How to Stop Overthinking

To quote Eckhart Tolle, “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” According to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, dwelling on mistakes and failures significantly increases your risk of mental health issues. Not only that, but overthinking interferes with problem-solving, disturbs your sleep and can even lead to damaging coping mechanisms like resorting to alcohol in the attempt to shut your brain up. If you are an over thinker then please keep reading because for your own mental and physical health, this needs to stop.

When it comes to overthinking, there are 3 types of thoughts: Rumination – so rehashing and dwelling the past; Worry – making catastrophic predictions about the future; and Hesitation to act in the present moment because of doubts or over-analyzing a situation.

Once you’ve identified which one(s) you are personally struggling with, below you will find some of the best methods of dealing with overthinking:

1. Stream of Consciousness Journaling

BEST FOR: Rumination & Worry
When you catch yourself thinking about the past or worrying about the future, write down all the thoughts that come to your mind. Once you feel like you got everything out, take a 15 to 20 minute break, then come back and read out loud what you’ve written.

The best way I can describe this is purging your mind of those heavy, energy-consuming thoughts as a form of cathartic release. When doing this exercise, you not only free your brain of all that noise but you also get to see what’s been brewing up in there. And to put it lightly, this will make you realize how much bs you’ve been feeding that poor mind of yours. I would recommend doing this exercises consistently, once or twice a week. This will give you a solid baseline that you can then work on to improve your way of thinking and find more positive coping mechanisms to deal with worry and rumination.

2. Schedule Time for Reflection

BEST FOR: Rumination & Worry
Block off one full day each month to reflect on your past, be grateful for the present and set SMART goals for the future. Think of it as Spring Cleaning for your mind – declutter, organize and admire your work!

Did you know that spring cleaning can also apply to your mind? You don’t have to wait until the New Year to sit down and take a look at your past, present and future. If you are someone that often struggles with letting go or freaks out about uncertainty, then this exercises most definitely applies to you. Block an entire day each month in your calendar to reflect. You can spend it reading all of your stream of consciousness entries, taking a look at all that you’ve accomplished and setting new goals for the future. You can do all 3 even, I simply encourage you to write everything down if you want to get the best out of this exercise. 

3. The 5 Second Rule

BEST FOR: Hesitation
Whenever you have to make a choice/decision, count backwards 5-4-3-2-1 and then act! This is a starting ritual trigger (also called a time-limited decision) to prevent self-sabotage.

For those of you that are subscribed to my YouTube channel, you know that my admiration for Mel Robbins runs deep. One of her best tricks, in my opinion, is the famous 5 Second Rule which has helped me tremendously when it comes to hesitation. In summary, Mel explains that when we hesitate, it sends a stress signal to our brain saying telling it that something’s making you nervous! Naturally, the brain wants to keep you alive and away from the scary, uncertain and uncomfortable. It therefore starts to over-analyze the situation for your protection, which in turn makes you feel stuck. Mel states that there is a 5 second window in which you can move from idea to action before your brain kicks in and sabotages you from moving forward. So whenever you catch your thoughts drifting – interrupt it 5-4-3-2-1 and take action.

4. Solution-Focused Thinking

BEST FOR: Worry & Hesitation
Instead of worrying about what could happen, formulate your thoughts in a way that would solve a problem. What can you do today to ensure that you get a positive result in the future?

Over analyzing interferes with problem-solving by making you focus on the problem instead of thinking about possible solutions.

“What if it rains all the time whiles I’m on vacation in Cuba? The trip is going to be ruined, I would have wasted all this money for nothing…”

That is problem-focused worrying.

“What if it rains all the time whiles I’m on vacation in Cuba? I better check the weather report. Turns out it will rain only 2 days out of 10. I’ll make sure to book a hotel with an indoor spa or a variety of shows to have something to do during those rainy days.”

That’s solution-focused thinking.

5. Conscious Distractions

BEST FOR: Worry & Rumination
When all else fails, make a conscious decision to give your mind a break from stress by distracting it. Engage your brain by playing some board games or listening to podcasts.

Did you know that overthinking tires the brain, making you more likely to procrastinate? Like I’ve said may times before, procrastination is a self-soothing technique. A way of stopping a toxic thought patterns from spiraling out of control is to consciously distract the mind by engaging in selective attention. Pick an activity that requires you to focus like having a conversation with a friend or listening to song lyrics. This will help your brain tune out all of your negative thoughts and zoom into the task at hand. Although this is not a long-term solution, it will give you enough time to recharge your batteries and let that wave of stress pass.