Hello, Psych2Goers. This article is a continuation of 10 Signs You Might be Overthinking, so please refer back before reading this article.
There are decisions in life that require extensive deliberation and thought, such as moving to a different country or accepting a life-changing job. Despite this line of logic, we all have suffered bouts of over-thinking. The only difference is that we eventually come up with a decision. However, chronic overthinkers are plagued with questions and doubt. They rehash previous conversations, relive past events, and imagine catastrophic outcomes. This term is commonly addressed as rumination. Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema , who coined the term, defined it as a method to cope with negative mood that is repetitive, passive and self focused on the causes and consequences of one’s distress (Michl, et al. 2014).
Although there are no recent statistics, ruminating is common. In fact, it more common in young age brackets—ages under 25—and girls. While ruminating is often linked with mental health issues, not all ruminating is bad. In most cases, rumination is a response to stressors. Only when the thoughts and stressors are internalized that rumination can become a problem and often lead to depression or generalized anxiety disorder.
Overthinking may feel like trying to find infinitesimal cracks where there aren’t any. Though seemingly innocuous, overthinking is debilitating in more ways than one. Not only does it exhaust you mentally, it also produces anxiety along with many other health issues. In the long run- it paralyzes you and prevents you from moving forward.
- Become aware.
Sometimes, the running negative mental commentary can feel normal, a habit that you might not be aware of. You may have developed this habit for different reasons– an overly critical parent or a distressing event that instilled fear. Regardless, the first step to tackling overthinking is to become aware.
If you find yourself overthinking, take a step back from the situation. Assess how you are responding. Often times, we respond to change with fear and worry. Though experiencing an initial fearful reaction is natural, it can devolve into destructive negative thought patterns, also known as rumination.
Next time you find yourself ruminating, ask yourself how is it physically making you feel? Grounding yourself in your body is a great way to gain awareness. A popular grounding exercise is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and letting it go slowly for 8. Other techniques are touching an item and really feeling its material, weight, and temperature and putting your hands in water. Becoming self-aware is the first step to changing your mind.
- Focus on productive problem-solving.
Overthinkers can get so wrapped up in the possibilities of what could happen. As an overthinker, you might busy yourself with solutions for a problem you have not yet encountered or perhaps might not encounter. This type of thought pattern is an example of unproductive thinking. Some examples of unproductive thinking are: “If I do this, then X (usually something negative thing) will happen” or ” Why does this always happen to me?” Unproductive thinking usually starts with fear; hence, it transforms into a loop of negative thoughts that serve to instill doubt. The fear could be fear of the future or fear of failure. When something goes wrong, instead of wondering why, ask how.
Asking how shifts your focus on what can be done now and helps you be more productive. It changes your perspective and helps you focus on what can be done.
- Schedule some self-reflection time.
Sitting in a stew of your own problems is not productive. It is time-consuming and does not yield positive results. However, making time to reflect can help you see and think about things from a different perspective. It also affords you time to assess pitfalls in your plans and how you can do better.
It also serves as a mental boundary. If something goes wrong, your instinct may be to run through and see where you failed. However, having a set time to go through and assess what went wrong prevents you from making hasty decisions.
- Change lanes.
Sometimes our own brains practice reverse psychology on us. The more you tell yourself not to do something, the more you might find yourself doing it. The same goes for overthinking. When you find yourself overthinking, try to get out of your head (it can be a scary place sometimes). Find something to distract yourself with, like a hobby or exercise. Not only will you feel happy doing something you enjoy, but it will put a stop to the stream of negative thoughts.
- Look at the big picture.
Whenever you find yourself overthinking about something, ask yourself will this matter in five years from now. Will it matter in a month from now? The chances are that it won’t. Life is always changing.
- Learn mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to keep you in the present, and when you live in the present, you will be too busy to worry about tomorrow. By practicing mindfulness, over time, you will notice that you overthink a bit less.
Achieving this kind of mindfulness does not occur overnight. It requires practice. There are many apps, books, courses, and other resources that can help you become more mindful.
- Do away with perfectionism.
Perfectionism can be a sign of lingering fears, and it often leads to overthinking. You become perceptive of your actions and how others might perceive them. Perfectionism narrows the scope of your actions, your thoughts, and your future. It renders you unproductive and incapable of moving past your problems or failures. As a reformed perfectionist, I can attest to how its damning hold.
When you find yourself wanting to be perfect and start to overthink things, remind yourself that done is better than perfect.
- Accept your best.
Practicing compassion helps you move past your mistakes and let go. There are many ways that you can practice self-compassion. For example, try to become attuned to your emotions and their accompanying physiological cues, acknowledge your feelings that arise during that moment, and saying positive affirmations.
- Be grateful.
Gratitude helps you gain perspective. Sometimes, many problems are not as terrible as they seem. Gratitude opens possibilities for acceptance as well as growth. It can also prevent you from falling into a pattern of negative thinking.
- Acknowledge your success.
Amid an overthinking barrage, take a moment to write down on a piece of paper five things that went well. For example, you cleaned your apartment or stuck to your budget. The accomplishments on your list do not need to be grand. Looking at this list will make you realize that you’ve succeeded, even in the small things, more than you have failed.
When necessary, refer back to this list to keep your thoughts from spiraling out of control.
When life gets hectic and overwhelming, it is important to take a step back and breathe. Take a break from the constant information and racing thoughts. And, if necessary, ask for help.
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