Everyone overthinks sometimes. It becomes problematic when someone finds it difficult to stop having the same thoughts. From there, it gets easy to slip into a circular pattern of thinking and move on to severe stress and anxiety.
In time, the overthinking person can even go into depression. So, it is something you should not ignore. Take steps to curb it as soon as they realize they excessively think about the same things from their past. Read on to find out how to get over this harmful habit.
4 Most Helpful Strategies To Stop Overthinking The Past
Overthinking is a self-destructive habit. An overthinker’s brain cannot channelize its thoughts into actions or results. And when it goes on for long, it becomes a mental health risk.
The endless circling of the same thoughts can make one stressed and anxious. The root of the solution lies in disrupting the cycle at the earliest.
To help you with overthinking, we present four scientifically proven effective strategies. You could adopt one or all of these proven approaches to curb and even end your overthinking cycle.
1. Exercising Distraction
As soon as you realize you are into the overthink mode, and are replaying a past event over and over without reaching a decision, start this action:
Distraction means purposefully steering your attention to pleasant or neutral things, away from your negative thoughts. In plain words, to distract yourself means forcing your mind to think of something else, especially something pleasant.
In a study, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema and Jannay Morrow asked depressed students to focus their minds on geographical locations and objects, like “the size of the Golden Gate bridge” and “shape of the African continent,” for 8 minutes. After the exercise, the participants became noticeably less depressed when compared to another set of depressed students who focused on their emotions or symptoms.
The authors concluded, “naturally depressed subjects who engaged in a benign, distracting task showed significant relief from their depressed moods, to a level equal to that of the nondepressed subjects.”
A simple way you could distract yourself is by physically getting up from the place you’re in and leaving. You could also distract yourself mentally by starting something that engages your mind — like listening to some soothing music or an upbeat song.
2. Practicing Mindfulness
Regular practice of mindfulness meditation helps to control overthinking. Mindfulness does not attempt to suppress or cut down the disturbing thoughts. Instead, it trains the mind to accept the thoughts that arise without judging them or holding on to them and letting them go.
The overthinker in a mindful state no more tries to control, change, or reduce the thoughts. It is this letting go of the meddlesome thoughts that paradoxically reduce their frequency in the long run.
In a meta-study of 11 studies, Clinical psychologist Lilisbeth Perestelo-Perez, Ph.D., M.Psych., and others found Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can reduce overthinking significantly. The mindfulness methods were equally effective in controlling rumination as medication and CBT.
They also found the positive effects of mindfulness were present even a month after the end of MCBT.
3. Engaging In Problem-Solving
Overthinking reduces the motivation to solve problems, as research shows. On the other hand, studies on depressive people staying stable after engaging in problem-solving suggest the same can hold good for rumination.
So, challenge yourself to look away from your loop of thoughts and put yourself up for finding solutions to the problems playing in your mind. Challenge yourself to find ways to solve the issue at hand.
Susan Nolen-Hoeksema suggested problem-solving may prove to be more effective after first lifting your mood with distraction. So, you could throw in a distracting challenge for yourself — funny videos, Sudoku, yoga, juggling, or anything else you love to be distracted with — first. Then, you can focus your attention directly on finding a clear-cut solution to the present problem.
4. Building A Thought-Box
The thought-box process is a greatly helpful way to reduce overthinking.
Set up some time in the day, say 20 minutes, when you will allow yourself time to overthink. Set up an alarm on your phone for the end of this interval. During this time, begin by telling yourself you have absolute freedom to ruminate until the alarm-bell rings.
Then let your mind do all kinds of overthinking. There are no limits and no control over your thinking process.
Call this your Thought Box.
A small addition, however: Keep a writing pad and pen handy. Note down a few thoughts from the bunch moving through your mind. Don’t stress it you have to write every thought in. Instead, be easy on yourself, and jot down just one or two streams of thoughts. It will be fine.
How does the Thought Box Strategy help?
- First, whenever you feel you’re slipping into your habit of overthinking during the day, remind yourself you have fixed up a time for it in your Thought Box, and stop overthinking right there.
- Second, by writing the thoughts, you force your mind to recognize you have already given your attention to a particular worry. So now, it is no good repeating it over in your mind since you have already noted it down on a paper.
Here’s entrepreneur and philosopher Albert Hobohm speaking to a TEDx audience on how to stop your thoughts from controlling your life:
Tips To Stop Overthinking
While the above four strategies were drawn direct from published research, we also waded through 100+ posts on how to stop overthinking to bring you the best twenty-four ideas from the internet.
Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, suggests:
1. Notice when you’re stuck in your head
2. Keep the focus on problem-solving
3. Challenge your thoughts
4. Change the channel
Dinsa Sachan suggests:
5. Trick your brain with a replacement thought
6. Schedule a time for obsessing later
7. Pay attention to your anxiety and discomfort
8. Talk yourself out of it
Henrik Edberg suggests:
9. Put things into a wider perspective
10. Set short time-limits for decisions
11. Become a person of action
12. Realize you cannot control everything
Ryan Howes suggests:
13. Being aware is your first line of defense
14. Journal to get the thoughts out of your head
15. Remind your brain that you’re in charge
16. Don’t put pressure on yourself to handle it alone
Jessica DuBois-Maahs suggests:
17. Practice mindfulness and meditation
18. Notice when rumination happens
19. Keep your focus on problem-solving
20. Journal your thoughts
Jim Kwik suggests:
21. Catch yourself and stop yourself
22. Find a way to let the thoughts out
23. Set aside 10-15 minutes each day to reflect
24. Get busy and divert your mind to another task
Did Einstein Overthink
Short answer: Probably yes. Long answer: What scientific thinkers as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Marie Curie did more of was deliberation.
Deliberation is thinking deeply about something over a long time to reach a careful, conscious decision. Deliberate thinkers often collaborate with others to troubleshoot and expand their input-to-output journey.
The keyword there is output. The thinkers from any field — science, philosophy, politics, business — always think to reach a decision or conclusion.
In contrast, the overthinkers almost always do all the thinking on their own without reaching out for any collaboration. Also, as opposed to thinkers, their thoughts produce no output or action.There's a difference between overthink and deep-think. The former doesn't let you reach any decision or take any action. Click To Tweet
Overthinking is one of the most vulnerable factors in your personality that puts you at a high risk of depression, often as soon as within a year of a negative life event. The researchers also see it linked to anxiety.
So, stay watchful and take note early if you are overthinking things. Use the four methods above to arrest the irksome habit before it leads to other disruptive mental disorders.
However, if you find it hard to get over it yourself, please seek expert psychological help.
And now, before you go, a little surprise for you: 80 Greatest Overthinking Quotes!
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
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