Tend to Overthink? Here’s How to Stop it in its Tracks

With five simple steps.

By: Nicole Lippman-Barile Ph.D., N.T.P.

If you’re overthinking things, you’re not alone. And, if you’re overwhelmed in your thoughts, you have good reason to be. After all, new research shows that the average person has approximately 6,200 thoughts per day. And we want to help you turn down the noise and give your mind a break. We all overthink sometimes. It can happen when we are feeling uncertain when we are experiencing anxiety, self-doubt, or fear. Overthinking tends to be maladaptive and unhelpful, and it often leads to feelings of increased anxiety and worry. 

RELATED: A Holistic Psychologist’s Top 3 Self-Care Hacks For Anxiety 

Overthinking Defined

Overthinking is an excessive tendency to evaluate and mull over thoughts. This can be adaptive if we have something significant in our life that we need to decide, i.e., “Should I move across the country and accept this job offer?” But when overthinking is applied to other kinds of thoughts, especially negative intrusive thoughts, we tend to feel more anxious, depressed, and frustrated. 

Why Overthinking Can Get In Your Way

Overthinking involves rumination. It’s a persistent loop of thought that doesn’t lead you anywhere productive. Because it is like running on a mouse wheel, it leads to the development and increase of negative emotions and more negative thoughts. It doesn’t allow you to think about something more rationally. Instead, it perpetuates a worry cycle that keeps you stuck in these same negative thoughts and feelings. 

How to Stop Overthinking With These Simple Steps 

Schedule a Worry Time

The idea is to schedule a designated but brief period of time where you think about all your worries. The point is to let your brain run wild with the worries that tend to consume you. Once the designated time is over, go do something else. This works because it helps contain your worry thoughts to a specific time period instead of it taking over your entire day. 

If you want to try this, I would recommend scheduling worry time for 15 minutes a few hours before bedtime so as to not disrupt sleep. When your anxious thoughts pop up during the day, tell yourself that it is not worry time and that you will get to that thought later during your worry time. 

Reframe Your Negative Anxious Thoughts

This requires effort as you need to be aware of your overthinking when it is happening. Learn to catch them and challenge them. Is it true that your boss thinks you’re stupid because you didn’t spell a word correctly in your email? Where’s the evidence that you are going to be ill-prepared for your job that you will be starting next month? Challenging the thoughts you overthink allows you to question their validity and produce new, more rational, and helpful thoughts. 

Embrace The Futility of Overthinking

Understanding and knowing that overthinking is futile and has never helped you in the past allows you to disengage and reminds yourself to move on. Think about the last time you were overthinking and ask yourself, did it help you? What was the outcome of overthinking about that topic? Did it lead to problem solving and solutions?

Calm Your Body

Slowing down and calming our body also helps to slow and calm our thoughts. Practice deep breathing or some kind of relaxation exercise, do some stretching, take a bath, or take a walk. Learning how to self-soothe helps to translate into less worry and anxiety overall.

Do Something Else

When you can’t get your mind off the mouse wheel, go do something to get your mind hooked. Take a walk, draw, listen to a podcast or music, or call a friend. Distracting your mind with other tasks helps you to focus on other thoughts that are likely to be more helpful. 

Find What Works For You 

Overthinking can be harmful to our psychological and emotional health. The next time you are overthinking, try and practice one of the above suggestions until you find something that works for you.