Learn how to stop overthinking, reduce your anxiety, calm your mind, gain clarity, and focus on the present moment. Tips from psychology to quit overthinking.
Overthinking or ruminating is repeatedly analyzing the same thoughts, usually about an unpleasant event in the past.
Contrary to popular advice, stopping your overthinking is not as easy as willing it away. Willpower doesn’t work very well to stop it since it comes from the same parts of the brain that are trapped in a loop.
An overthinker believes they have little control over the looping of their thoughts. Worse, they simply do not see the solutions to their problems in these troubling thoughts.
Learn how to break your overthinking habit.
20 Powerful Ways To Stop Overthinking
- Shift your focus to solutions.
Instead of dwelling on problems, focus on finding effective solutions to the issues in your thoughts. This can help you in shifting from an overthinking mindset to a more productive and creative one.
- Question your thoughts.
It is a powerful concept that your thoughts are not always telling you the truth. Realizing this and identifying your irrational or unhelpful thoughts can help diminish their power over you. Challenge the validity of your thoughts to gain a better perspective on your life.
- Engage in different activities.
Keep your mind occupied by participating in various hobbies or tasks. This can prevent overthinking by providing a mental break and offering new perspectives. Painting, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, gardening, cooking, or crafting are great options.
- Replace negative thoughts.
Actively swap out negative or unproductive thoughts with more constructive ones. This can help train your brain to think more positively over time.
- Acknowledge anxiety & unease.
Recognize your feelings of anxiety and discomfort, and address them appropriately. By understanding the root causes of your overthinking, you can work to overcome it.
- Embrace a decisive attitude.
Cultivate an action-oriented mindset to reduce overthinking. Taking decisive actions can help build confidence and alleviate the burden of indecision.
- Accept limited control.
Understand that not everything is within your control. Accepting this reality can ease anxiety and reduce overthinking caused by trying to control every aspect of life.
- Seek support from others.
Reach out to friends, family, or professionals for help when feeling overwhelmed. Sharing your thoughts and receiving feedback can help you process and manage your overthinking.
- Practice mindfulness meditation.
Engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation, to help clear your mind and focus on the present. This can help reduce overthinking by fostering mental clarity and self-awareness.
- Be aware of your rumination.
Recognize when you’re excessively dwelling on thoughts. By being conscious of rumination, you can take steps to refocus and regain control.
- Write down your thoughts.
Journaling can help you process, understand, and release your thoughts. Putting your thoughts on paper can provide clarity and relief from overthinking.
- Consider the bigger picture.
Put your concerns into context by looking at the broader perspective. This can help minimize overthinking by revealing the relative insignificance of certain worries.
- Set time limits for decision-making.
Make it a habit to set short time frames for making decisions. Quicker time-based decisions can reduce your anxiety and prevent over-analyzing. Move on to some other task if you can’t decide within the set time frame.
- Use self-talk to calm yourself.
Use positive affirmations or rational self-talk to soothe your thoughts and emotions. This can help counter overthinking by promoting a more balanced and rational mindset. “I am in control of my thoughts, and I choose to embrace calmness and clarity instead of overthinking.”
- Consciously stop overthinking.
Actively recognize when you’re overthinking and make a conscious effort to stop. By taking control in this way, you can break the cycle of rumination.
- Discover healthy thought outlets.
Find activities or creative outlets that allow you to express and release your thoughts. This can provide a constructive means of processing your thoughts. Join groups of like-minded people to share experiences, discuss challenges, and learn from each other.
- Allocate daily self-reflection time.
Set aside time and space each day for introspection and contemplation. Recognize thought patterns, emotional responses, and triggers. Reflect on them to gain a deeper understanding of your values, strengths, and areas for improvement. Become more in tune with your feelings.
- Recognize self-awareness as key.
Understand that being aware of your thoughts and emotions is essential to combating overthinking. Developing self-awareness can help you identify triggers and manage your thoughts more effectively.
- Exercise to clear the mind & reduce stress.
Engage in regular physical activity to release your stress and clear your mind. Exercise can promote the production of endorphins, which can help counter overthinking and improve mental well-being. Try sports, yoga, or dance.
- Practice gratitude and grow a thankful mindset.
Focus on the positive aspects of your life by actively acknowledging what you’re grateful for. This practice can help shift your mindset away from overthinking and foster a more optimistic outlook.
How To Stop Overthinking Using Psychology
Here are some helpful strategies from science to help you stop overthinking:
1. Intentionally distract yourself with another thought or task.
Women may especially benefit from this strategy.
When you catch yourself overthinking, intentionally divert your attention to something pleasant.
Try physically moving, like going for a walk, or engaging with an upbeat song or activity. This reduces information overload in your brain and breaks the cycle of negative thoughts.
