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Calm your mind with 8 surefire tips to press pause on overthinking

April 21, 2022 - 10 min read

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What is overthinking?

What is automatic negative thinking?

What are the consequences of overthinking?

How to stop overthinking

When to seek help

Sometimes you walk away from a conversation with no idea how it went. 

You aren’t sure if you were friendly enough or if you said the right thing. For the rest of the day, you may find yourself fixated on what you said — and what you could have said instead. 

Replaying a conversation in your head is a classic example of overthinking, and we're all guilty of it.

We’ll never be able to stop worrying entirely. Doing so means that we care. But when you’re overthinking everything or you feel anxious and insecure about your decisions, it’s time to make some changes.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide to teach you how to stop overthinking. 

 

What is overthinking?

Overthinking means that you continually dwell on things that have already happened. That can mean replaying conversations or reviewing all the possible answers on a test. Or, overthinking can involve second-guessing your decisions and imagining the worst-case scenarios.

Excessive ruminations on the past and constant worrying or anxiety also fall under the umbrella of overthinking.

Overthinking is a psychological pattern that can evolve into a chronic habit and ultimately harm our mental health. It takes time and patience to stay out of your head, and that’s why BetterUp is here. BetterUp coaches strive to help you realize your potential and become your best self by improving your mental fitness. 

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What is automatic negative thinking?

When we overthink, our minds usually go in a pessimistic direction.

Automatic negative thinking (ANT) refers to involuntarily thinking negative thoughts. Think of it as a reflex, like a knee-jerk or a head turn. These responses to everyday situations are often irrational and self-sabotaging. 

Destructive thought patterns are more likely to linger inside our minds than positive ones. They make us feel overwhelmed and socially anxious because we’re afraid to screw up. 

What seems like overthinking is sometimes beneficial. When it is forward-focused and exploring variables rather than trying to control them, it can allow you to consider multiple scenarios and explore possible outcomes in a way that helps you plan and feel ready. Having thought through possibilities you feel more confident choosing a problem-solving strategy. That can actually be good for your mental health.

However, chronic overthinkers who focus on what they can't control might suffer adverse health conditions from the stress. 

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What are the consequences of overthinking?

If left unaddressed, overthinking contributes to depression and anxiety disorders. It increases stress levels. Plus, overthinking can interfere with a person’s self-esteem and problem-solving abilities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic may have increased overthinking. Many people were isolated at home, and all this alone time can make it easy to get lost in your thoughts. Plus, social routines were interrupted. You may not have been able to talk to your friends about your feelings or distract yourself from anxieties.  

As challenging as it may seem, there are strategies that will help you stop overthinking about someone, something, or somehow.

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How to stop overthinking

Sometimes our minds are so busy wondering, “What if?” that we can’t focus on other tasks. Below are some simple ways to help you stop overthinking everything: 

1. Take some deep breaths

Close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly. Deep breaths deliver more oxygen to your brain, activating your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for helping us “rest and digest.”

It's the opposite of our sympathetic nervous system, which triggers our “fight or flight” response. In other words, it calms us down, diminishing fearful and anxious thoughts and clearing our minds.

2. Find a distraction

Distractions help us forget what is troubling us. A temporary distraction is often precisely what we need to recharge. Easy distractions include: 

  • Watching a movie 
  • Baking 
  • Exercising 
  • Reading a book

It can be hard to start at first, but give yourself a time limit. For example, try reading for half an hour. Within minutes, you may find yourself immersed in another world.

3. Look at the big picture

When you’re in the moment, it’s hard to see how far you’ve come. That’s when it can be helpful to take a step back. Remember, no one will remember how you did in one mediocre presentation one year or five years later. 

Recognizing ANTs is also helpful. Write down your feelings and how you react. Being self-aware is crucial to better understand yourself and make a positive change. 

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4. Acknowledge your successes

You deserve to pat yourself on the back for your successes, no matter how small they are. Plus, don’t forget to show yourself some compassion. After all, life can be difficult. 

5. Embrace your fears

There’s no changing the past. But you can adjust how you respond to it.  Learn from your past mistakes and actions. This is a great way to adjust and prepare ourselves for the future. Being a little bit afraid is healthy if you can still show up. After all, it means that you care.

 6. Start journaling

Journaling is a fantastic way to reflect on your attitudes and progress. It also forces you to carve some time for rest from your busy daily schedule. Journaling gives you the space and freedom to express yourself without judgment. 

7. Live in the present moment

Take control of your thoughts. You don't do this by fighting them but by accepting them and letting them go. Instead of fretting about the past, focus on enjoying the present moment. The more you actively train your brain to think differently and catch yourself when you start obsessing, the more automatic it'll be. Learning to think and talk about yourself positively can also prevent you from dwelling on the past.

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8. Ask for help

Everyone overthinks occasionally. But if you feel like it’s getting out of hand, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional. A good therapist can guide you through a dark time and teach you to reframe your thoughts.

A professional can also help if you’re struggling to stop overthinking in a relationship or about someone.

When to seek help

Knowing you may need external assistance and having the courage to reach out is the first step to change — and the most important.

When overthinking starts hindering you from working or making both big and small decisions daily, you may want to seek help. Talk to a family member or a close friend if you're unsure. 

Just remember that it’s possible to stop overthinking. We'll always be afraid of certain situations, but that shouldn't hold you back from living a vibrant life. BetterUp might be exactly what you need to break your habit of overthinking and find your full potential.

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Published April 21, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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