What Overthinking Looks Like
Have you ever been in a group setting? A new one, where you don’t know anyone, but everyone else seems to know each other?
It’s common to find ourselves in a situation similar to this and our first reaction is to overthink absolutely every action we take, every word we speak. We worry that everyone’s thinking whatever we say is weird, or maybe we’re not talking enough. Where are we supposed to put our hands? Do we let them rest against our sides, or do we fold them? Should we use them when we talk, or is that weird?
Suddenly, this new and exciting situation has changed to this paralyzing never-ending tunnel of overthinking. All because our brain led us down there. This is exactly what overthinking does to us.
What is Overthinking?
Usually, the best way to fix a problem is to understand it and then get to the root of it. So to start us out, let’s do a deep dive into what overthinking is.
Overthinking is hyper-focusing on the problem at hand, and obsessing over every possible negative outcome it could produce. Sometimes the dilemma you’re having has a clear and simple solution, but your brain doesn’t see it that way. Your brain is focusing on the negatives, or in some cases placing the same negative thought on repeat. It’s an obsessive thought that won’t go away, and it always feels larger than what it is.
Instead of seeing your options and being able to make a decision, you obsess over the problem, the solution you might choose, and the small details and what-ifs that could result from whatever choice you make.
Often, when we are overthinking things, we start to experience negative effects like anxiety, and even depression. It doesn’t take an expert to tell you that those things will only make breaking out of the overthinking cycle even more challenging.
The Science Behind Overthinking
Your ruminating and overthinking problems derive from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is in charge of some significant memory tasks and also is what controls your ability to perform multiple tasks at one time.
According to research done on overthinking and ruminating, some people are more prone to develop a problem with overthinking than others. When this is the case, stopping rumination or overthinking becomes an even more difficult challenge.
For individuals who have a predisposition to overthink, distractions won’t always work. Research suggests that the best chance at getting through overthinking and rumination in these cases starts with learning different techniques to stop the brain from doing it.
How to Stop Overthinking Everything
First off, take a breath. You got this. Remember that the whole idea of overthinking things is that it isn’t about realistic things. There’s nothing wrong with you. Overthinking is normal and everyone you know has probably experienced it at some point in their lives.
Imagine The Worst-Case Scenario
Oftentimes when we overthink or ruminate, we only see the bad things that could happen. Think about the worst thing that could result from what you’re thinking about. Got it? Okay, great! Once you dial in what that outcome would be, you may start to realize that it isn’t as bad as you thought it was. Most likely you will also realize that you can work through whatever that worst-case thing is.
Think About How Strong You Are
Think about the most challenging thing you’ve ever dealt with in your life. Odds are, at the time, you probably never saw yourself getting through it. Yet here you are, you’ve gotten through it and you’re here now. You can handle more than you think you can.
Break The Problem Apart
It might help to see your problem from a different POV. When you overthink, you’ve usually created a false reality surrounding the details of your problem. Start breaking that apart. Take a look at your problem from a different angle. Once you start seeing all the sides of your issue, you can start to paint a more clear picture of what part of it is causing you so much stress, and figure out the best way to address it.
There is Success in Failure
Speaking of looking at your overthinking from a different POV, you could also try to remember that not every failure is a dead end. A great quote to remind us of this is:
When something goes a different way than we planned, or we do fail at something, we have learned at least one way that doesn’t work. This shift in attitude can help us stop ruminating on the mistake we made and start looking at it as a learning experience.
Make a Plan
The next right step might be to create your plan of action. After you’ve had time to reflect on what’s bothering you and all the potential solutions you have, you can decide what your next move is.
Write it Down
Journaling is a great tool to utilize to collect your thoughts and see all of your options right in front of you.
Writing down your plans and breaking them into manageable tasks always helps me. This way your problem doesn’t feel so big and bad.
After you have your plan ready to go, you can take whatever necessary action you need to, at that time. This is very important! Obsessing over doing everything right away will be another path back to overthinking. Just do whatever it is you can do right now, at that moment. That’s it.
You Are Not Alone
Keep reminding yourself that overthinking is not something only you are experiencing. It’s also not something that you can’t work towards shifting.
Ask For Help
Most importantly, never hesitate to ask for help. Be it from your family, friends, or whatever support group you have. If things don’t get better, or if you’ve noticed that overthinking and rumination are chronically impacting your life, try reaching out to a therapist to get the help you need to stop overthinking.
Be confident that you’ll figure out which tools work best for you to stop overthinking. It may take some time, but you’ve got this.
Use Your Tools to Let Go
After you’ve made your plan and broken it into steps, it’s time to let it go. Step back for now. Know you’ve done all you can do at this present moment, and it’s time to focus your energy on something else. (This is always easier said than done.)
Practice mindfulness / meditation and use the tools you have to cope with these negative thought patterns. Remember that overthinking will without a doubt cause whatever problems you’re experiencing to seem far worse than they are. You already have your plan of action and it is in play. Even if that plan fails, you always can try something else until you find something that does.
You can’t control everything, but it’s only natural to want to. Try to come to peace with this idea and find it within yourself to let go of the things you can’t control.
