Overthinking is a predicament that can catch us off guard. It can feel like we are bombarded by thoughts that are out of our control, and persistent overthinking can, in some cases, turn into states of chronic anxiety and depression.
It is a common misunderstanding that some people are just fated to live as overthinkers. However, it has been proven time and time again that we actually do have a choice when it comes to which thoughts we engage with and which ones we don't. Luckily for all afflicted by this condition, there are some incredible strategies that will remedy this age-old issue. With just a little bit of practice, it will become easier.
What Is Overthinking?
There are many healthy, solution-oriented ways to think about various concerns, such as relationship dilemmas or work-related issues. Overthinking, however, is defined as spending a lot of time in a cycle of negative thoughts. Living as an overthinker can involve ruminating and dwelling on problems and desperately seeking a solution. It can appear as excessive planning, seeking constant validation from others, and hypervigilance. Overthinking can bring about feelings of exhaustion, trouble concentrating, and even insomnia.
Why Do I Overthink?
Overthinking and certain mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression are intimately related to one another. Trigger thoughts can usher in a long series of troubling thoughts, and when we allow ourselves to engage them constantly, this overthinking cycle can become a chronic mental state if left unexamined.
“Thinking too much” idioms are those that reference anxious thoughts, and these idioms tend to overlap with a few common psychiatric disorders, such as depression and PTSD. It has been estimated that nearly 31% of all adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Over 40 million adults are affected by anxiety, making it the most common mental disorder in the U.S.
The brighter side of all this is that comfort can be found from the myriad of useful techniques used to shift focus away from troublesome thoughts and therapeutic counsel.
How to Stop Overthinking
Practice compassion towards yourself
Being compassionate to yourself can take many forms. One way to do it is by recognizing that your actions are the only thing you can control, and the rest is left up to other circumstances that are out of your hands. By recognizing and embracing this fact, a massive weight can be lifted, and it will be easier to commit to learning how to stop overthinking.
When you catch yourself overthinking, pay attention to the trigger thoughts that invoke stressful responses. Attend to the emotions and bodily sensations that accompany the onslaught of stressful thoughts. Turning your attention to physical sensations rather than to the storm of thoughts in your mind can actually help “turn down” the alarm system. Responding to negative thoughts with compassion rather than scorn will help you have more clarity.
If you find that overthinking is getting in the way of other thoughts you’d rather prioritize, challenge your internal dialogue. Some of the concerns you have may not be based on reality. They may take the form of hyperbolized images of perceived outcomes.
Set aside a time for overthinking
This may sound a bit unusual, but a very effective method of reducing overthinking is to set aside a specific part of your day to dedicate to it. You could mark off a time window (30 minutes is usually good) to spend ruminating. It will help you throughout the rest of the day while you focus on other thoughts because all the habits you have related to overthinking will be on the schedule rather than completely cut off.
Even just a little bit of aerobic activity can help brighten your day and reduce overthinking. Simply taking a bike ride or a brisk walk can be a powerful force to build up our resistance against repetitive thought processes. 5–10 minutes of exercise is better than none at all. By engaging in these heart-pumping activities, your attention may be shifted away from the very things you are anxious about.
Exercise increases the availability of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Exercise also stimulates the frontal regions of the brain. This area is vital for executive function and regulates the amygdala, which is directly responsible for how reactive we are to perceived threats. Going even beyond simply aiding mood regulation, the mood-regulating chemicals involved in exercise enhance our memory capacities.
Try attention training
One extremely useful metacognitive technique is attention training. Are you having trouble figuring out how to stop overthinking in a relationship? Perhaps it has been hard to learn how to stop overthinking about everything. Regardless of whether you are challenged by your own internal trigger thoughts or by external stressors, attention training, which involves quick, 12-minute-long exercises, can help you shift your attention away from persistent negative thoughts.
The attention training technique consists of three different phases:
First, pick out three or more sounds in your immediate environment. It’s best if you find somewhere to do this where there happens to be a variety of ambient sounds. Select just a couple that are nearer and louder and a couple that are quieter and further away. For two minutes, tune into each of your selected sounds one at a time for about 10 seconds each.
Next, after the two minutes have passed, continue paying attention to each of the different sounds but switch more rapidly between them.
For the final phase, focus on as many of the sounds as you can simultaneously.
The idea is to become more adept at being able to shift your focus as you see fit. When inner events occur, they can be treated as merely extra sources of noise, and they should not be given any priority.
Plan to take action and then take it
Taking action is known to reduce overthinking. Setting realistic goals will help you lay to rest many problematic thought processes that are taking up your attention. The next step involves implementing forward action. If you are having trouble making a decision, outline some of the pros and cons of each option. Then, embrace the decision you wish to proceed with. When you set reasonable goals that are within reach, it will be a lot easier to relax. Taking action will alleviate a lot of anxiety.
Enhance your self-esteem
Remember and revisit a hobby or skill you’ve been wanting to attend to. Practicing an instrument, painting, and writing, among numerous other activities, are all things that we can work on. Improving upon various existing skillsets will add to a sense of mastery, and progress tends to bring about benefits to one’s sense of self, such as improved self-esteem.
Counseling is an incredible way to reduce overthinking. It can foster tranquility and mental clarity. By seeking professional help from a licensed therapist, you may learn many other methods to shift your attention away from troublesome thoughts. Online therapy is a great alternative to traditional in-person therapy.
Can Online Therapy Help Me Deal With Overthinking?
There are many pros to online therapy:
- Accessibility: One of the endearing qualities of online therapy is that it allows for greater flexibility concerning scheduling. It frees up a lot of time that would otherwise be spent making arrangements to get to or involving driving to in-person appointments.
- Affordability: Online therapy is also far more affordable than therapy conducted in person. Because online therapists are able to work with more clients, it's easier to provide more affordable options.
- Anonymity: Online counseling sessions can even be anonymous. Online therapists want you to feel safe while receiving therapy and will not ask for your name, surname, and social security number. You can easily create your own username when you make an account on DoMental.
- There are more therapy options: Online therapy can be adapted more easily to meet specific needs because you can choose from a wider range of therapists. Therapy sessions are no longer limited to therapists who live nearby you.
Persistent overthinking can happen if you’re used to boarding trains of thought rather uncritically, but taking action might be enough to change your mental narrative. Overthinking is a strategy we may have developed over time to deal with our thoughts, but in time it can be remedied. Learning how to stop overthinking may initially seem like a daunting process, but online therapy can help. DoMental strives to make therapy affordable and offers numerous options for receiving help.
Overthinking can be difficult to deal with independently. It often requires a lot of focused effort, but everything is possible. With the right methods and mindset, you will eventually be free of ruminative practices.
And if you think that a little bit of outside counsel would be beneficial, there is a diverse and large mental health network online. Check DoMental’s site for online therapy programs and find licensed professionals who are ready to guide you out of your struggles.