues.
When you visit a mental health professional, they can train you in different skills that can allow you to stop the negative loop of overthinking. These skills will also help you reduce obsessively ruminating and focusing on past details that are not helpful to you. Furthermore, they can also help you learn new coping methods that will allow you get back control like physical exercise and mindfulness.
Maintain a worry period
Decide on a specific time of the day when you will allow yourself to worry. Keep aside 30 minutes of your time to ruminate over everything that is plaguing you. Once the 30 minutes are over, you are not allowed to think about those thoughts again during the day.
During these 30 minutes, write down every thought that is bothering you. Following this, go through your list and highlight the problems that you can solve and have control over.
Next, focus on the problems you have no solution to. Spend a few minutes brainstorming your solutions. Write down the solutions next to the points. For the situations where you have no control over, (how others may react to a specific situation), allow yourself to put them on the back burner until the next time you are allowed to focus on your worry.
Following this exercise, for the rest of the day, don’t focus on the thoughts you wrote down. If they come to your mind, block them or push them aside. Initially, it will be difficult to block the intrusive thoughts. However, with regular practice, you will be able to handle your thoughts better. This practice will help you get control of your worrying process.
Rethink the” what-ifs”?
Are you stuck in the ‘what-ifs’? For example, what if you say this and the other person reacts so and so way? What if my boss fires me? What if I fall sick and cannot go to work and they fire me?
Almost all of us are plagued by such thoughts at one point or the other. However, when you focus only on the worst-case scenario, this pattern of thinking can become a problem.
When you write down your thoughts, write down the ‘ what if’ scenarios too. After you have written down all the what-if scenarios, divide them into “if/then scenarios. Eg:- if this happens, then I will do that. Focus on developing a plan for your “what if” scenarios.
Ask your friends for help
Do your friends often tell you, you worry constantly or you think too much? If yes, they are probably right. If you are hearing this repeatedly, ask a trusted friend about their perspective on the matter. Enquire about their thoughts and tell them to stop you when you seem to be stuck on one thought. Opt for a friend who won’t engage in co-rumination. Studies have shown that when you engage with rehashing and discussing the issue with your overthinking friends, it can cause the anxiety to worsen.
Move your body
In my previous blog posts, I discussed how regular exercise can help reduce anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Exercise has also been shown to help in the case of chronic overthinking. Even a walk of 5 minutes around the block you live in, can cause the production of good hormones and chemicals like endorphins. Physical movement can also help move the nervous system to a working condition from a situation of fight-or-flight. This helps to reduce trauma-related worries.
Step back and check your response
How you respond to your thoughts defines how the rumination cycle will begin. It’s rumination that contributes to the negative cycle of overthinking. The next time you notice that your thoughts are circling in a loop, focus on how they make you feel and affect your mood. Do you feel guilty, irritated, anxious or nervous? What is the primary emotion that arises behind the thought?
Focus on the bigger picture
Focus on whether the current issue will have an impact on you 5- 10 years from now. Will others really care for the embarrassing situation you were in now? Will they even remember it in 10 years?
Learn to understand the automatic negative thoughts/ANT
Automatic negative thoughts (ANT) are knee-jerk reactive thoughts that involve anger or fear in response to a specific situation. These thoughts are out before you even realize what you are thinking about. They are mostly situational and are a part of your brain’s fight-or-flight response.
Tackling the ANTs
There is a way you can identify the ANT and maintain a record of the negative thoughts and work towards changing them:
Maintain a notebook to track your thought processes. The moment your anxiety kicks in, make a note of the situation in detail. Note down your mood, anxiety level, and the initial thoughts that crowded your mind when the anxiety set in. When you focus on the details, try to understand why the current situation is causing you to think such negative thoughts.
Next, break down and evaluate each of the emotions you are experiencing. Identify each of the emotions and then figure out why you are feeling this way, and what you are telling yourself about the situation.
find an alternative thought to your original thought. For example, the moment they thought, “I am a loser. I will be an epic failure at this”, try to think along the lines of, “I am giving this my all. I will not regret putting so much work into this.” .
Focus on your success
When you are stuck in the middle of overthinking, take a minute to open your notes app on the phone or take out your notebook. Immediately write down five things that worked for you in the last week and what role you played in them.
These accomplishments do not need to be enormous or life-changing. Maybe you managed to take a shower daily, worked on your project, or were good at work. When you read these, you will realize how small things can make a difference in your thought process.
Embrace your fears
You need to understand that not everything will always be in your hands. You must accept this fact. Your acceptance will go a long way in reducing your overthinking behavior. Studies have shown that when you accept your negative fears and thoughts, it can help you boost your psychological health.
