How to Stop Overthinking — A Guide for the Mind
Overthinking is the act of excessively analyzing, questioning, and focusing on something. Of course, overthinking has its benefits; it’s often what leads to life-changing epiphanies. However, continuing to overthink can lead to an obsessive loop that prevents us from living our lives in the present moment. It’s important to take a step back and see past the thoughts that have been circling in your head. To help you do so, we’ve put together this guide for the mind with simple steps to understand and stop overthinking.
Understanding overthinking and its benefits
The act of overthinking is good in the sense that it often leads to life-changing epiphenomena. There are many benefits to overthinking, but these benefits can come at a cost. It’s important to understand the difference between productive and unproductive thoughts.
The difference between productive and unproductive thinking can be subtle and difficult to identify at times. Productive thoughts guide us toward our goals and help us achieve them; they focus on solutions rather than problems, they are forward-thinking, they acknowledge personal limitations without overcompensating for them and they have a positive tone, even when discussing unpleasant topics or experiences.
Unproductive thoughts make you focus on and dwell on negative things (dwelling, ruminating, etc.). For example, I messed up big time! This is terrible; what’s wrong with me? I can’t ever do anything right… The main cause of unproductive thoughts is an overly critical or self-deprecating inner voice. We all have them sometimes.
Overcoming the obsessive loop of overthinking
Overthinking can lead to an obsessive loop that prevents us from living in the present moment. To break this cycle, it’s important to take a step back and see past the thoughts that have been circling your head. Overthinking is often what leads to life-changing epiphanies, but excessive thinking can lead to an obsessive loop that prevents you from living your life in the present moment. Here are some steps you can follow to stop overthinking:
Stop criticizing yourself
One of the main causes of overthinking is criticizing ourselves for mistakes or bad decisions. When we’re critical of ourselves, we’re setting unrealistic expectations, which makes us feel like failures in the long run. This self-criticism can lead to feelings of low self-esteem or insecurity and make it harder for us to give ourselves a break.
Don’t let negative memories affect your mood
Negative memories make up most of our thoughts and emotions — even if they happened months ago or years ago when we made a choice we regret. The only way for these memories to lose their power is if we replace them with positive thoughts and experiences by letting go of the past and focusing on what’s happening now.
Let go of what other people think about you
Oftentimes, when we’re overthinking, one thought is “What will other people think?” But how anyone else feels about you shouldn’t be as significant as how you feel about yourself.
A colleague, friend, boss, or stranger there’s always going to be someone who dislikes you. Sometimes it’s because they have something against you, but most often it’s because of a personal issue that has nothing to do with your personality. Don’t take these criticisms to heart and don’t internalize them- the only opinion that really matters is yours. We all make mistakes and even though we feel awful after some embarrassing episodes, everyone else will forget eventually if we don’t wallow in our shortcomings.
Writing it Down
Research shows that expressing your emotions through writing is one of the most effective ways to relax. For example, one study found that people who wrote down their thoughts for 15 minutes a day for three consecutive days had significantly fewer visits to their doctors over a 12-month period than those who didn’t do this. Journaling has also been proven effective in reducing stress, both at work and at home.
Take a break, and go outside
The easiest way to stop overthinking is to take a break from it. If you’re stuck in an obsessive loop, a walk outside can do wonders. Getting some fresh air and sunlight can help clear your mind and bring clarity to the thoughts that have been occupying you for so long. This will also give you more energy than sitting inside all day on your phone or computer.
If you find yourself overthinking or when you notice that your emotions are getting out of control, try putting yourself in another situation where those feelings won’t be triggered again. For example, if someone made you angry last night, take some time this morning to get outside or just go into a different room altogether. You may feel calmer as a result of being away from the situation that caused your emotions to overwhelm you in the first place.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. You can practice mindfulness in small and manageable increments throughout your day to break up the obsessive loop of overthinking.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness:
- Meditate for 10 minutes each morning-Find a quiet place, sit in a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for about 10 minutes. This will help you clear your mind of stress and calm yourself down. If 10 minutes seems like too much time for you (it does for me!), start with 3 or 5 minutes every day; eventually, you’ll be able to sit through an entire meditation session without being distracted by stressful thoughts.
- Take deep breaths before stressful situations to calm yourself down. Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, then exhale for a count of eight. Repeat until you feel calm again.
- Practice yoga
- Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach when feeling anxious
- Eat slowly instead of mindlessly grabbing snacks when hungry
Food affects our mood in subtle ways that we don’t notice until it’s too late. For example, eating a pizza might leave you feeling sluggish and tired, but eating some fruit would give you a burst of energy. Eating healthy food will help your body function better and create less stress on the mind.
Exercise releases feel-good endorphins in your brain, promoting a sense of relaxation. Staying active also boosts your metabolism, which can help you burn off excess calories without eating fewer total calories. Just don’t exercise too much-exercise doesn’t promote weight loss; it promotes muscle gain. If you want to lose fat, burning off more total calories is your best bet.
Cherish your present moments
Overthinking often leads to a person not enjoying the present moment. When someone is in overthinking mode, it can be difficult for them to enjoy what they are doing. Instead, they are too caught up in the past or future that they aren’t appreciating what is currently happening. If you find yourself overthinking, take a step back and focus on what’s going on around you. What are people saying? Is there music playing? Are there scents that trigger memories? Taking your attention off of your thoughts will help you enjoy the present moment more and reduce overthinking.
We all experience overthinking at one point or another, but it doesn’t have to be such a vicious cycle. With the right mindset and a few practical tips, you can break free from the obsessive loop and focus on the present moment.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s start living in the now!
Originally published at https://www.momentsofpositivity.com on February 21, 2022.