In this study, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema and Jannay Morrow found that depressed students who focused on specific geographical locations or objects (like “the size of the Golden Gate Bridge” and the “shape of the African continent”) felt significant mood improvement compared to those who focused on their emotions.
Nolen-Hoeksema’s other research found that women are more prone to rumination than men, which made her say that this difference may explain the 2:1 ratio of depressed women to depressed men.
Men often engage in distracting behaviors when depressed, while women tend to overthink problems.
2. Accept the past as unchangeable and let yourself move on.
Overthinkers often struggle to halt their thoughts, causing anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
Mindfulness meditation can help the overthinking mind accept thoughts without judgment or attachment, allowing them to dissipate.
In mindfulness, overthinkers no longer attempt to control or change thoughts, paradoxically reducing their frequency over time.
A meta-study by clinical psychologist Lilisbeth Perestelo-Perez and colleagues found that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) significantly reduced overthinking, proving as effective as medication and CBT. Positive effects persisted even a month after the end of MCBT.
3. Dedicate your brain’s power to solve a new problem.
Overthinking can diminish motivation to solve problems.
Research suggests that shifting focus to problem-solving can stabilize mood in individuals prone to rumination.
Challenge yourself to break the thought loop and find innovative solutions.
Susan Nolen-Hoeksema recommended lifting your mood with distractions before tackling problems.
Engage in enjoyable distractions like funny videos, Sudoku, yoga, or juggling. Afterward, concentrate on finding a clear solution to the issue at hand.
4. Practice feeling grateful for what you are today despite your past.
Gratitude can buffer against stress from intrusive thoughts. Rumination is of two types: intrusive and deliberate. Intrusive rumination involves automatically re-experiencing thoughts, emotions, and images from specific incidents. Deliberate rumination is intentional, focusing on understanding the cause and purpose of an event.
After a traumatic event, people may experience intrusive rumination and emotional distress, but also engage in deliberate rumination to alleviate psychological distress.
Persistent intrusive rumination can lead to PTSD, while deliberate rumination promotes post-traumatic growth (PTG), characterized by a greater appreciation for life, meaningful relationships, personal strength, shifted priorities, and a richer existential and spiritual life.
Gratitude can help people find new purpose and meaning after a traumatic experience, as well as accept the painful experiences as a part of their existence.
- Studies show that gratitude promotes deliberate rumination, and therefore promotes post-traumatic growth (Wood et al., 2010; Zhou and Wu, 2015; Kim and Lee, 2016).
- Gratitude is a thankful and joyful attitude toward the benefits and gifts received from other people and nature (Emmons and Shelton, 2002).
- Gratitude also refers to an appreciation for others and different aspects of daily life, as well as the ability to recollect positive prior experiences (Watkins et al., 2003).
- A meta-analytic study found that gratitude is a significant predictor of PTG (Jang and Kim, 2017).
5. Build A “Thought Box” – a prefixed time period to let yourself overthink.
The “Thought Box” process is a greatly helpful way to reduce overthinking.
Set aside a little 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.”
Small addition: Keep a writing pad and pen handy. Note down a few thoughts from the bunch moving through your mind. Don’t stress if 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 piece of paper.
Here’s entrepreneur and philosopher Albert Hobohm speaking to a TEDx audience on how to stop your thoughts from controlling your life:
Overthinking vs. Deep Thinking: Did Einstein Overthink
Short answer: Probably yes. Long answer: What scientific thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Stephen Hawking (who felt that modern humans need more empathy in their lives), 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 here is output.
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.
How do you know it’s overthinking, not deep thinking? Overthinking does not let you reach any final decision or take any action. Deep thinking does.
Health Issues Due To Overthinking
Now, everyone overthinks at times; that’s normal. It becomes an issue only when someone finds it hard to resist having the same thoughts over and over. Not knowing how to cut free, they often develop severe stress and anxiety.
In time, the overthinking person may even go into depression. In fact, research shows women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression because they ruminate twice as much.
Overthinking is a self-destructive habit. It reduces your ability to think clearly, make quick decisions, pay attention to others, and keep a calm demeanor. It can also make you procrastinate on your current projects and hesitate to start new ventures.
Chronic overthinking is a mental health risk. It might lead a person to feel so stressed that they are unable to function normally, if at all. The solution is to disrupt the thought cycles and take the actions needed to live a regular life.
Overthinking what happened in the past hurts your ability to move forward and prevents you from reaching your goals. To live in the present and find joy, learn to step out of your past.
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 notice 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.
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Author Bio: Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy, an experienced medical doctor and psychology writer focusing on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and Stoic philosophy. His expertise and empathetic approach have helped many mental abuse survivors find happiness and well-being.
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