How to Overcome Overthinking

Warning signs you are an overthinker and how you can break the habit

If you find yourself constantly overthinking and want to put an end to this habit, these tips may help you find a solution.
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Do you often find yourself ruminating about the events that took place in the past or may happen in the future? Do you wonder if you could have done things differently or about the outcome of every action you undertake? Do you constantly remind yourself of all the mistakes that you have made? These are tell-tale signs that you are an overthinker.

When you overthink, you ponder over the same thing over and over again. These thoughts run in a never-ending loop that makes you brood over a thought repetitively and can cloud your judgment and decision-making skills. While everyone overthinks every now and then, extended periods of overthinking can be detrimental to your mental health. If left unchecked, it can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

“Overthinking can be harmful to our emotional health, especially when it’s directed at unwanted, spontaneous, negative thoughts, images, or memories,” David A. Clark, clinical psychologist and Professor Emeritus with the Department of Psychology at the University of New Brunswick, writes in a Psychology Today blog.

The good news is you can prevent the chain of repetitive thoughts from wreaking havoc in your life. If you find yourself constantly overthinking and want to put an end to this habit, these tips can help.

Don’t dwell in the past

“Every morning brings new potential, but if you dwell on the misfortunes of the day before, you tend to overlook tremendous opportunities,” says New York Times best-selling author Harvey Mackay. Overthinkers tend to dwell in the events of the past and berate themselves for things that went wrong. This attitude prevents them from harnessing their true potential, as they remain stuck in the past. If you have a habit of emphasising too much on past events, especially memories that bring you pain, you need to break the cycle by focussing on the present moment. Remind yourself that what is in the past will remain in the past. Unlike science fiction films, there is no time machine in the real world that can alter the course of time. Hence, if you want to stop overthinking, turn your attention towards the present and tell yourself that there is a lot you can still accomplish.

Stop engaging your trigger thoughts

Is your mind clogged with perturbing “What ifs…” while undertaking any activity? For instance, when you have to give a work presentation, does your mind create hypothetical scenarios of impending doom and makes you wonder “What if it all goes wrong?”, or “What if my boss is not going to like it?” These are trigger thoughts that create worst-case scenarios and torment you with endless worries.

A way to overcome overthinking is to identify these triggers. Assess the situation where such thoughts emerge. Then pause for a moment to analyse whether or not the scenarios you pondered upon really took place. In most cases, your worries are only a figment of your imagination. Once you recognise these triggers, try to stop mulling over them, and let them pass. Doing so will help you overcome overthinking.

Find a meaningful distraction

If you want to overcome overthinking, engage in other activities to distract your mind. This is a far safer option than forcing yourself to stop the flow of disturbing thoughts. The idea is to trick your mind into changing the point of focus. You can start by identifying certain hobbies and interests that can help break the chain of overthinking. For example, if you are fond of cooking, try out a new recipe. Or, if you like to read, pick up one of your favourite books and drift away into that reality. When you distract yourself with an engaging and meaningful activity, it helps you break the spiral of repetitive thoughts.

Engage in mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation has become a hot topic these days because of its therapeutic rewards. But what makes it relevant for overthinkers? Can it help you stop overthinking? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Mindfulness meditation can be the perfect antidote to overthinking as it calms down the turbulent thoughts and rewires the mind by training it to focus on the present moment. When your mind focusses on the ‘now’ instead of worrying about the past or the future, you experience an innate sense of calmness and serenity. With regular practice, mindfulness meditation can help declutter your mind and boost your overall wellbeing.

Practice self-compassion

When you practice self-compassion, you realise you are not the only one with problems in life. Cultivating this mindset allows you to stay positive when you are confronted with the vicissitudes of life. It inspires you to accept your real and perceived imperfections. Moreover, self-compassion can also fight depression and anxiety, according to numerous studies. It has the power to silence your inner critic who chastises you for your decisions or makes you feel awful for not being good enough. By practicing self-compassion, you can replace negative self-talk with positive thoughts and will be able to overcome your overthinking habit.

Look for solutions

Thinking repeatedly about all the problems in your life can add to your stress. Instead of dwelling on the problems, look for realistic solutions. While some things are under your control, such as your attitude and your capabilities, others are beyond your grasp. For example, you cannot control the weather or others’ behaviour. However, you are in charge of your actions, which can determine the course of your life. When you are confronted with a problem, pause for a moment and think about how you dealt with a similar situation earlier, and devise a strategy where you can find solutions to cope with it. Always keep a few alternative solutions ready to counter the problem and nip it in the bud.

Talk to a therapist

If you feel that overthinking is driving you to the verge of despair and you are unable to control negative thoughts from spiralling, reach out to a therapist. A therapist can help you identify the afflictive thoughts and emotions that cause overthinking and they can devise an effective strategy to cope with them. However, therapy is a two-way process and it can only be successful when you are equally engaged in turning the situation around.

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