What is Overthinking?
If you feel plagued by constant thoughts, you might be overthinking things. Overthinking tends to involve second-guessing your decisions, questioning old conversations, and predicting negative outcomes based on little evidence.
As you might have guessed, overthinking can a lot of distress. It’s also associated with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
There are two destructive thought patterns that overthinkers fall victim to. They are rumination and worrying.
When you dwell on the past, you ruminate. This is distinct from learning from your past mistakes. It’s more like beating yourself up about them.
Rumination sounds like this:
- I shouldn’t have said or done that.
- I should have done something else.
- I have never been able to..
- I couldn’t..
On the other hand, worrying involves thinking about the future. It usually involves running catastrophic scenarios through your head or making predictions that something terrible will happen.
Worrying looks like this:
- I’m going to fail.
- Everyone else will succeed before me.
- I can’t do it.
- I will never be able to…
- It’s going to be horrible.
Both rumination and worrying cause overthinking, and they’re never pleasant. Here are a few things you can do to stop overthinking right now and improve your quality of life.
1. Be Conscious of Your Thoughts
Most times, the thoughts in our heads are so loud, it feels impossible to think over the noise. It’s important not to let negative thoughts and overthinking control your entire mind. Instead, try to take a step and recognize that you’re experiencing these thoughts.
Pay attention, and when it happens, you can think, I am not my thoughts.
2. Focus on the Solution
If you’re worried about a real problem that requires a solution, shift your focus to what you can control. For example, if you’re ruminating because you fought with a close friend, consider how you will repair the relationship.
3. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
Once you’ve mastered recognizing when you’re overthinking, you can battle those pessimistic thoughts. Ask yourself, is this thought true? And then try to disprove it. Present yourself evidence that your thoughts aren’t based on reality.
For example, if you’re concerned that your partner will break up with you, ask yourself why that is. Then, remind yourself of something that disproves that idea. Maybe they told you they were committed to you yesterday, you’re making plans for the future together, or they put effort into the relationship.
4. Set Aside Quiet Time for Reflection
It’s normal to get swept up in your thoughts when they constantly pile up on top of each other. You need time dedicated to processing the thoughts in your mind, and scheduling that time into your day will help you manage your overthinking.
Reflection is much different than rumination. When you ruminate, you play the same negative thought over and over in your head. When you reflect, you constructively analyze your thoughts and produce new ideas that will benefit you.
This time could be 10 minutes before bed or 20 minutes in the morning. You could also incorporate this into your schedule by journaling every day whenever you have the time.
5. Mindfulness Meditation
Despite the fact that our lives are always lived in the present moment, we tend to spend significant amounts of our time worrying about the past and the future.
Mindfulness is a skill that can relieve worry, pain, and anxiety. Meditation draws you into the present moment and helps you focus on the sensations and thoughts you’re experiencing right now.
For inspiration and guidance, check out mindful.
6. Don’t Push the Thoughts Away: Dive Deeper
When we experience negative thoughts and painful overthinking, our gut instinct might tell us to push those away, stop having them, or avoid them as best we can.
Instead of bottling up your negative thoughts and emotions, examine them. Ask yourself, why, though? as a method of working through your issues. Explore why you think or believe certain things to get to the root of your problems.
For example, you think, I’m going to die alone. Why, though? Because I’m never going to be in a good relationship. Why, though? I don’t deserve it.
Then, you can realize the core beliefs that fuel your overthinking. Working through your personal traumas in this way is difficult, so give yourself dedicated time for soul-searching.
7. Use Happy Distractions as a Tool
Sometimes, doing the heavy lifting to examine your thoughts isn’t what you need at the moment. And that’s okay.
When you’re struggling to break the cycles of rumination or worry, use happy distractions to help. Whether that means putting on your favorite song and dancing around, practicing a hobby like knitting or drawing, or looking at pictures of cute puppies, happy distractions can be a useful tool for eliminating chronic overthinking.
8. Write it Out
You don’t have to maintain a dedicated journal to use this method. Sometimes, overthinking keeps us from doing what we need to do—including sleep. If this sounds like you, writing out all your ideas on paper can be the perfect outlet to release what’s in your head. Once you put pen to paper, you can empty your mind and release the tension.
Don’t Let Overthinking Control You
Know that you do possess the power to change your thoughts. One of the biggest challenges with overthinking is that the more you tell your brain negative things, the more conditioned it is to believe those things without question.
However, the same thing is true of your positive thoughts. If you begin the process of rewiring your brain for positivity, the journey ahead and away from overthinking only gets easier. Start with these simple tips and see your life improve.