How to Stop Overthinking

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Overthinking is something that can affect us all, and while analysing a situation where you behaved a little awkwardly is normal, it’s very easy for overthinking to become toxic and emotionally damaging.

Chronic overthinkers can struggle not only in social situations, but also when making very basic decisions.

At its most damaging, chronic overthinking can lead to developing social anxiety, panic attacks and even agoraphobia. Overthinkers may feel as though their brains simply won’t shut off.

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What is Overthinking?

Overthinking can affect people in a variety of ways. Worrying about the past or future is one of the most recognised forms of overthinking, while ‘big picture’ overthinking, ‘mind reading’, and chronic indecisiveness are also very common. 

Many overthinkers continuously worry that something bad will happen to them or those they love. This may be something as seemingly harmless as embarrassing themselves at work, or it may go deeper than this, with worries that those close to them are going to die.

Ruminating about the past is just as common, and can be equally damaging. Whether you’re constantly replaying a social faux pas from 2015, or you’re consumed with feelings of guilt after hurting someone, overthinking something that happened in the past is a type of overthinking many of us will be familiar with,

Another example of overthinking is ‘big picture’ overthinking. While philosophers are masters at the ‘big picture’ overthinking, engaging in this form of overthinking while you’re stuck at work on a Friday afternoon isn’t quite so healthy. You might start thinking ‘what is my purpose?’, ‘why am I here?’ and, ‘am I truly happy?’.

While these are all good questions to ask ourselves at times, constantly asking yourself searching questions can lead to you making rash decisions in times of emotional stress.

Another type of overthinking is thinking people don’t like us. We might think that our friends don’t really like us, that we come across awkwardly, or that people have been saying nasty things behind our backs.

The final example of overthinking is indecisiveness. While this itself isn’t necessarily damaging, it can be exhausting! Constantly struggling to decide what to eat, what to wear or what to do at the weekend can be both physically and mentally tiring.

How to stop overthinking: Recognise

Recognise When You’re Overthinking

Overthinking is very normal, but you don’t have to give your thoughts power. In some cases, overthinking can be very useful.

Our thoughts can keep us safe in certain situations, and overthinking can encourage us to adjust our behaviour. If we feel we’ve embarrassed ourselves at a social occasion, we’ll be more aware of how we’re acting next time round!

However, when these thoughts become obsessive, they can be very damaging. Recognising when you’re overthinking can help you to beat it. If you find yourself constantly worrying, stressing about things you have no control over, or reliving moments over and over again in your head, you are most likely overthinking.

Likewise, if you struggle to sleep, concentrate, or you’re constantly dwelling on something someone said, you are overthinking.

Challenge Your Thoughts

Getting caught up in overthinking is very common, but trying to stop it happening can actually make things worse! While finding a distraction can be very helpful in the short term, it’s important long term to acknowledge your thoughts and challenge them. 

Overthinking is often in the form of destructive thought patterns, and even if you have evidence to back up your thoughts, you’re likely still exaggerating them.

Try to imagine what you would say to a friend if they were voicing the same worry – it’s unlikely you’d tell a friend that they’re going to get fired because they forgot to say good morning to their boss!

Next time you notice yourself engaging in destructive thought patterns, try to challenge your thoughts and look at them from a different perspective.

What evidence do you have that your friends don’t like you? What evidence do you have that they do like you? Breaking your thoughts down will help you to look at the situation objectively.

How to stop overthinking: challenge your thoughts

Practice Mindfulness

When we’re overthinking, we’re almost never immersed in the present. Even if we’re worrying about something we said just a few minutes earlier, we are still focusing on the past.

Mindfulness is a fantastic tool for chronic overthinkers, as it involves paying attention to the present moment without judgement.

Learning to control or focus your attention on the present can lead to an inner sense of calm, and a meditation practice can help you learn to look at your thoughts objectively.

When we’re fully immersed in the present, we won’t be giving undeserved attention to the past or future. 

A mindfulness meditation practice can help you look at your thoughts through a calm and objective lens. The aim of mindfulness isn’t to ignore your thoughts completely, but instead to accept them, and return to the present. 

MindEasy’s Mindfulness course consists of 6 lessons and has been designed to help you improve your emotional control and stop overthinking.

Key Facts

  1. Overthinking can affect all of us and can be very damaging if it becomes chronic.

  2. There’s a number of types of overthinking. Many people overthink a way they have behaved or something they’ve said, while others constantly worry about the future.

  3. Recognising when you’re overthinking will help to take away some of its power.

  4. Challenge your thoughts by trying to look at them from a different perspective. Imagine what you would say to a friend if they were voicing the same worry.

  5. A mindfulness course can help immerse you in the present and teach you to observe your thoughts without judgement.