• Theo

How To Stop Overthinking?

Overthinking. One of the biggest triggers for anxiety. We live in a world with so much information coming our way, everyday that it can be hard to process it all. On top of those external inputs, we also have to deal with our own thoughts; all of which can lead to overthinking and then burnout.

The good news is, overthinking isn’t likely to cause an anxiety disorder. What it can trigger is a feeling of anxiety. Overthinking can be described as dwelling on certain thoughts or past situations for prolonged periods of time which inhibits you from moving forward. You’re choosing to stay in a certain fram of mind going over and over the same thing so not only does that stop you from moving forward but it stops you from thinking clearly.

Overthinking usually comes from doubt. We choose to go over things to try and clarify them in our own head whether that’s understanding a past experience or making a decision about a future event. It crosses into overthinking once it becomes unproductive. Not only that, but it drains your energy and can then trigger anxiety because your practically become a danger to yourself. You end up in a state of uncertainty and feeling worse both physically and mentally leaves you vulnerable so your brain will try to protect you from that.

Stopping yourself from overthinking can be incredibly hard. It isn’t an obvious occurrence. You just don’t realise that you’re stuck in a certain thinking pattern. Overcoming overthinking is done by retraining the way you function.

Step 1 - Prioritise

We process tens of thousands of thoughts a day but seldom do we dwell on them. We tend to dwell on the thoughts that are negative or that have had some impact on us. An example could be that you were in a queue somewhere and heard somebody laugh behind you and a thought comes into your head that they are laughing at you. That can then spiral into overthinking by going over a million different reasons why they may have been laughing. Although the event was only a brief second, the thoughts are now weighing on you.

Another example could be making a big purchase which requires careful deliberation. It starts with thinking of pro’s and con’s but then turns into overthinking by worrying about all the potential negative consequences that could happen (catastrophizing) and what may happen if you don’t make the purchase.

Prioritising enables you to consciously dismiss thoughts that don’t have any benefit to you. The first example is something you could dismiss immediately. It’s not a priority to think about so why use up your mental resources worrying about that. It takes time to be able to let thoughts like that go, but it makes a huge difference in the long run and it is possible.

The second example isn’t something that you can just not think about. However, when you notice that your thoughts are no longer productive, you should leave it until the next day.

If it’s a decision that you need to decide on immediately, then you can weigh up the pro’s and con’s, make a decision you feel most comfortable with and then leave it. Don’t think about it too much afterwards, as once the decision is made, there’s nothing else you can do.

Step 2 - Focus on the outcome

When it comes to processing thoughts, focus on what you want the outcome to be. That way once you reach it, you can leave that topic behind. Say for example you are thinking a lot about an argument you had with a loved one and your goal is to understand their point. The thinking that goes into that will be guided and therefore processed quicker. You will focus on their points or feelings, trying to reform it in a way that makes sense to you. Without that guidance, you could end up overthinking about all the bad things they’ve said in the past, or how they’ve treated you, etc. Stay focused on the purpose of thinking about certain things.

Step 3 - Relaxation techniques

Since controlling overthinking is about retraining your brain on how it processes thoughts, there will be moments that you slip into overthinking about something and experience the negative side effects of that whether it be fatigue, anxiety, nausea, etc. In those moments, it’s important to have a way to clear your mind and relax. For me, music is my outlet. Picking up a guitar and making music clears my mind of every other thought. For others, it may be reading a book, going for a walk or exercising. Find what works for you so that you can unwind quickly and reset. Breathing techniques are also a good place to start as they force you to only think of the breathing exercise. Here’s a video with more on that:

Overthinking is something we should avoid as it doesn’t bring anything beneficial to our lives but suppressing the thoughts we have also isn’t the answer. We need to process our emotions clearly but efficiently. Consider your brain like a computer. You would close the tabs that are using it’s resources and providing nothing to the task at hand.

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