Anxiety

How to Stop Overthinking

Male peaceable looking sunshine in the morning and mountain view

“Overthinking, also, best known as creating problems that are never there.”

– David Sikhosana

Are You an Overthinker?

Do you spend much of your time overthinking things? Contemplating decisions? Well, stop! You’re wasting your precious time. And not to mention, you’re not doing much for your mental health.

As human beings, we overthink because we’re natural answer-seekers. Whether it be a problem of the past, present, or future, we tend to crave the information regarding the who, why, and how of the situation — whether or not it’s meant to be available to us. 

Psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D. says our brains are truly hardwired for overthinking. “When you are in a bad mood of some type — depressed, anxious, just altogether upset — your bad mood tends to trigger a cascade of thoughts associated with your mood. These thoughts may have nothing to do with the incident that put you into a bad mood in the first place, as when a poor job performance causes you to think about your aunt who died last year”.

Reasons Why We Overthink

There are other contributing factors such as a desire for perfectionism, low self-confidence, or using overthinking as a mode of protection that can also perpetuate the habit. If we regularly feel the need to perform in the areas of our life without ever making a mistake, we may begin to overanalyze our every move to an unhealthy degree. 

Overthinking from a need for perfectionism can cause the overthinking to be before, during, and after any situation we face. Low self-confidence is perhaps one of the most common causes of overthinking, and has the ability to further diminish self-worth. Overthinking as a result of attempting to self-protect can often feel like our own personal mental hideaway. 

If we relive a situation over and over again in our mind, it can almost feel as though we don’t have to live it in reality. While this kind of overthinking can sometimes feel as though we’re handling a situation within the confines of our mind, it’s really just preventing us from facing it head-on. 

The Dangers of Overthinking

Depressed and sad man on hes job having problems

While it may sometimes feel natural to overthink, the truth is it does not prove to assist in dealing with any situation, however big or small. 

According to a study published by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 2013, “dwelling on your shortcomings, mistakes, and problems increases your risk of mental health problems”. This is just one of the negative consequences to overthinking and dedicating too much of our energy to rumination. While honest reflection can be healthy for personal growth, morbid reflection of that we cannot change does not serve us in a positive way. 

Another downside to overthinking is the interference it has with problem-solving. Overanalyzing a situation or circumstance can prevent us from seeking solutions to our problems, and instead translate to analysis paralysis. 

Furthermore, overthinking can significantly disrupt healthy sleep patterns. Studies confirm that most overthinking is done when we retire at night, and doing so will likely cause us to toss and turn for hours. 

The Six Simple Steps

Psychology Today developed six simple steps to implement if your overthinking has become unmanageable…

1. Notice when you’re thinking too much. Like any challenge in life, the first step is to develop an awareness of the problem. Rather than beginning to fight off the thoughts when they begin to multiply, acknowledge their presence. 

2. Challenge your thoughts. Once we’ve acknowledged the beginning of our overthinking entering our mind, we can choose to replace the thinking. Acknowledging that the thoughts may be irrational and counterproductive to our energy is a great way to stop them in their tracks. 

3. Keep the focus on active problem-solving. Stopping overthinking doesn’t mean we must have an absence of thinking altogether, but rather being selective about the nature of the thoughts we give energy to. This step allows us the time to contemplate solutions rather than ruminate in what perhaps can’t be changed to begin with. “Instead of asking why something happened, ask yourself what you can do about it”. 

4. Schedule time for reflection. Reflective and productive thinking can be an important part of our daily lives and for overall personal development. During this time for reflection, we can put a limit on what we’re concerned about so as to not stay there long. If you begin to find that you instinctively feel the urge to do this thinking during other times, try reminding yourself of the reflection time you’ve scheduled or can schedule if necessary.

5. Practice mindfulness. Some individuals find that practices such as meditation or quiet time benefits their ability to remain present. The overall goal is to focus on there here and now, rather than yesterday or tomorrow.

6. Change the channel. Similarly to step 1, trying to force yourself to stop thinking about something can also have it’s negative consequences. 

Stop Overthinking and Move On…

In the research published by Psychology Today, it’s suggested to engage in activities like exercise or an enjoyable hobby when overthinking begins to brew. Engaging in conversation with an entirely separate subject can also help distract your mind for long enough to “change the channel”. 

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