We all go through periods of overthinking and problematic rumination, some of us for longer than others and it is something I work with in my therapy rooms often as it contributes to a great many problems in life.
The human mind seems to be unable to process a negative, which means it can’t think of something you tell it to forget or ignore.
Ruminating, or letting your mind spin about things isn’t just a case of sleepless nights; research shows that dwelling on your mistakes, real or imagined, is linked to depression, enhances negative thinking, impairs problem solving, interferes with instrumental behavior, and erodes social support. The implication of this is that overthinking cannot be solved by self-discipline or trying harder.
This is a hard one for the human intellect to wrap itself around because the intellect typically works in one direction only: more doing and more thinking.
Whatever problem you throw at your intellect; it will often think about it more.
But if your aim is to reduce the amount of thinking you have going on, there’s some good chance that great things can and will happen. I have written on this topic before, and wanted to write some more about it because it is such a prevalent issue, do consider reading this article too if you are interested in this subject: How To Stop Rumination and Overthinking Being Your Downfall.
“Overthinking is parasitic. It’s viral. It’s deadly, even. Letting yourself fall victim to overthinking doesn’t just kill your happiness, it destroys who you are. The mind is a beautiful and complex thing, and the only person who can hurt it is yourself.” — Genereux Philip.
1) Accept that You Have a Problem with Over-Thinking.
The first step to healing is acknowledging that you have a problem. If you feel like you can’t get out of your own head and over-thinking is stopping you from living a happy life, making decisions, getting things done, or forming meaningful relationships, then you have a problem.
Scheduling time to reflect on things is a great way to keep you from overthinking as much. Spending a lot of time thinking about one thing isn’t productive but reflecting on things can be helpful. Take about 20 minutes to sit down and overthink. When those 20 minutes are up, get up and do something productive.
2) Forgive Yourself.
Once you can admit that you are an over-thinker, forgive yourself, because the brain is actually wired to make over-thinking a natural tendency. According to Psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, “the organization of our brains sets us up for over-thinking” because our thoughts and memories are intrinsically woven together, not compartmentalized. So when stressors are triggered or you get into a bad mood, it can unlock a ‘cascade’ of racing negative thoughts that have nothing to do with the original trigger for the bad mood. Nolen-Hoeksema gives the example of “when poor job performance causes you to think about your aunt who died last year.”
Furthermore, when something bad happens or someone is feeling negative, they are more likely to think negative things and also see connections (that may not actually exist) between all the bad events that have happened in their lives. The more frequently this happens, the more likely the individual is to engage in this over-thinking pattern in the future.
3) Breathe More.
If our brains are wired in this ‘interconnected spider web’ where one bad event can trigger a tidal wave of negative thought associations, how can we break this pattern?
The first and easiest thing you can do is BREATHE. Breathing will relax you, calm you, connect you to the present moment, and ground you to Mother Earth. It sounds so simple but often when our mind starts to race to bad places, we become manic and frantic when what we need to do is relax the body and mind.
Read this article for a range of ways to use your breathing to advance well-being: 8 Breathing Exercises to Enhance Well-Being.
4) Talk Less.
So many over-thinkers, can’t help but want to ‘talk it out’ when we are feeling stressed and worried. While talking about the worries can sometimes help, it usually will make things worse, especially if the person you are talking to is also an over-thinker. This type of co-rumination, where two ruminators get together to over-think about their lives together, can lead both people deeper into negativity and stress.
When you know you’re overthinking, take note of it so that you can make changes to your thought process. Once you notice your overthinking, you can acknowledge those thoughts, realise they aren’t productive, and move on.
5) Get Physical, Get Active.
Telling yourself not to think about something is a sure fire way to think about it. But, changing your behavior is a great way to change your mind. If you notice yourself overthinking, busy yourself with an activity that requires you to focus solely on it. Exercise is a great alternative to overthinking and it’s a healthy one, too!
In addition to physical exercises, engrossing activities that stimulate the brain can also be effective for redirecting obsessive thought patterns. Playing cards, learning a language, or playing all different types of games can be great diversions or interrupters of these thoughts.
6) Practice Mindfulness.
One of the big things that over-thinkers struggle with is the ability to live in the present moment. So consumed by the failures of the past and the worries over the future, the present moment does not get the attention and love it deserves. Lao Tzu said that “if you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, and if you are at peace you are living in the present.” So how can we live in peace in the present moment?
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment. If you’re in the moment, you’re less likely to overthink about events in the past or worry about what may happen tomorrow. Practice mindfulness every day and you’ll notice that your overthinking will decrease over time.
8) Remember, Your Thoughts Create Your Reality
Instead of thinking about why something happened, as yourself what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. There are a few questions you can ask to get you started:
• Can I change the situation?
• Can I change the outcome?
• Is worrying about this productive?
If the answers to those questions are no, it’s time to move on to something productive. Instead, think about what you can actually do. Being proactive in your thinking may decrease overthinking in the future.
We all have times when we think about things too much. But, noticing our thought patterns and taking steps to make a positive change can have a profound impact on the future. The next time you find yourself thinking about something too much, practice these 8 tips to stop.
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