“Over-thinking and under-doing often go hand in hand….and nowhere else!” – Anonymous
What Is Overthinking?
Overthinking is a problem. You might be pleased to hear, it’s not just a problem for you. It’s very much a shared experience.
One of the most common questions I get is around how to stop overthinking. I get it, throughout my 20s I was getting stuck in my head on the regular. My biggest culprits were around comparing myself, giving myself a hard time for not being good enough and overthinking relationship issues.
I expect since you are reading this, you are quite aware of overthinking and how it makes you feel. That said, it’s useful to identify exactly what it is you are doing.
To put it simply, overthinking is when you think about something too much and for too much of your time, usually attaching more meaning to the topic than it deserves. You get stuck in that familiar loop, going round and round the same points. You’re attempting to figure something out and get answers, usually through making up stories and connections that are not real.
The point that people often miss is that overthinking is not just the dialogue going on inside your brain, it is also a behaviour. You are actually spending your precious time thinking instead of getting on with your life and things that need to be done.
What’s the Problem with Overthinking?
You may argue that overthinking helps you to stay in control and plan your life. But honestly speaking; it gets to a point where trying to get that control is leading you to experience a lack of control in other areas of your life.
Overthinking is particularly problematic when it is impacting you functioning in your day to day life.
Examples of impact on functioning may include:
Why Do We Overthink?
Why you overthink is likely to be a combination of factors.
Tips to Stop Your Problem with Overthinking
The good news is that overthinking is a habit you can change. I know it feels out of control, but with dedication, practice and self-awareness, you can become the boss of your own mind.
As you begin to train your attention and refocus on the things that need it, you will experience a new confidence. Taking control of your life is empowering and you become a force to be reckoned with.
1: Develop Self-Awareness
The first step to making a change is being aware of your current situation. You need to reduce the amount of time you are spending in auto-pilot. Check in with your thoughts, feelings and actions. Soon you will notice patterns and this will provide opportunity to switch states.
Self-Awareness means you will be more alert to the impact overthinking is having and this is a great motivator for change.
The more self-aware you become, the stronger you will be at deciding to do something new.
2: Decide You Are The Boss of Your Brain
Whilst these tips are simple, they are not the easiest thing to do. If you find yourself in a victim mentality and do not believe you can change, you are making this journey even harder for yourself.
Look around you, it doesn’t take long to find a recovering overthinker. It can be done, you are as capable as anyone else.
Be careful. Refusing to believe in yourself might be an indication of your motivation to change. Decide you want this and take action. It won’t just happen.
If it is difficult to convince yourself, at least toy around with the idea that change is possible.
3: Change Physical State
When you are in a state of overthinking, get up and move. Shifting physical state means your brain is forced to take in new information and there is a higher chance of you shifting your focus.
This doesn’t have to be something huge. Walk over to the window, make a cup of tea, do 20 start jumps – Change your state.
4. Do a Task You Have Been Putting Off
Not only will this mean your attention has to go elsewhere, it will give you a sense of achievement – do not underestimate the role of taking on a challenge.
Make sure you focus on the task at hand, we don’t want you thinking AND doing the task. If the task is boring or hard, do it anyway. The harder it is, or the longer it takes only gives you more time to give your attention to something that actually needs it.
5. Practice Short Bursts of Mindfulness
If you are an overthinker, trying to practice mindfulness for an hour a day may be a bit ambitious at this point. Let’s take it in baby steps.
Practice small mindfulness exercises daily, they can last 5 minutes or less. The purpose is for you to demonstrate your ability to refocus your attention when you demand it. Do this several times a day and eventually, make the mindfulness practice longer.
Check out my blog on grouding techniques; they are great for attention retraining.
6: Think of Something New
Many people make the mistake of trying to stop thinking about whatever it is that’s on their mind. Try not to do this. The more you try to stop thinking about something, the more you think about it.
It is easier to think of something totally different.
you can think of any (positive) topic of your choice.My favourite is to list ten things I am grateful for. Initially, it’s a good idea to have your go to topic ready in advance. It is often too hard to think about it in the moment as you are taken over my fear and anxiety.
7: Exercise Regularly
As mentioned with moving your physical states, exercise is a great quick fix for overthinking.
It’s also great for helping overall with anxiety. A regular exercise pattern gives you something to do, aim for and as you know, it makes you feel good.
8: Think About it Later
This technique is good if you spend most hours of your day overthinking.
Carve out specific times for worrying/ruminating. This means you can spend the other hours of your day getting on with your life.
Your brain still gets the time to overthink but you are the one in control. As worries come up throughout the day, note them down and take them to your scheduled time. When your Time is up, practice a grounding technique or do something to come back to the present. Try not to have your time directly before bed time.
9: Problem Solve
It’s your responsibility to make sure you are not ignoring things in your life that need changing, accepting or letting go. Overthinking and ignoring issues is not going to make them go away.
You need to decide if what you are thinking about needs you. If it doesn’t and you are just going over on a useless loop, then letting it go is your best option.
I would always encourage you to check in. Why do I keep thinking about this? Do you need to do something?
If you need to talk to someone, apologise, book an appointment; then do them. Take action on what needs your to be done. Alternatively, you will just keep thinking about it.
10: Tolerate Uncertainty & Acceptance
Uncertainty is a certainty is this life. You don’t know what is round the corner, you can’t plan for every eventuality and you can’t change what has happened.
Learning to tolerate uncertainty and accept what has been is a must.
When you agree with yourself to take lessons from the past and you surrender to not knowing what is going to happen, you give yourself freedom to live.
A lot of the time, this world is confusing and life is hard – that is the way it is. Not just for you. For everyone.
You either fight against it and spend your precious, precious time trying to figure it out, or you go with the flow.
I’ve tried both, the latter has changed my life and brought me so much happiness.
Don’t give up on yourself. Try these tips out – experiment. It’s the only way to really find what works for you.
Don’t put yourself in the position of looking back and wishing you had relaxed more.
You are the leader of your mind and life.
When you have days of slipping back into old behaviours, don’t beat yourself up. We all have those days. Let it pass, learn from it and go again.
Carly Ann xx