You know the moments where you’re lying awake in bed, tossing and turning?
You know you should sleep so you can be fresh for the next day, but it’s impossible to shut your brain off.
You find yourself thinking about all the work you have to do the next day.
What could go wrong? A lot of things, apparently.
And once your brain reaches that crossroad, it’s a downward spiral from there.
Our minds like to think, think, think to the point where we no longer feel in control.
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What Does Overthinking Mean?
Whether you’re trying something new, dealing with a confrontation, or facing a failure, your thoughts tend to enter a rollercoaster.
When it comes down to it, there are several ways we could define overthinking.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema defined it as “a method of coping with a negative mood that involves self-focused attention” and “repetitive and passive focus on one’s negative emotions.”
A study from the University of Michigan found that 73% of adults overthink. So the next time you feel like you’re the only one spending a whole hour thinking about what to wear, trust me, you’ve got company.
Are There Types Of Overthinking?
In short, yes. Our thoughts fall into different categories based on the factors that influence them and the path they lead towards.
Understanding the nature of your thoughts will allow you to deal with overthinking in a more controlled manner. Here are some common types of overthinking you may find helpful:
– Indecisiveness: This entails overanalyzing your options or choices on a relatively small decision.
– Worrying about the future: This includes thinking of the worst possible way things could turn out.
– Pondering over the past: This type depicts thoughts of past events that caused you distress. The most common area of thought is shaming yourself over past mistakes.
– Mental chatter: This category is of passive thoughts that distract you from the present.
– Conflict: This type of overthinking stems from a conflict between our beliefs and reality.
How Does Overthinking Affect You?
As much as we hate it, our brain just doesn’t know when to shut up. If you’re an overthinker, there’s no doubt that it acts as a daily hindrance in your life.
It makes you feel as if you’re not in control of your brain, like your mind is a whirlwind of thoughts that take over you as they please.
Although we can’t control days when our mind decides to wander off on our own, we can influence where it ends up. There is a pressing urge to give in and let your thoughts take over your body entirely in overwhelming situations.
A Swedish man named Björn Lindeblad lived as a Buddhist monk for 18 years before returning to ordinary life. Upon his return, a journalist interviewed him and asked him for the one critical insight he took with him after 18 years of meditation and no distractions. He replied:
“I no longer believe in everything I think.”
How To Stop Overthinking?
When your mind decides to go off on a road of its own, you lose a sense of yourself and fall prey to the neverending hole of overthinking.
Here are 12 ways you can keep your thoughts at bay.
1. Do Something Distracting
Research suggests when your mind is spiraling out of control, do something that can bring it out of the clutter.
There are times where you can’t ignore the worries plaguing your mind. When you have a significant event coming up, like a big presentation or a job interview, it’s hard to resist thinking about it.
In that case, engage in activities that stimulate your brain. Take out your notebook and make a list of things that make you feel calm and centered. These could be solving a puzzle, playing an instrument, or cooking your favorite meal
2. Be Present At The Moment
Most of the time, our thoughts don’t make much sense. Like a child, they stumble from one point to another. This feeling often makes us feel entirely lost and helpless. Our brain loves drifting off into the past or future at any given time. It feeds you thoughts that aren’t true and makes you consider things you’ve never even paid attention to before. In such instances, try focusing on the things physically present around you. Pay attention to your breathing. Practice a short breathing technique to try and ground yourself in the present.
3. Practice Meditation
By definition, meditation is the art of developing mindfulness. Doing this for just 10 minutes a day is proven to affect your mental state positively.
All you have to do is consciously direct and maintain your attention on an unstimulating object (such as your breathing) for specific lengths of time. Doing so is directly linked with a calmer mind that is less prone to overreaction, more rational, and higher performing.
Albert Hobohm describes our mind as a web of thoughts. Every thread is a possible thought path leading to different conclusions.
With some meditation training, you’ll find it easier to identify your thought patterns. This means that as you gradually learn the structure of your web of thoughts, you’ll be able to see where they lead and choose to change their course.
Once you’re able to distinguish between the thoughts that end in anxiety and stress, you can redirect them to something more constructive instead.
4. Write It Out
Sometimes our thoughts just want to be acknowledged.
Your brain wants you to recognize the fears and emotions it is experiencing actively.
Instead of fighting your thoughts, choose to sit with them for a while. Dig out your journal and let your pen take over.
Set a timer, do a brain dump, detoxify your brain.
As the thoughts disentangle and come out on paper, you’ll gradually feel your brain calming down.
Don’t think too hard. You don’t have to decide if it’s right or wrong (there is no right or wrong). Be a neutral observer and let your thoughts pass without judgment.
5. Talk To Someone You Trust
Frequently, things in our heads appear much more chaotic than they are.
As David Spiegel puts it, “There are times when the worry about the problem is a lot worse than the problem itself.”
Just saying your thoughts out loud allows you to shape and organize them in a far more manageable way. It enables you to make sense of what’s running through your mind.
