In our fast-paced, constantly-connected world, it's easy to get caught up in the habit of overthinking. We can overthink everything from what we wear to what we're going to say in a meeting. And while there's nothing wrong with being prepared, overthinking can lead to anxiety and even paralysis.
Another problem with overthinking is that it often leads us to focus on the negative. We worry about what could go wrong instead of what could go right. We dwell on our fears and doubts instead of staying positive and optimistic. As a result, overthinking can rob us of our joy and peace of mind.
The good news is that we can learn to control our thoughts and not let overthinking ruin our lives. If you're ready to break the overthinking habit, these tips can help you get started.
What is Overthinking?
Overthinking is pretty much what it sounds like: thinking too much about something, good or bad, to the point where it interferes with your daily life.
For some people, overthinking is a habitual way of processing information. Others may only overthink when they are focusing on a negative experience to try and understand it better.
Unfortunately, ruminating excessively on an issue or situation can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental and physical health problems.
When stressed, our bodies go into “fight-or-flight” mode, which means our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and we breathe more quickly. These reactions are all part of the stress response, a natural mechanism our bodies use to protect us from danger.
However, sometimes we can get stuck in the stress response, especially when we're exposed to stressors or if we're worrying about things that might happen in the future. When this happens, it's called “overthinking.”
Why Do People Overthink?
Everyone overthinks for different reasons. Perhaps you're worried about something specific or are trying to get more control over your life. Maybe you're afraid of making mistakes because you're a perfectionist. Or you've been hurt in the past, and now you're overthinking things to protect yourself.
We live in a society that is constantly bombarding us with information. This stimulus can make it difficult to focus on one thing at a time, making us feel overwhelmed.
Additionally, we are taught to think critically and to question everything. While this is generally a good thing, it can also lead us to overthink things that don’t warrant it. We must find the right balance between overthinking and not thinking things through enough.
Overthinking can also happen because people are bored or they have too much time on their hands. They might start thinking about all the things that could go wrong in their life or everything they need to do.
Sometimes, overthinking is just a habit. People might do it without even realizing it.
Is Overthinking Bad for You?
Yes, overthinking can affect your mental and physical health. When you overthink, you are essentially putting your body under stress, leading to many health problems ranging from insomnia to cardiovascular disease.
For example, one study found that people who ruminate (i.e., overthink) a lot are more likely to develop gastrointestinal problems because chronic stress can lead to inflammation in the gut. Evidence also suggests that overthinking can weaken your immune system because your body releases cortisol when you're constantly stressed, meaning you're more likely to get sick.
Overthinking can also lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression. When someone overthinks, they tend to worry about things that might not even happen, which can cause them to feel stressed and anxious all the time. It can be exhausting to feel like your brain is constantly working overtime and won't shut off. It can also lead us to make bad decisions, as we are not thinking clearly when we are anxious.
Depression is common in overthinkers because they believe they are not good enough or will never be happy. You might worry that people are judging you and you're not measuring up. This constant self-doubt can lead to indecision and inaction, which can be disastrous in fast-paced situations requiring quick thinking and decisive action.
If you constantly doubt your decisions, you'll never have the confidence to move forward.
Signs You're An Overthinker
You likely occasionally worry about things you can't control, such as your job, your finances, or your relationships. But it's probably not a problem if you can control how much you worry and it doesn't interfere with your ability to function.
However, if you find yourself constantly worrying about what could go wrong or spending hours overanalyzing every decision you make, you're likely an overthinker.
You might also recognize some of these signs:
- You have a hard time making decisions, even simple ones.
- You overanalyze every situation and try to anticipate every possible outcome.
- You dwell on past mistakes and regrets.
- You doubt your abilities and question whether you're good enough.
- You're afraid of making mistakes or failing.
- You're always second-guessing yourself.
- You're indecisive and tend to procrastinate.
- You're constantly worried and anxious.
If you're an overthinker, know that you're not alone. Many people struggle with this tendency. But there are ways to manage it and even overcome it.
How To Stop Overthinking: 18 Simple Coping Strategies to Try
Overthinking can be a difficult habit to break, but it is possible. There are many different coping strategies, but what works for one person may not work for another.
Some people may need professional help to deal with their overthinking, but there are also many things that someone can do on their own to help themselves. Experimenting with different techniques will help you find what works best for you.
So how can you stop overthinking and start living? Here are a few ways to cope and let go of the need to control everything.
1. Acknowledge that you’re overthinking
The first step to stopping overthinking is acknowledging that you’re doing it. While this can be difficult because it often happens automatically, it is important to catch yourself when you start dwelling on something.
Take a step back and observe your thoughts. What is running through your mind? What are you worrying about? Once you’ve identified the source of your overthinking, you can start to address it.
2. Identify the triggers that cause you to overthink
What situations, people, or events tend to lead you to overthink? For example, is it being in a crowded place, or is it something that someone says to you? Knowing your triggers can help you be more aware and try to avoid them.
3. Challenge your thoughts
The next step is to challenge your thoughts to see them more realistically. Asking yourself these questions can help you to see your thoughts in a different light and start to let go of the ones that aren't serving you:
- Are your thoughts based on fact or opinion?