Easy Ways to Refocus Your Energy
If you’re experiencing a more mild case of overthinking, here are some ways to stop overthinking and re-route the negative thought patterns.
If you’re someone who gets caught up in negative thoughts, guided meditation is an excellent way to start refocusing your mind and bring you back into the present moment. There truly are so many options when it comes to finding a meditation that works for you. From different lengths of time to the background noise or narration, there is something for everyone.
If you’re someone who finds clarity and peace from writing things down, try journaling. Seeing your thoughts on paper can oftentimes make them feel more realistic and manageable. Journaling can be a soothing way to ease into your day too. Just imagine, still in your pj’s, morning latte in hand, snuggling up in your favorite chair, taking time to get in touch with yourself before you have to start your day. Sounds just lovely, right?
When you’re overthinking, it can feel difficult to escape your negative thoughts. Taking steps to be proactive about your negative thinking and dealing with the larger issue at hand is necessary. However, here are a couple of ideas you can implement to temporarily provide yourself with some relief.
Exercising is a great way not only to distract yourself, and escape your worries, it also will make you feel better afterward. Engaging in physical movement is a great reminder that you are not stuck in this problem. Getting your body moving, and out of the physical and mental space where you’re experiencing your overthinking can start to get you in the right mindset to deal with your problem.
Plus, you’ll know that you’re doing something good for your body and your mind. You can see and feel the benefits of exercise. Talk about feeling progress!
When our stress levels are high, it’s normal for us to neglect the things we care about doing. We spend so much of our energy on overthinking and negative thoughts that we start making the excuse that we don’t have time for ourselves, and the things that make us feel better.
What fuels your creative juices? Are you into long-distance running? Sewing? Crafting? Take some time to remember some of the things you enjoy and create some designated space in your day to direct your focus on expressing yourself physically or creatively.
Do Something Productive
Getting a task done always makes you feel more powerful and capable. Do you need to clean your closet out? Does your dog need a walk? Does your herb garden outside look a little sad? Choosing a task that will not only accomplish something but will also require your focus and energy will help get your mind off of whatever you’re overthinking about.
What Are the Benefits of Addressing Your Overthinking?
When you address that you’re having a problem with overthinking, you gain the ability to take over the problem and become more aware of your thoughts. Ignoring your overthinking might work temporarily, but all you’re doing, in the end, is ignoring the problem causing you so much stress.
Make sure that if you need a break from thinking about your problem that you take one, but know this is different than pretending your problem doesn’t exist.
Addressing your overthinking and rumination will also help you put your negative thoughts into a more realistic perspective. Are the thoughts you’re having connected to a problem that is actually in your realm of control?
Or are you worrying about something you cannot change? It’s important to remember that we can only do what we can and that we don’t control every outcome no matter how much time we spend thinking about it.
We know that constant overthinking and rumination can lead to more serious and long-term issues like depression and anxiety. Now research is also showing that ruminating could also be linked to issues with problem-solving.
Take action to help teach yourself how to best deal with your overthinking so you can be proactive in preventing any of these issues in the future. It may be difficult, but it’s going to be a ton better than letting these negative thinking habits eat you alive.
How Can I Stop Overthinking Before it Gets Out of Hand?
Try getting ahead of your dilemmas, before they get ahead of you. If you can seek out and identify issues you’re having in your life, you can work towards correcting them before they start leading you into negative thought patterns.
Don’t take it all on alone! Create your support group and keep them ready to go when a problem arises. Choose people you know you can turn to when you need advice, help, or just an open ear. Follow through with leaning on others. Taking too much on by yourself will only make you feel worse and make your problem feel bigger. It’s okay to share your burdens with the people that care about you.
If things get out of hand, or you aren’t feeling the right amount of support from others, it’s always a good idea to ask for professional help. You know yourself and what you need better than anyone, so if it feels like time to take that step, trust your gut. You might try Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) or Michelle’s favorite form of therapy, Analytical Therapy if you’re feeling severe symptoms, and ongoing support may ease your worries.
Lastly, you have to love yourself. Every wrong choice doesn’t have to feel like a tornado blowing through your life. Allow yourself the space to make mistakes and learn from them. Make sure when you do make mistakes, that you remember all the times that you didn’t too.
Gaining a Deeper Understanding of Overthinking and Rumination
Sometimes knowing more about the issue you’re experiencing and truly feeling like you understand what’s going on within yourself is the first step to dealing with it. Here are some really helpful sources of information to help you learn more about overthinking so you can start taking charge.
When it comes to finding help and useful advice on overthinking and rumination, there are a lot of resources you can access. Failure to address these negative thought problems can have devastating effects on your mental health and your life.
Overthinking and rumination go hand in hand. Both can lead to worsening issues if steps aren’t taken to help break the cycle. Learning more about rumination can help you better understand what you’re going through.
If you find yourself caught up in a repeat cycle of overthinking, consider taking a step back to realize what’s actually happening. There are many ways to stop overthinking. Practice a way that works for you to free yourself from the burden of your negative thought patterns.