Voicing your thoughts can help you see them as far less complicated than when they were festering in your mind. Talk to someone you trust, someone who is willing to listen and understand. This will help you modify the way you think and change how you identify with your thoughts.
6. Listen In: What Are Your Emotions Trying To Tell You?
Your emotions aren’t necessarily good or bad. They’re simply messengers trying to do their job.
An essential way to acknowledge your emotions is to distinguish the way you’re feeling.
Is it fear or anxiety? Is it nervousness or excitement?
Pay attention to your mental processes.
Is your brain warning you of something potentially dangerous? If so, what can you do to alleviate that feeling?
Here is a quick list of standard messages your emotions may be trying to alert you of:
– Anxiety: Take a step back; tune in to your body, and listen to what it needs.
– Resentment: Be selective in your interactions. Set boundaries and make them clear to those around you.
– Frustration: Start trusting the process of life. Things don’t have to go a certain way for them to turn out well.
– Guilt: Check in with your actions, is there something that doesn’t align with your fundamental values?
Once your brain feels heard, it will begin to think more rationally.
7. Engage In A Physical Activity
When your brain is saturated with thoughts, keeping your body still only makes it worse.
Your body perceives the negative thoughts and enters a defensive state. This causes you to have an adrenaline rush and makes you feel jittery.
In such a case, try doing something that can keep your body busy.
Many individuals like to exercise, so their body gets something else to focus on. Sweat it out, and get that blood flowing.
Other physical activities include going out for a walk, dancing around the house, or even organizing your room.
Try to see what works best for you, and keep it at hand whenever you need it.
8. Zoom Out: Think Of The Bigger Picture
It’s easy to get lost in the stress when you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.
A lot of the time, you’ll find yourself thinking about things on a much more profound scale than needed.
When that happens, try to regain focus on the bigger picture. Recall your life goals and call it your vision.
Ask yourself questions to trace the thought pattern your brain is currently on. What is the situation really about? Does it deserve this much of your time and energy? How does this affect your future plans? Will this even matter in the next five years?
This will allow you to eliminate a large proportion of overwhelming thoughts.
There is no point in making an important decision while your mind is a mess. Trust me; it won’t end well.
9. Know That It Will Pass
If there’s one thing you take away from this post, let it be to remember that this feeling will pass. No matter what your mind is telling you right now, it is only temporary.
You know how sometimes when your mind is chattering away and letting your thoughts eat up your brain?
Often, we tend to fall into what our mind is telling us. When that happens, it is vital to keep in mind that you don’t have to feed into the story your brain is narrating.
You are not your thoughts; you are not the overwhelming emotions coursing through your body. No matter how intense it feels right now, it will pass.
10. Think Of Pleasant Memories
When the overwhelming negativity and fears take over your brain, you can replace them with something positive.
Bringing positive thoughts into your conscious mind will help push out the negative ones. This could be as simple as thinking back to a compliment you received recently.
A 2017 research shows that recalling positive past experiences blocks rising cortisol levels. One study in 2019 from the University of Cambridge found that the ability to remember pleasant events in detail is associated with fewer negative self-appraisals in young people.
Once you actively attend to the pleasant memories, the negative thoughts will soon realize that they’re not welcome in your brain.
11. Think Of The Best Possible Scenario
A lot of the time, when you’re overthinking, your brain is exploring the things that did or could go wrong.
It’s thinking of how your next presentation will be a bust, whether you’ll get a new job or if you’ll be able to pass your exams. To counter that, you need to lead your brain towards thinking of the best possible scenario instead. Think about how impressive it will be when you crack a joke that will make everyone laugh, how the next interviewer will ask you a question that you have the perfect answer to. As the American psychologist and philosopher William James said: “Thoughts become perception, and perception becomes reality. Alter your thoughts, alter your reality.” Practicing this in daily life will enable you to retrain your brain to choose the wiser thought pattern. Keep in mind that this process takes time, and it’s not a linear journey.
12. Learn About Your Triggers
At the end of the day, if overthinking is something you often experience, the most effective solution is to learn of the factors that trigger it.
Many environmental and social factors could be causing you to have intrusive and overwhelming thoughts.
In such cases, it becomes harder to alleviate the exaggerations your brain is throwing at you.
Consulting a therapist would be in your best interest. The initial push is hard, but once you get started, you’ll realize how much impact it has had on your life.
Opening the communication window will enable you to learn more about the underlying issue instead of trying to suppress it.
A mental health professional can help you remove the layers of unprocessed emotions and address the more profound trauma and core wounds.
You can book a face-to-face or online counseling session right now and get started on your healing journey.
Having a whirlwind of thoughts racing in your brain certainly drains you of energy. But the good news is that you can use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.
Practice the given ways to control your thinking patterns and regain the lost control. In the long run, professional help can allow you to deal with overthinking in an even more effective way.
Have you tried any of the above methods to stop overthinking? If so, which ones have worked best for you?