Better Mind

11 Smart ways to overcome overthinking

11 Smart ways to overcome overthinking

Overthinking, also known as rumination, involves excessively dwelling on past or future situations or problems. This often manifests as repeatedly analyzing situations from multiple perspectives, leading to stress or anxiety. While thorough consideration can aid in making informed decisions, overthinking can negatively impact emotional well-being.

Various factors contribute to overthinking. Mental health conditions like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) frequently cause persistent worry about the future. Additionally, awkward social interactions and everyday failures can lead to rumination about what went wrong. However, overthinking can diminish your quality of life, so employing strategies to stay present can help alleviate anxiety.

01. Find a distraction

One of the simplest ways to interrupt an overthinking cycle is to distract yourself. Quick mental distractions include doing easy math problems, listing items in a specific category, or singing a song. Physical distractions might involve reading a book, listening to music, or calling a friend.

In one research survey, nearly half of the respondents reported using distraction to cope with overthinking, making it the most common strategy mentioned. Most participants also noted that they worried and ruminated less when interacting with others, highlighting the potential benefits of calling a friend or spending time with loved ones.

02. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness involves focusing nonjudgmentally on the present moment, acknowledging what is happening both internally and externally. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation effectively reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Common mindfulness practices include meditation, focusing on your breathing, or observing your environment and noting what you see.

03. Meditate with a mantra

Meditation doesn’t always mean sitting silently and trying to clear your mind. One approach is to repeat a mantra, either silently or aloud. Focusing on a word or phrase can help redirect your thoughts away from overthinking. This method is particularly effective if the chosen mantra is inspiring or calming.

04. Challenge your thoughts

People with depression often view past events more negatively than they actually were, while those with anxiety might fear future events more than necessary. When overthinking, it’s crucial to question whether your thoughts accurately reflect reality.

Surveys show that positive self‐talk and reframing thoughts in a more optimistic light can help reduce overthinking. Ask yourself if your negative thoughts are actually true, and whether a good friend would frame them the same way. Then try to reframe them.

05. Think about positive memories

Overthinking often revolves around negative thoughts. To counter this, recall moments when things went well. Think of times you succeeded, felt happy, or received praise. Redirecting your thoughts to positive memories can help break the cycle of negative rumination. If you struggle to recall such memories, ask family or friends for help; they will likely remember times when things went well for you.

06. Use breathing techniques

Overthinking can be intentional or occur as intrusive thoughts that emerge against your will. High stress levels can exacerbate intrusive thoughts, leading to sleep troubles and other health issues. Breathing exercises can help calm your mind and reduce stress.

Try a pattern where you inhale, hold your breath, and exhale for the same amount of time, such as 4 to 5 seconds per phase, repeated several times.

07. Try progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in your body, which has been shown to help manage stress. Start at the top of your head and work your way down, or begin at your feet and work your way up. Tense each muscle group for a few seconds, then relax it before moving on to the next group.

08. Focus on your senses

Focusing on your five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch) can help ground you in the present moment and break the overthinking cycle. Try listing things you notice with each sense. For example, if you are outside, you might:

  • See a group of trees
  • Smell a neighbor’s dinner cooking
  • Hear children playing in the distance
  • Taste the snack you recently ate
  • Feel the ground with your feet

09. Keep a journal

Journaling, or writing down your thoughts and reflections, can help reduce cortisol levels, a hormone that increases with stress. Since rumination often occurs at night and can lead to insomnia, nighttime might be the ideal time to journal. Writing down your thoughts may help convince your mind to stop thinking in circles.

10. Exercise

Physical activity offers numerous benefits for both physical and mental health. Exercise releases chemicals in the body that promote relaxation and calmness. It may also require you to enter different physical surroundings, helping to change your thinking pattern. Additionally, regular exercise improves sleep, which is important because poor sleep can worsen intrusive thoughts.

11. Make a plan

If overthinking stems from feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities or upcoming projects, try breaking them down into individual tasks. Thinking about everything at once can lead to circular thinking that doesn’t move you forward. Identify the tasks that are overwhelming you and create a plan of action for each one.

Write down each task and the specific steps needed to complete it. Focus on tackling one task at a time, taking small actions that will help you do more and think less. If possible, delegate tasks to others to reduce stress and anxiety. For example, if you need to wash the dishes, consider asking a partner or family member to help.

Reasons why people overthink things

Overthinking is extremely common, triggered by a wide range of past or future experiences. For instance, the end of a relationship, especially due to infidelity, often causes people to ruminate on what they could have done differently. Work-related stress, such as important presentations or projects, can lead to overthinking or worrying about career advancement.

In one research survey, respondents identified the following as the most common subjects of their overthinking or worrying:

  • Social situations or interpersonal interactions
  • Personal relationships
  • Negative events or experiences
  • Past mistakes

Some people overthink because they believe it will benefit them. In the same survey, respondents reported that they thought overthinking and worry could help them:

  • Prepare and plan for the future
  • Remember to do things
  • Avoid repeating past actions
  • Process thoughts and events
  • Prevent mistakes from happening

11 Smart ways to overcome overthinking conclusion

Overthinking is a common yet challenging habit that can disrupt your happiness and peace of mind. By understanding the reasons behind your overthinking and finding ways to break this cycle, you can improve your well-being, make better decisions, and live a more balanced life.

Effective strategies include practicing mindfulness, journaling, and seeking distractions. Remember, changing thought patterns takes time and practice, so be patient with yourself throughout this journey.