Have you often found yourself obsessing over a thought that didn’t deserve your attention in the first place? Something that you’d like to get out of your head, but simply can’t? Do you frequently beat yourself up about how to stop overthinking?
You’re not alone!
Overthinking is a real problem. According to a research report by the University of Michigan, it is an epidemic, especially among middle-aged and young adults.
We all analyze our thoughts. But when you get stuck in a constant loop, worrying about something that may never even happen, or may not even be true, moving on with your day becomes difficult.
My Personal Struggle With Overthinking
I have been a victim of overthinking for as long as I can remember. I’ve had trouble sleeping and focusing at work. The memory of the happiest day of my life, when my husband proposed to me, is a blur because my mind was busy processing “irrational thoughts” that in hindsight, were of absolutely no significance.
It is when I had my first panic attack that I decided to do something about it. Today, I can control my thoughts. I would be lying if I said that unwanted thoughts didn’t pop into my head from time to time. But I can now overcome them and move on with my day as if those thoughts never came to me at all.
How To Avoid Overthinking
Everybody has a different way of dealing with problems. But there’s no harm in getting a little help from a friend who’s been through what you’re experiencing now.
To avoid overthinking, you will have to make a few behavioural alterations and adopt a few practices, making them a part of your daily routine. I’d like to share with you 7 practices that worked wonders for me and taught me how to overcome overthinking.
- Designate A Specific Time During The Day To Think
This is the first practice for you to adopt in order to stop overthinking. Thoughts enter the head all the time. But it is not necessary for you to address them immediately. If you’re in the middle of work, overthinking might affect your productivity. Moreover, thinking about the same thing over and over again is sure to give you a headache.
While you do want the thoughts to disappear, you’re also tempted to think in that very moment, hoping for it to leave you alone after you’re done with it. But that just makes it stick around even more.
Dedicate a fixed 15-minute time slot to your thoughts. I prefer a slot in the night, around 11, but you can choose whatever time is convenient for you. Then, whenever thoughts pop into your head, tell yourself that you will think about them, but not that very moment. You will think about all the thoughts that come to you in that allotted slot, at length if required.
How this helps: By the time you actually get to the designated slot, you would have forgotten most of what you were supposed to think about. Half your thoughts are just gone.
- Analyze The Root Cause Of Your Worry or Fear
A lot of our anxiety comes from negative thought patterns and fears; a lot of these fears and worries are deep-rooted in things that have happened to us in the past.
For example, overthinking about whether or not your relationship is going to work may stem from a failed past-relationship. Self-esteem issues can be linked back to parents pushing their children to work harder and criticizing them at every step, telling them that they’re not good enough. Anger issues can find roots in having had a troubled and abusive childhood.
Whatever negative emotion is plaguing you, chances are that there is some event from your past that is triggering it. Analyze your fears and worries. And then try to introspect as to what could be the root-cause behind them.
How it helps: Once you know the reason for your distress, you can give yourself logical arguments and let go of the bad things that were, and focus on all the good things that could be.
- Maintain A Journal
What happens when you talk to a friend about something that’s been disturbing you? You get some sense talked into you, convincing you that you’re being paranoid.
Sometimes, we don’t want to discuss our fears with anyone. Maybe it’s the fear of judgment, or simply the desire to not bother anyone else with our unfounded ruminations. In such cases, we can turn to an inanimate friend who is sure to not form notions about us- a journal.
“The pen is mightier than the sword”. Penning down what you’re feeling is one of the best ways to kill the thoughts that are making you fret. Often, what may seem important in our heads seems ridiculous when spelled out. When you actually see the words in front of you, you realize that they are so not worth your time. Make a journal. Write down all your thoughts and fears.
How it helps: You will begin to see just how absurd they are and that you have been unnecessarily burdening yourself giving them any sort of importance.
- Take A Deep Breath
When you experience fear or anxiety, the sympathetic nervous system of your body- the fight, fright, flight system gets activated. It fools the body into thinking that it is in imminent danger and increases your heart rate and breathing rate, taking in less oxygen than is required. This, in turn, fuels your anxiety even further.
Slow down. Take a deep breath. Count to 5 while you inhale and count to 10 while you exhale. Your exhalation must be slower than your inhalation.
How it helps: As a result of the slow breathing, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated, slowing down your heart rate. As your mind calms down, it is easier to rationalize your fears and thoughts, which is not usually possible when you’re breathing short breaths and pacing the room panicking. Once you have reasoned with your inner feelings, you can stop thinking too much about them.
- Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation goes a long way if you’re wondering how to reduce overthinking.
While meditating, you are supposed to focus on your breathing. But often, the mind wanders into different dimensions, and focus is easily lost. Don’t worry. This is absolutely normal. What’s important is to reset.
Observe that your mind has wandered. Notice the thoughts that have lured you into abandoning the focus on your breathing. Detach all judgment from those thoughts. And then bring back your focus on breathing. The mind will wander again. You will reset again. Do this as many times as necessary, until the mind is trained to not wander when you don’t want it to.
How it helps: Apart from helping you overcome stress, anxiety, and overthinking, mindfulness meditation also helps increase your attention span. It trains your mind to only think about thoughts that you want it to.
- Work Out
This is probably the most underrated remedy for how to get rid of overthinking. Working out refreshes you. It instantly makes you feel better about yourself.
When you have tons of pent up energy inside of you, it needs to be channelized somewhere. Without any physical activity, the natural course for that energy to take is your thoughts.
Try going for a run. Or practice yoga. No matter what form of exercise you choose, just sweat yourself. You will be more productive when you return and won’t be overthinking as much as you were before the workout.
How it helps: By releasing endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters in your body.
- Music To The Rescue
You’ll find a lot of tips and tricks online on how to control overthinking. But almost no one ever mentions music as a remedy for your woes. According to research, it helps reduce anxiety by almost 65%.
The immediate advantage of listening to music is that it distracts you. If you’re distracted, you’re not overthinking.
The benefits of the rhythms and sounds of harmony are manifold and go way beyond overthinking.
In elderly people, music has been shown to help with self-esteem issues and cure depression. In juvenile cancer patients, it acts as a mood elevator, and patients report higher overall quality of life.
Music is a universal medicine. And it is especially effective for people like you and me who have been holding back because of their anxieties and overthinking tendencies.
So what’s your jam?
Final Thoughts On How Not To Overthink
For a long long time, I’ve held myself back from living the life that I’ve always wanted to live. And one of the biggest reasons has been overthinking. Trust me when I say, “I feel you bro!”
But there’s one thing that I’ve learned. No matter how much help much help is available on the outside, it is the change that you make inside that will determine whether you continue to live your life overthinking, or find yourself liberated.
As quoted by William Ernest Henley,
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Next Read: 5 Ways To Control Your Anger