As an “overthinker,” even the most seemingly insignificant topics can weigh heavily on your mind. Its common for overthinkers to lie awake at night, second-guessing comments made weeks ago or playing out scenarios of upcoming presentations at work.
According to Carolyn Rubenstein, Ph.D. licensed psychologist in Boca Raton, Florida, overthinkers tend to repeatedly dwell on thoughts or situations, especially those related to the past or future, to the point that it disrupts their daily lives in the present.
Overthinking is more intense and frequent occurrence for those who consistently overthink, compared to those who occasionally worry about a particular situation, explains Rubenstein. Overthinking can lead to negative thoughts, mental exhaustion, constant worry or anxiety, & the inability to think about anything else or relax.
The common advice of “don’t overthink it” is not always the solution for those prone to overthinking. Instead, mental health professionals suggest several strategies that can help overthinkers challenge or divert their thoughts. However, it’s crucial to understand why you tend to overthink in the first place.
Why you Overthink so much?
Overthinking is a detrimental habit that many individuals struggle with, but some are more prone to it than others, according to Carrie Howard, founder of Thrive Anxiety Solutions and certified anxiety coach. Here are some indicators that you may be an overthinker:
You battle anxiety. When experiencing anxiety, you’re more likely to start overthinking, which can further intensify your anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.
You have a need for control. Those who feel the need for control over situations and dislike feeling caught off guard are more likely to overthink, dwell on every scenario & over-plan for all possible contingencies.
You’re a perfectionist. When you hold yourself to unrealistic standards, you’re more likely to ruminate, and replay scenarios in which you think you didn’t measure up.
You struggle with negative thinking and beliefs. A “glass-half-empty” mindset can quickly lead to obsessing, worrying, or ruminating.
Overthinking has significant health implications beyond just causing frustration. “Overthinking can be destructive to mental health, as it’s linked to depression, and anxiety,” says Rubenstein. “Also, overthinking can affect the body’s chemical balance.” When you’re overthinking, your brain may release cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, which can impact your levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness, she says.
Rubenstein adds that constantly worrying about hypothetical negative events can harm the brain’s ability to differentiate between theoretical stress & real stress that needs to be addressed. The imbalance can affect your brain’s ability to regulate emotions, feelings, memory, and overthinking may also mess with your appetite (either making you feel like you should eat more or less).
How to not Overthinking about Everything
Are you prone to overthinking? Don’t worry, it’s a common issue that many people face. If you find yourself caught in a cycle of obsessive thinking, here are some useful techniques to help you break free.
Overthinking can be a real roadblock when it comes to productivity & well-being. Fortunately, mindfulness techniques such as meditation can provide a solution. According to Rubenstein, regular meditation is an evidence-based approach that helps clear the mind by redirecting inward attention, and eliminating negative thoughts. In fact, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that meditators experienced less activity in the default mode network (DMN) region of their brains, which is responsible for processing information related to the self & associated with rumination.
Concentration meditation is a specific type of mindfulness that can help retrain the brain to focus on the present moment instead of ruminating on the past or future. This technique involves focusing on a singular point of attention, which can help break the cycle of overthinking.
If you’re looking for a quick way to snap out of negative thought patterns, Howard recommends the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique. This method engages all five senses by first identifying five things you can see in your immediate environment. Then, focus on four things & take note of how they feel, like the texture of a soft blanket or the pressure of your feet on the ground. Next, focus on three things you can hear, two things you can smell (like the scent of essential oils), also one thing you can taste, such as a sip of water or tea.
By practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation & grounding, you can train your brain to focus on the present moment, helping to quiet negative thoughts, and improve your overall well-being.
Overthinking can be overwhelming, and take a toll on your mental health. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts, it’s time to take a step back, and try some effective strategies to break the pattern.
One straightforward technique is to divert your attention to something else. Take a leisurely walk in your neighborhood, and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings. Focus on the houses, birds, trees, flowers, and landscapes. You can also read a book, call a friend, exercise, play games, or indulge in any activity that you enjoy & helps you take your mind off your worries.
If you’re someone who feels the need to analyze every possible scenario, it’s time to adopt a different approach. Schedule a specific time of the day for overthinking, and designate it as your “worry time.” During that time, allow yourself to think through your concerns. Once the 15-minute block is over, switch your focus to a positive distraction to shift your mindset.
Writing down a keyword that reminds you of your worry time is also helpful. If you start to overthink outside the designated time, jot down the keyword and resume the worrying during the next scheduled block.
By practicing these techniques, you can learn to manage your thoughts, and prevent overthinking from taking control of your life. Remember, taking small steps towards better mental health can have a significant impact on your overall well-being.
Challenge your negative thoughts.
Overthinking can be a real struggle, especially when negative thoughts come into play. Fortunately, there’s a simple yet effective technique to help you overcome this vicious cycle of negative thinking. According to expert psychologist Howard, it all starts with challenging these thoughts as soon as they enter your mind.
The key is to avoid getting caught up in negative thoughts that lead to overthinking. Instead, when a negative thought arises, try to identify it as soon as possible, and question its validity. Howard recommends asking yourself a series of questions to challenge your thoughts, such as:
Is there evidence to support this thought, or is it just an assumption?
Am I considering all perspectives, or am I only seeing things from my own point of view?
If a friend were in my situation, what advice would I give them?
By addressing these questions, you can start to replace negative thoughts with more accurate, and helpful ones, ultimately stopping overthinking in its tracks.
So, the next time you find yourself overthinking, remember to challenge those negative thoughts, and replace them with positive ones. With a little practice, you can break free from the cycle of overthinking & live a happier, more fulfilling life.
Let go and forget the past
Are you one of those people who find themselves stuck in the past, ruminating over what you could have done differently? If yes, then it’s time to embrace the fact that the past is behind you, and focus on moving forward. Overthinking can cause unnecessary stress and self-punishment, which can adversely affect your present & future. According to experts, practicing mindfulness and letting go of the past can be beneficial in stopping overthinking.
Overthinking often arises from regrets or mistakes from the past. Psychologist Rubenstein suggests that instead of dwelling on your past mistakes, you should learn to give meaning to them and move on. Don’t let the past dictate your future. When you find yourself ruminating, ask yourself what you need in the current moment, physically or emotionally. This can help you shift your focus from the past to the present and ground you in reality.
It’s essential to understand that everyone falls into the trap of overthinking at some point in their lives. So, it’s okay if you can’t eliminate the habit completely. Instead, you can practice mindfulness, challenge your thoughts, and distract yourself when you find yourself overthinking. By doing so, you can rewire your brain to focus on the present moment, which can have a positive impact on your mental well-being.