- Are they helpful or harmful?
- Are they realistic or unrealistic?
- Are there other ways to look at the situation?
- Are you overreacting?
Try to examine your thoughts objectively. Are they really as bad as you’re making them out to be?
If not, try to replace your negative thoughts with more positive, realistic, and helpful ones.
4. Let go of perfectionism
One of the main reasons people overthink is because they try to control everything or strive for perfection. They want to make sure everything is perfect. But the truth is, you can’t control everything. So, let go of the need to control and accept that some things are out of your hands. Good enough is usually good enough!
5. Gather your information
If you’re overthinking because you’re unsure about a decision you have to make, try to gather as much information as possible. Once you have all the facts, you can weigh the pros and cons of each option and make a more informed decision.
6. Brainstorm the possible outcomes
Another way to stop overthinking when you’re anxious about an upcoming event is to start by brainstorming some possible outcomes. What is the worst that could happen? And how likely is it to happen? The worst-case scenario is not as likely to occur as you think.
7. Break choices down into smaller steps
Rather than obsessing over the “right” choice, focus on what the next step should be. Doing so can help you take action and progress rather than remain undecided.
8. Focus on the present moment
Don’t focus on what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Instead, focus on the here and now. Remember that the past is gone, and the future is not guaranteed. If you can focus on the present, you will be less likely to overthink things. It is the only thing you can control.
9. Take action
Take action and make some changes in your life to reduce the amount of overthinking you do.
For example, you might need to simplify your life and schedule some time for relaxation and self-care. You might also need to change how you think about and deal with difficult situations.
Whatever action you take, the important thing is to keep moving forward and not get bogged down in negative thinking.
10. Step away from the situation
If you can, remove yourself from the situation. While this can be difficult to do if you're overthinking a decision you have to make, it can be helpful to take a break from it and come back with fresh eyes. Sometimes, all it takes is a little distance to see things more clearly.
11. Take regular breaks
On that same note, take breaks throughout your day. It can help you clear your head and return with a fresh perspective.
12. Distract yourself
When you start to overthink, try to distract yourself with something else. Go for a walk, read a book, or call a friend. Doing something that takes your mind off whatever you’re overthinking can help break the cycle.
13. Keep busy
Another helpful tip is to keep busy. When overthinking something, it's usually because we're allowing our minds to wander and dwell on the problem. Keeping our minds occupied with other things can help to stop this.
14. Find ways to relax
You'll never be able to enjoy your life if you constantly worry about every little thing. Try to relax and take things one step at a time.
Some people find that yoga or meditation helps them relax and focus on the present moment. Others find that listening to calm music or nature sounds helps reduce anxiety. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can help to calm your mind and body, which can be helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed by overthinking.
These activities can help quiet the mind and provide a space for greater self-awareness.
15. Keep a journal
Keeping a journal can help you track your thoughts and see patterns in your thinking. It can also help to write down what is causing you to overthink in the first place. Once you are aware of what is causing your overthinking, you can start to work on addressing those issues.
Another thing that people can do to combat overthinking is to exercise. Exercise can help release endorphins, improve mood, and reduce stress.
17. Talk to someone about your overthinking
Don’t hesitate to seek help if you find that your overthinking is impeding your life. It can be helpful to talk to someone else about your thoughts and get some outside perspective.
Sometimes, confiding in a friend or family member will do the trick. Be sure to choose someone you trust who will listen to you without judgment.
Otherwise, a therapist, counselor, or mental health professional can help you to understand your thoughts and feelings and work on ways to change your thinking patterns. Overthinking can indicate an underlying mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. Treatment can help you learn to manage your overthinking and improve your quality of life.
You are getting the support you need to stop overthinking by talking to someone.
18. Be kind to yourself
Remember, everyone makes mistakes, and no one is perfect. Try to cut yourself some slack and enjoy life, even if it means making a few mistakes along the way.
The most important thing is to find a coping strategy that works for you. If you are still overthinking after trying one or more of these strategies, it may be helpful to talk to a mental health professional.
The Benefits Of Stopping Overthinking
Although overthinking can be good if it helps you find creative solutions to problems or see the world differently, it has many drawbacks.
Overthinking can significantly hinder productivity, creativity, and general well-being. When we overthink, we get stuck in our heads, ruminating on past mistakes or worrying about future problems. You may find it difficult to relax and sleep.
Stopping overthinking can improve your mental and physical health, boost productivity, and tap into your creativity. You can also find greater peace of mind and enjoyment in life.
So if you find yourself stuck in a cycle of overthinking, know you're not alone. There is a way out.
Remember that overthinking is often just our minds trying to protect us. In many cases, the thing we're overthinking is actually not a big deal. It's important to remind ourselves of this and not get too caught up in the stress and anxiety that overthinking can cause.
By recognizing the signs, we can catch ourselves in the act and take steps to nip it in the bud. We can also practice mindfulness and other relaxation techniques to calm our minds and help us focus on the present moment.
With a little effort, you can learn to control your thoughts and live a happier, healthier life.
This article originally appeared on Hello Sensible.
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and more. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a free library of career & job search resources.