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Understanding Overthinking: Practical Ways to Stop Overthinking

If you are reading this and find yourself to be an overthinker, you are most probably aware of how overthinking usually happens. It first begins with a simple thought, something that comes to your mind – a worry about work, worry about family or any thought for that matter. Then you find yourself stuck in the cycle of worry without being able to step out of it, no matter how hard you try to either find a workable solution for it or to stop thinking about it altogether. It’s almost like your brain refuses to switch off. We’ve all been there, and it’s not just you or me – it’s a lot of us. This blog is about breaking down what overthinking really is, why we do it, and sharing some practical strategies to help us get out of our heads.
What is Overthinking?

Do you spend a significant number of hours thinking about mistakes you made? Do you worry a lot about what others think of you? Do you struggle to make decisions and get caught up in researching in an effort to make the right decision?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then you might be falling prey to overthinking. Overthinking is when your mind is constantly stuck in a loop of worry and rumination. It can make it hard to relax and focus on other things because your thoughts keep racing. This can lead to difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, and challenges in completing everyday tasks.

At its core, overthinking is when we think about something too much or for too long. It’s normal to think things through, but overthinking is when it goes into overtime. It can be about reliving past conversations, worrying about future “what ifs” or just feeling stuck on a decision.

Overthinking can take many forms, ranging from worrying about past mistakes to constantly imagining worst-case scenarios in the future. Overthinking can also manifest in physical symptoms such as tension headaches, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping.

Forms of Overthinking and Thought Patterns
There are 3 main forms of overthinking.

1. Ruminating on a Mistake

Ever felt like you can’t shake off a small mistake or a moment where you felt you weren’t good enough? It’s like your brain won’t stop replaying that moment, making you your own toughest critic. You might start thinking about the worst-case scenarios, turning a molehill into a mountain, and keep beating yourself up about what you could’ve done differently.

2. Analysis Paralysis

Sometimes, making a choice feels like the biggest deal ever. You might find yourself digging through lots of information, reading every review under the sun, but still, you’re stuck. It feels like every choice is made or broken, and that pressure can freeze you up, leaving you unable to pick any option at all.

3. Uncontrollable Worry and the Unknown

Then there are times when the fear of what’s around the corner gets too much. It could be anything – a health scare, future job worries, or even why someone seems a bit off lately. You try to find answers, hoping to calm your nerves, but the more you look, the more you worry. It’s like your mind zooms in on the scariest possibilities, making them seem more likely than they are.
Why Do We Overthink? The Cycle of Overthinking

Okay now that we have a general idea of what is overthinking and how it manifests, it’s worth exploring why this happens in the first place.

Sometimes our brains are on high alert, trying to protect us from stuff like getting criticized, feeling rejected, or failure. It’s like deep down, we think that if we worry enough, we can dodge these painful experiences.

But… we often find ourselves stewing over things that are way out of our control, fretting about someone else’s issues, or chewing over stuff that’s already in the past. And zeroing in on all the things that could go wrong doesn’t really help us with those problems. It just ends up feeding our fears and ramping up our stress levels.

A lot of this overthinking stems from our quest for perfection. If we’re always aiming for flawlessness, even the smallest mistake feels like a big deal, and we just can’t let it go. We replay it in our heads, beat ourselves up, and get stuck in a loop of self-criticism. If you lean towards perfectionism, you might see the world from an all-or-nothing perspective or black-and-white thinking, thinking there’s only one “right” choice or way to do things. This way of thinking loads us up with so much pressure to always nail the perfect decision.

Kicking the overthinking habit to the curb isn’t a walk in the park, but it’s definitely possible. With a little self-awareness and a willingness to tweak some of our behaviors and thought patterns, we can turn down the volume on overthinking. I’m about to share 6 of my go-to strategies that really help put the brakes on the overthinking train.

6 Tips to Reduce or Stop Overthinking

1. Spot it When It Happens

The very first step I recommend is to just notice when you’re spiraling into overthinking. Recognizing that you’re getting wound up, anxious, or worried can actually help stop that endless loop in its tracks. Think about it like hitting a pause button.

2. Write down your Worries

If you find yourself stuck in a worry whirlwind, try writing out what’s on your mind. Scribbling down your concerns gives them a place to live outside of your head. Plus, seeing your thoughts on paper can make them clearer and can even spark some solutions you hadn’t thought of before.

3. Challenging Negative Thoughts

Overthinking is often fueled by automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and thought distortions, also known as unhelpful thinking styles. These are exaggerated and unhelpful thoughts that can feel very real to us. It can be helpful to challenge these thoughts by looking for evidence that supports or contradicts them. This can provide a more balanced perspective and help break the cycle of overthinking.

4. Schedule Your Worry Time

This might sound odd, but if worries keep you away from your day, try setting aside a specific time just for worrying. The idea here is to give yourself space to reflect and feel what’s bugging you, but not let it hijack your whole day. Use a timer and limit this to about 10-15 minutes. Once the time’s up, gently guide yourself back to whatever you were doing before the worry hijacked you.

5. Recognize What You Can and Can’t Control

Getting caught up in our thoughts can sometimes feel like we’re on autopilot, hopping onto every train of thought that comes our way, leading to worry and overthinking. It’s easy to fall into this habit, and after a while, it might seem like it’s just happening on its own, beyond our control.
Try thinking of it like this: imagine your thoughts are like someone calling your phone out of the blue. You don’t control who’s calling, or when they decide to ring you up. But you do have the power to decide not to answer. Same with your excessive worries, you are in control whether
you continue to engage with them.

6. Accept Your Fears

Instead of shoving your worries aside, try welcoming them. Acknowledge what they’re trying to tell you. You might even find it helpful to say thanks to your anxious feelings for looking out for you and then reassure them that you’ve got this. These tips aren’t about stopping overthinking cold turkey, but more about managing it in a way that doesn’t let it run the show.
Key Takeaways

So, we’ve taken a good look at what is overthinking. It’s a common experience, and if you’re nodding along, know that you’re not alone in this. Overthinking is a bit of a habit gone wrong, from thinking and rethinking, often leading us down a rabbit hole of “what ifs” and “should haves.”

The good news is that while overthinking might feel like an unwelcome guest that’s overstayed its welcome, there are ways to show it the door. It starts with catching yourself in the act – realizing when you’re spiraling – and then taking deliberate steps to break the cycle. Whether it’s jotting down your worries, setting aside worry time, or challenging those nagging negative thoughts, these strategies are about gaining back control and finding a bit of peace amidst the mental chaos.

Remember, it’s not about achieving a mind that’s at peace 24/7 – that’s a tall order for anyone. It’s about learning to navigate the waves of overthinking, so they don’t knock you off your feet. So, next time you catch your mind going a mile a minute, take a deep breath, remember these tips, and remind yourself: “I’ve got the tools to deal with this.”

Overthinking doesn’t have to be the boss of you. With a bit of practice and patience, you can turn down the volume on those overactive thoughts and make space for more calm and clarity in your day.

Picture of Delia Petrescu

Delia Petrescu

Founder & Director
BA, MA, Registered Psychotherapist (RP)

Delia Petrescu, MA, RP is a Toronto-based psychotherapist, psychometrist, and the founder of Get Reconnected Psychotherapy and Counselling Services. She provides virtual therapy sessions Ontario-wide. Delia has experience working with adults struggling with adjustment difficulties, depression, anxiety, and trauma. She specializes in integrative and holistic care for those coping with life crises such as fertility concerns. Read more about Delia

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