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5 Ways to Overcome Your Overthinking

Woman looking at the sunset

Have you noticed that you feel completely overwhelmed by your thoughts? Do you tend to ruminate on what you did or said in the past? Or do you find that you need to turn over every possibility in your mind before you make a decision?

If you are connected to one or all of these questions, you likely struggle with overthinking. Often this type of thinking becomes unhelpful or paralyzing in being able to live the life you want.

Let’s take a look at why people overthink and ways to help with this.

Why am I Overthinking?

Our brains are wired to help us survive and avoid pain. Overthinking tends to be a coping mechanism to help mitigate difficult experiences like rejection, disappointment, or failures. People often confuse worry and rumination with being prepared or planning. We slip into problematic thinking when our thoughts are focused on what we cannot control, like the actions of others or predicting uncertainties.

Many studies show that overthinking is actually linked to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Overthinking tends to be rooted in unrealistic expectations of ourselves to get it all “right.”

It is essential to accept that overthinking is not a helpful coping skill and build new tools to empower you to overcome life’s challenges.

Help with Overthinking

Worried woman covering her face

1. Notice Your Thinking Patterns

The first step to addressing overthinking begins with recognizing when rumination is happening! When you build awareness of unhelpful and cyclical thinking, you are more able to make a change to your train of thought.

Are there specific triggers that tend to make overthinking worse, like a big decision or a social event? Tune into your thoughts at these times to check in with the signs of worry and criticalness. The techniques learned in cognitive behavioral therapy are a helpful way to start reframing how you process information. Begin by detecting any cognitive distortions, such as assuming you know what others are thinking or catastrophizing the consequences of an event.

When you observe a thought that is not helpful, like “I’m going to be so awkward and have nothing to say at dinner,” try to reframe the thought to include the compassion you may have for a friend. For example, “Loads of people feel awkward at social events and it is okay to say something silly.”

2. Shift Into Problem Solving

While overthinking is not a helpful strategy for confidence or positive outcomes, problem-solving is! Ruminating thoughts tend to be more self-critical and rooted in the “What ifs?”; whereas problem-solving is based on what you can control and looks at actionable steps.

Instead of rethinking the many possible scenarios in your mind, explore what you can do to support yourself in these situations. Some questions to ask yourself could be “What have I learned from the past?” or “What will make a difference?”.

Consider the past example of fearing awkwardness at a dinner party. Instead of obsessing over all of the ways, this could be embarrassing, look at what could help. Is there someone you're more comfortable with to plan to sit next to? Or maybe in the past, you experienced your mind going blank with nothing to say. Could you brainstorm some topics to talk about if an uncomfortable silence occurs?

Writing a journal
3. Write it Out

It is common with overthinking to have a thought spiral where the same thoughts come up over and over again. This can occur especially when you are fearful that you may forget or “miss” something. Writing or journaling about your thoughts can help organize your thoughts in a concrete space that you can come back to.

Seeing your words written out can also provide an opportunity to recognize if you are ruminating with worry or if you are using problem-solving skills. Sometimes what feels entirely accurate in our minds feels very different when reading those thoughts or saying them aloud.

When you write, begin with the intention to stop the overthinking process instead of just continuing it in a journal. See if you can add in compassion and validation for your experience.

4. Practice Distraction

One of the best ways to quickly stop overthinking is to take a step back from your inner world and interact with your external surroundings. Distraction is a positive tool to help change your mood and allow space for different thoughts.

Doing something that engages one or more of the five senses can help ground you in your real-world experiences. Some examples of this are taking a hot shower, exercising, being in nature, eating a snack, watching a movie, playing a game, crafting, or talking to a friend. Even doing something like holding an ice cube or splashing cold water on your face can help shift your focus.

Accepting that thoughts come and go can allow more freedom to try out a distraction activity. You may notice thoughts floating up into your awareness. Rather than reacting, simply notice them and allow them to pass on by.

5. Talk to Someone

Expressing your thoughts can release some of the burdens that overthinking creates. Start the conversation with a loved one to build the premise that this is to stop overthinking. Another person is more likely to spot perfectionistic or critical thinking. They may also have some ideas for focusing on what you can control.

Make sure that these conversations do not turn into co-rumination sessions. This happens when someone joins your thought spiral and adds fuel to the fire. Pinpoint who in your life might be more helpful or bring up these concerns in counseling.

Coastal Light Counseling and Psychotherapy wants to help you overcome overthinking and the problems that can stem from it. If you or someone you love is experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression from overthinking, please reach out today to learn more about our therapy options. Please also follow us on social media to stay updated with our practice!

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