Overthinking (or ruminating, as it is scientifically called) is exactly what it means, thinking too much. When you analyze, comment, and repeat the same thoughts over and again, instead of acting, you are overthinking.
This habit prevents you from taking action. It consumes your energy and time, disables your ability to make decisions, prevents you from doing new things and making progress in your life, and puts you in a loop of thinking and thinking over and again.
In this situation, there is more likelihood of worry, anxiety, and lack of inner peace.
On the other hand, when you don’t overthink, you become more efficient, more peaceful, and happier.
Now, everyone overthinks at times; that’s normal. It becomes an issue only when someone finds it hard to resist having the same thoughts over and over. Not knowing how to cut free, they often develop severe stress and anxiety.
In time, the overthinking person may even go into depression.
Instead of ignoring it, take action as soon as you notice you cannot help thinking too much about the same things from your past. Find out below how to get over this harmful habit.
What happens when you overthink?
• You just can’t stop thinking about an event, a person, something that happened in the past, or a problem. Instead of looking for a solution, taking initiative, and being active, you just keep thinking and cannot get it out of your mind.
• At times, when something bad happens, you think about the worst scenarios, with thoughts like “what if?” or “why?”.
• You slip now and then into negative thinking patterns.
• You worry about past mistakes or current problems and issues, and how they might lead to negative outcomes.
• At times, you obsess about or over-analyze your day-to-day experiences and interactions with people.
• You inflate every word, thought, and event beyond really and reasonable proportions, reading into it things that aren’t there.
How do overcome overthinking?
Psychologists have found that over-thinking can be detrimental to performance, and lead to anxiety and depression.
Constant worrying and overthinking can often lead to issues with mental health and well-being. Try these tips to stop it.
1. 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. Rumination can often cause negative consequences to a person’s mental health.
The next time you find yourself continuously running things over in your mind, take note of how it affects your mood.
Find a distraction and shot 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
2. Take a deep breath.
Here’s a good starter exercise to help you unwind with your breath:
1. Find a comfortable place to sit and relax your neck and shoulders.
2. Place one hand over your heart and the other across your belly.
3. Inhale and exhale through your nose, paying attention to how your chest and stomach move as you breathe.
Try doing this exercise 3 times a day for 5 minutes, or whenever you have racing thoughts.
3. Practice being mindfully accepting.
The most difficult challenge for overthinkers is figuring out how to halt their train of thought, especially when they are aware they are overthinking. They become increasingly anxious as they helplessly watch their impotence in breaking their harmful habit.
Regular practice of mindfulness meditation can help one control their overthinking.
4. Try solving a new problem.
Challenge yourself to look away from your loop of thoughts and put yourself up for finding solutions to the problems playing in your mind. Challenge yourself to find ways to solve the issue at hand. You could throw in a distracting challenge for yourself — funny videos, Sudoku, yoga, juggling, or anything else you love to be distracted with — first. Then, you can focus your attention directly on finding a clear-cut solution to the present problem.
5. 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 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.
6. 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.
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.
7. Recognize automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).
Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) refer to knee-jerk negative thoughts, usually involving fear or anger, you sometimes have in reaction to a situation.
You can identify and work through your ANTs by keeping a record of your thoughts and actively working to change them:
• Use a notebook to track the situation giving you anxiety, your mood, and the first thought that comes to you automatically.
• As you dig into details, evaluate why the situation is causing these negative thoughts.
• Break down the emotions you’re experiencing and try to identify what you’re telling yourself about the situation.
• Find an alternative to your original thought. For example, instead of jumping straight to, “This is going to be an epic failure,” try something along the lines of, “I’m genuinely trying my best.”
8. Consider other viewpoints.
Sometimes, quieting your thoughts requires stepping outside of your usual perspective. How you see the world is shaped by your life experiences, values, and assumptions. Imagining things from a different point of view can help you work through some of the noise.
9. Practice self-compassion.
Dwelling on past mistakes keeps you from letting go. If you’re beating yourself up over something you did last week, try refocusing on self-compassion.
Here are some ways to get you started:
• Take note of a stressful thought.
• Pay attention to the emotions and bodily responses that arise.
• Acknowledge that your feelings are true for you at the moment.
• Adopt a phrase that speaks to you, such as “May I accept myself as I am” or “I am enough.”
10. Embrace your fears.
Some things will always be out of your control. Learning how to accept this can go a long way toward curbing overthinking. One study from 2018 shows that accepting negative thoughts and fears can help improve psychological health.
11. Build a “Thought Box.”
The “Thought Box” process is a greatly helpful way to reduce overthinking.
Set aside a little time in the day, say 20 minutes, when you will allow yourself time to overthink. Set up an alarm on your phone for the end of this interval. During this time, begin by telling yourself you have absolute freedom to ruminate until the alarm bell rings.
Then let your mind do all kinds of overthinking. There are no limits and no control over your thinking process. Call this your “Thought Box.”
12. Ask for help.
You don’t have to go it alone. Seeking outside help from a qualified therapist can help you develop new tools for working through your thoughts and even changing your mindset.
In conclusion, overthinking is one of the most vulnerable factors in your personality that puts you at a high risk of depression, often as soon as within a year of a negative life event.
So, stay watchful and take notice early if you are overthinking things. Use those methods above to arrest the irksome habit before it leads to other disruptive mental disorders.
However, if you find it hard to get over it yourself, please seek expert psychological help.