American actress Winona Ryder states, “I think too much. I think ahead. I think behind. I think sideways. I think it all. If it exists, I’ve f*cking thought of it.” People can overthink themselves to the point of detriment if they don’t carefully monitor it. But, it may be difficult to differentiate between thinking and overthinking, especially if you’re naturally more inclined to be pensive and generally enjoy studying abstract concepts and ideas. So, what does overthinking look like? And how do you know you’re taking part in it?
Overthinking is when you imagine what your future will look like 10 years from now as you hesitate in choosing between two options presented, considering it to be a life or death decision. It’s dwelling on the past long after a relationship has ended. It’s picking apart a situation and creating a problem before it even exists. It’s repeatedly choosing to sit on the sidelines to observe and analyze an event instead of actively participating in it. If you identify strongly with many of these examples, then it may be time to think about how to think less. Psych2Go shares with you 5 ways to help you stop overthinking:
1. Schedule a time to reflect.
It’s impossible to get rid of thoughts altogether and separate your mind from yourself. After all, how you perceive and see the world plays such a large part on your identity. But to give yourself a sense of control over your thoughts, you can start reserving a fixed amount of time for them. You can give yourself five minutes to think, worry, and analyze. Then, once the time is up, you can spend the next ten or twenty minutes reflecting on the situation and write about your concerns. Once that time is also eventually up, you can throw away the piece of paper.
A study was done on high school students who wrote their worries down before taking a high-stakes exam. Researchers found that when students did this, the technique helped boost their scores. They concluded that writing helped the students download their negative thoughts that made them less likely to pop up during the time they took the test. Writing thoughts down is beneficial because it helps cleanse and remove negative, unwanted thoughts. If you find yourself thinking about the situation again even outside your scheduled time to reflect, tell yourself that you can think about it later.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is being able to focus on the present, rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. According to neuroscientist Richie Davidson, mindfulness is such a powerful tool that by incorporating just 1.5 hours of it can lead to structural changes in our brains. Research conducted by Adrienne Taren shows that practicing mindfulness can shrink the size of the stress-responding region in our brains, otherwise known as the amygdala. When you practice mindfulness, not only are you training yourself to live in the moment, but you are significantly improving the condition of your well-being when you take control of your thoughts, rather than letting them consume you.
3. Put things in perspective.
Realize that you can’t predict the future, so there’s no point in trying to map out every possibility from the choices you make. In addition, what you’re worrying about right now may not matter a few years down the road. Train yourself to focus on the bigger picture instead of the small details that you’re currently obsessing over. Don’t beat yourself up over something that didn’t go perfectly or the way you originally planned it.
Part of making good judgment about a situation means being able to assess it in a realistic point of view, letting go of your own failures, and mustering up the courage to try again despite the challenges you are facing. See conflict not as the end of something, but an opportunity to be great. This is how resilience is built.
4. Focus on active problem-solving.
Problems won’t magically work themselves out, and dwelling on them will only extend the time that they exist. Instead of asking yourself why something happened, focus on what you can do about it. Be proactive and find sources that can help you work out a solution. Whether you turn to self-help books or get advice from a professional or someone who has been in a similar situation, remind yourself that you don’t have to go through it alone. Build a good support system with others in which you can lean on each other in times of trouble and come up with a solution together.
5. Communicate your thoughts more.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18% of adults between the ages of 18 and 54 suffer from anxiety. Anxiety affects the brain’s ability to communicate, which shows that anxiety disorders are more than just feelings of nervousness. As a result, overthinking is an effect of anxiety. To prevent yourself from indulging in overthinking, communicate your thoughts to give yourself a sense of alleviation instead of internalizing your concerns and letting them fester inside.
However, individuals with anxiety may have difficulty speaking interpersonally because they tend to overthink how to deliver their words before they’re even spoken, making it harder for them to say what they actually mean. Researchers for CalmClinic.com discovered that a nervous person can stumble over words, but someone with an anxiety disorder may be so focused on the words they wish to speak that they can forget to focus on moving their tongue suitably. To ease the tension from situations like this, people with anxiety find that they can express themselves more freely on the internet and social media because they can edit their words accordingly before they make a post that communicates their thoughts.
Even if there is still some anxiety attached to the idea of online posting, the post can still be deleted if the person changes their mind. If you find yourself too anxious to talk about what’s bothering you, you can write it out ahead of time before sharing it with someone. Ultimately, anxious people who overthink experience a rush of adrenaline when they finally get something off their chest, which shows that communication is essential to regulating our thoughts.
If you struggle with anxiety and overthinking, it’s also good to keep your thoughts in check by answering these 3 questions through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Do you find these tips helpful? Psych2Go would love to hear your thoughts! Please be sure to leave a comment down below!
7 Great Benefits of Mindfulness in Positive Psychology. (2017, January 3). Retrieved October 31, 2017, from Positive Psychology Program
Beilock, S. (2013, January 16). Throw Those Nasty Thoughts Away. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
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Morin, A. (2016, February 12). 6 Tips to Stop Overthinking. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
Quote by Winona Ryder. (2017). Retrieved October 31, 2017, from goodreads.com
Stevens, N. (2017, March 27). Effects of Anxiety on Interpersonal Communication. The Odyssey. Retrieved October 31, 2017.