I have a real skill for overthinking! As an alternative career I could have been a novelist, that’s how inventive I can get! I have a tendency to make up complete stories in my head based on snippets of information and this can drive me (and everyone round me) mad! It usually takes over all my thoughts and means that I don’t have the capacity to think about anything else. I would categorise the types of stories I make up into 2 distinct categories at opposite ends of the scale, which both have a negative impact on my life:
Fairytale Overthinking – this is when I make up that something is going to be great and have a magical ending. The outcome I have made up is usually quite unrealistic and unlikely to happen. The main issue with this type of thinking is that I set the bar really high and reality rarely tends to happen in the same way, so I then feel disappointed.
Dramatic Overthinking – this is when I dramatize that something small thing is way worse that it really is. This can be predicting a worse case scenario, or manufacturing a negative story that is not based on any fact, but usually just on a strong feeling.
As both these scenarios impact me in a negative way, I have been looking at how I can get out of this overthinking loop. I have found many techniques that when added together do help:
1) Direct your attention elsewhere
This is a very good distraction method. If you can find something else to focus on, your mind will be taken off whatever it is your overthinking about. The key to this working best, is finding an activity that’s absorbing that will totally take your mind off things. Aimlessly watching TV will probably not do the trick, but attending an exercise class, or finishing off an article you were writing, doing a Sudoku puzzle, a board game with family, going for dinner, a cinema trip with a friend, or doing some yoga should be able to distract your thoughts. Fully absorbing yourself into something else, helps take your mind off whatever was absorbing your thoughts.
2) Try to think rationally
Try analyzing why you are overthinking something. Have you totally made up what you are thinking about, is it based on any shred of truth or reality? Sometimes, we get caught in a loop where we’re recreating an event in our minds over and over, or attempting to analyze a future outcome from every possible angle and perspective you can imagine and if you stop and think rationally you can tell yourself you are overthinking and it is not based on facts or logic. Being able to acknowledge you are overthinking, is one step towards stopping it.
3) Stop rehashing it with friends
It might feel good to share your problems with your friends and if they help reassure you and stop you overthinking, that is great. But reviewing every element of a problem in great detail and revisiting each negative aspect with someone can make things worse as it is just overthinking out loud! We often want to get confirmation from other people that everything will be OK in the end, but limiting the amount of people you share with can be helpful to stop constantly overthinking out loud and reliving the issue time and time again.
4) Practise being mindful
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that consists of focusing on the present moment without judgment. It’s being aware of your thoughts and being able to acknowledge them and let them go, without being impacted by them.
Mindful breathing a common form of mindfulness where you focus solely on your breath. This helps you stay present in the moment, rather than being distracted by events in the past or worries about the future.
5) Take Action
Depending on the subject of your overthinking, you might be able to turn it into something you can take action on. You can try writing down the issue and also the solution you desire. You can then make a plan to achieve the positive outcome you are looking for.
This approach won’t work if you are overthinking something that has happened in the past as you can’t change history, but you can shift your energy from rehashing the event in your mind to addressing the consequences. Look for any action you can take to make yourself feel better about what happened.
6) Tire yourself out
One of the main reasons you over think is because you have time to. The more you can tire yourself out during the day, the better. Last time I was totally overthinking something, I took myself off for a long hike in the countryside. The fresh air, the physical exhaustion and the nature not only distracted me, but exhausted me to the point that I did not have the energy to keep overthinking and my mind was finally at rest!
7) Focus on other people
If you are in a habit of constantly overthinking things, you can become quite self obsessed and miss what is going on in others lives. If you are aware of this, you can consciously put your personal problems to one side and spend time with others, helping support them with their issues. Helping others can be useful in a number of ways. It reminds you that it is not only yourself with issues in your life, but that everyone is dealing with their own things. It puts your problems into perspective, whilst you realize that you are not the only one that sometimes struggles with things and it can also be a good distraction method.
I’d love to hear in the comments below if you are an overthinker, what sorts of things do you overthink about and how you deal with it in your everyday life.