Obviously, this is much easier said than done. Also, this won’t happen overnight. Instead of looking towards the big fishes, focus on the small opportunities where the situations are easy to confront. It can be as easy as taking the solo-day trip you had planned or a hard one like standing up to your over-authoritative co-worker.
Engage in brain dumping
The perfect way to stop feeling overwhelmed with your own thoughts is to put them down in a diary or notes app. This way they won’t crowd your mind and give you some room to think about the situation logically. Alternatively, if you are feeling overwhelmed because of an upcoming project, make a to-do list. This will help your mind focus on the method of achieving your goal instead of thinking about unusual and impossible outcomes. Planning out your work is an action-oriented step that can help you calm down your ruminating brain. Planning can be done from anywhere and at anytime. This is also the quickest way to get your thoughts under control.
Focus on Nature
It does not matter where you are on God’s green Earth, a bit of fresh air and the presence of nature can do amazing good to you. In case you can get out and go for a hike or walk in nature, even better. Research has shown that even a 90 min walk in the woods or in nature can reduce your chance of rumination. The lack of rumination will allow you to focus on things other than the negative thoughts in your head. This is the best way to clear your head. However, this practice will take time. The first day you go out in nature, your thoughts may still cloud your mind. Give it time. Go out everyday. In a few weeks, you will start to see changes in your thinking when you spend time in nature.
Learn to spot the difference between intuition and fear
Own thinkers often find it hard to understand whether what they are feeling is fear for the future or intuition. They feel that the constant fear will help them manage negative situations. However, the constant fear makes it hard for them to focus on the good things that are right in front of them. They are constantly afraid of committing mistakes. This causes there rumination to reach a point where they constantly have a deep fear that something will go wrong. Understanding if what you are feeling is a fear or intuition can help you figure out the thought in your head and decide the next steps you should take.
when faced with such a situation, take a few deep breaths and centre yourself. Once you have your breathing under control, focus on what you are feeling. This will help you understand if the feeling is fear or intuition.
Ask yourself the right questions
If you ask yourself, “Why am I constantly overthinking?”, repeatedly, it will not help you figure out why your thoughts are stuck in a loop on why are you thinking what you are thinking. Asking yourself the wrong question will only further contribute to your overthinking. Try to ask yourself questions that are solution orientated instead of ones that trigger rumination. Instead of asking, “Why does my boss hate me?” ask,” What am I doing wrong in my work?” Such questions will allow you to find solutions that in turn will let you perform better at whatever you do, whether it’s work or your personal relationships.
What to do if the thoughts feel overwhelming?
If you are finding it impossible to get the anxiety and overwhelming thoughts under control despite trying the above-mentioned techniques, here are some SOS measures you can use to get immediate control over your thoughts that are spinning out of control:
- Name 50 items in your immediate vicinity. Once done, start again.
- Focus on your breathing for 10 seconds. Pay attention to the inhalation and exhalation of air. Once done, start again.
- Recall everyone you love. Write down every character of theirs that appeals to you.
- Slow down your breath. Count the number of seconds you need for inhalation and exhalation. Try to increase the number of seconds.
- In your mind, imagine that you are in your favorite place. Imagine it to the point where you can smell the air and feel the objects around you.
So far, I have discussed what is overthinking and the different strategies to overcome overthinking. In this blog post, I have also included SOS responses that you can use during times of emergency. These tips and tricks will be an insurmountable help in getting your overthinking under control. Try them out, and mention your experiences in the comment section below. If you know of other methods to bring your overthinking under control, let me know in the comments.
If you wish to lead a more positive and mindful life, subscribe to Guilt Free Mind. The subscription option is present in the sidebar. If you like watching videos, subscribe to the YouTube channel of Guilt Free Mind. Remember to ring the notification bell so that YouTube does not miss notifying you about any of the new video releases. If you have any queries about this or any other blog post in Guilt Free Mind, mention it in the comments. I will be happy to help.
See you in my next blog post
Frequently Asked Questions
Overthinking can be hard to completely stop. However, there are many strategies to overcome overthinking. Some of these are: focusing on mindfulness, challenging your negative thinking patterns, and asking for support when needed.
Distraction is a good method to overcome overthinking. When you engage in other tasks that require your complete cognitive capacity like hobbies, spending time with loved ones, art etc, your brain gets redirected towards other stuff and this breaks the overthinking cycle.
Art is a wonderful strategy to overcome overthinking. When you engage in creative activities like writing, drawing on painting, it helps distract your mind from overthinking and have a positive outlet to release your emotions. Engaging in art also promotes mindfulness and allows you to stay in the present, reducing the overthinking and rumination pattern.