Overthinking is simply what its name suggests – thinking too much. Overthinking is going over the same thought again and again, analyzing the simplest of situations or events until all sense of proportion has gone. The overthinking brain cannot translate these thoughts into actions or positive outcomes, so therefore creates feelings of stress and anxiety. The phrase “overthinking” is often used quite flippantly these days. (You can picture the social media posts: “I’m overthinking my holiday packing. Lol.”) But for the genuine overthinker, there is nothing shallow or light-hearted about their thoughts. Overthinking is like a problem which every 2nd or 3rd person is going through right now. It is something where you tend to think about a lot, which tends to control your mind, and you waste so much of your energy and you tend to lose time on something which doesn’t even matter to you that much and over the time you start doubting on yourself.
Why does we overthink?
Thinking a lot is a habit, much like biting our nails. Where overthinking becomes problematic is when we continually overlook the underlying need behind the behavior. It’s something we start doing because we’re coping with feelings that might be uncomfortable, or with needs that are not met. An intelligent or creative person’s mind needs to be fed. It needs “food for thought”. When this type of person does not provide their mind with intriguing or stimulating information on a regular basis, they’ll feel an unmet need. It’s quite possible the person will start to think or fantasize about things they have no control over, simply to fill the space. It becomes entertaining to think a lot, it provides stimulation. We tend to overthink when something bothers us. But if it starts to bother a lot than it also effects one’s health.
How to stop overthinking?
Step back and look at how you’re responding
The way you respond to your thoughts can sometimes keep you in a cycle of rumination, or repetitive thinking.
The next time you find yourself continuously running things over in your mind, take note of how it affects your mood. Do you feel irritated, nervous, or guilty? What’s the primary emotion behind your thoughts?
Having self-awareness is key to changing your mindset.
Find a distraction
Shut down overthinking by involving yourself in an activity you enjoy.
This looks different for everyone, but ideas include:
- learning some new kitchen skills by tackling a new recipe
- going to your favorite workout class
- taking up a new hobby, such as painting
- volunteering with a local organization
Take a deep breath
You’ve heard it a million times, but that’s because it works. The next time you find yourself tossing and turning over your thoughts, close your eyes and breathe deeply.
Developing a regular meditation practice is an evidence-backed way to help clear your mind of nervous chatter by turning your attention inward.
Not sure how to get started? We’ve got everything you need to know in this how-to guide. All you need is 5 minutes and a quiet spot.
Look at the bigger picture
How will all the issues floating around in your mind affect you 5 or 10 years from now? Will anyone really care that you bought a fruit plate for the potluck instead of baking a pie from scratch?
Don’t let minor issues turn into significant hurdles.
Do something nice for someone else
Trying to ease the load for someone else can help you put things in perspective. Think of ways you can be of service to someone going through a difficult time.
Does your friend who’s in the middle of a divorce need a few hours of childcare? Can you pick up groceries for your neighbor who’s been sick?
Realizing you have the power to make someone’s day better can keep negative thoughts from taking over. It also gives you something productive to focus on instead of your never-ending stream of thoughts.
So don’t just overthink, whenever you feel that it’s happening just take a deep breath and it will be fine!