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How to stop Overthinking

Overthinking is an unpleasant and bothersome experience. Most of us at some point, might have experienced sleepless nights while overthinking on matters such as upcoming exams, employment prospects, relationships, any illness, an incident of trauma, or in general about any problem at work place or at home. In addition, the prevailing COVID pandemic has had overthinking take over most minds. While thinking is considered good, ‘overthinking’ can cause stress and anxiety. What is overthinking and how to stop overthinking?

Overthinking is when we think too much or too long about something. Overthinking makes us relive the unpleasant moments over and over again. It magnifies a problem and hinders action and solution. When we think too much about things that are not in our control, that also accounts to overthinking. While the usual norm is to think and act, overthinking revolves around think and think!

Why Must We Stop Overthinking?

Overthinking is the art of creating problems which doesn’t even exists!

Overthinking is not just pointless; it is also unproductive. For instance:

What happens in a game of tennis? If a player is constantly overthinking about the opponent’s next strike, he/she will lose out on his/her own strategy for ball placement and game plan. This way the player will most likely end up striking the ball back to where the opponent stands. Instead, if the player wants the opponent to run around in the tennis court, the focus will be shifted to those areas where the ball can be skilfully placed. This is to say that thinking helps the player study the opponent, be alert, and evolve new strategies for winning. Overthinking overwhelms the player and leads to apprehension and lowered confidence.

Let’s now glance at some of the consequences of overthinking:

  • Causes worry over a past incident, or stress about future events while losing out on present possibilities.
  • Clouds our judgement and ability to make decisions.
  • Interferes with problem solving.
  • Leads to inaction.
  • Disrupts diet and sleep pattern.

Now we know why should we stop overthinking. Let’s learn more about what leads to overthinking and how can we stop it.

What Leads to Overthinking?

We often begin with plain thinking but sometimes get entangled in recurring thoughts of overthinking. If we keep thinking, we miss out on trying out any solution. With no solution attempted, situation looks more worrisome and leads to more overthinking and so on. While we are aware of its disturbing consequences, we often find ourselves unable to avoid it and get trapped in its complexity. Why do we overthink in the first place and how to break free from it? What can lead us out of this dark tunnel? How do we even break this vicious cycle and gain back composure?

Knowing the reasons that may lead to overthinking will help us introspect and get over it.  There are several reasons that lead to overthinking, some of the most common reasons being:

  • Lack of self-esteem leading to self-doubt and negative self-talk.
  • Having a perfectionist attitude and setting oneself targets to overachieve.
  • Having faced some kind of failure or rejection for the first time.
  • Having experienced some kind of trauma or illness.
  • Underlying conditions like anxiety or depression.
  • Being confronted with situations never encountered before such as the prevailing pandemic.

How to Stop Overthinking                                    

Whatever be the reason, clearly, overthinking is not rational or logical. Moreover, it interferes with any positive course of action. Here are some eight methods of approaches, that when practiced will help us break away from the vicious cycle of overthinking.

Take Charge of Your Mindset

Always harbour a positive and optimistic mindset. Learn to accept that life has its ups and downs, but know also that every problem has a solution. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that it is perfectly alright to experience setbacks once in a while. Count on your blessings and assure yourself that you can make a fresh start from the very next moment and gather courage to take new steps. Make a list of all the problems that bother you, and start writing alongside all the possible solutions that you can think of and try them out without delay.

Talk It Out

We may be haunted with the question sometimes; “Why always me?” When we share our problems, we discover we are not the only ones and that we are all in the same boat. It always makes us lighter when we share our problems with someone. It is perfectly alright to take help. Talk it out to friends or well-wishers. In all probabilities either they will suggest some simple solutions that you had never thought of due to panic, or you may yourself figure out approaches once the fog around the mind clears out.

Indulge in Positive Self-Talk

You can be your own best friend. Sit down and introspect the root cause of overthinking. The questions that you ask yourself set apart overthinking from positive self-talk. For example, if having lost a job is the reason behind constant worry; instead of overthinking on the question: “Why did I lose my job?”, ask yourself instead; “What new skills do I need to learn to get back into a job of my choice?”. With this question, you will most likely figure out solution and with quick steps, you may end up having a better job than the earlier one! The knack to learn here is to ask questions that yield solutions.

Avoid Too Many Expectations

Expectations are to some extent good in driving you to take up your passion. However, harbouring too many expectations may turn against you, leading to disappointments and overthinking.  Despite scoring on good grades, we sometimes overthink on that one silly mistake we could have avoided to score centum! While it is good to aim at scoring centum, overthinking on not meeting the set expectation is not at all worth the go. Take it positively and take it as a learning to avoid similar mistakes that matter more in the long run. Not meeting your expectation for a dream job or promotion should not be the cause for over introspection. Instead, immediately start acting by sharpening the essential skills and see yourself achieve much more than your expectations can imagine!

Celebrate Every Little Success to Your Credit

It often so happens that any negative happening always starts to look so big that it masks all the good accomplishments to our credit. Like how our attention quickly goes to a small black dot on an otherwise white paper, we often concentrate on what’s unfavourable. While it is good know our weaknesses thoroughly in order for self-improvement, overdoing it may backfire. Learn to embrace every little achievement and celebrate success and note how the spiralling negative overthinking take a turn to become positive.

Re-channelize Thoughts and Engage in Productive Activities

Though it may sound impossible at that moment, just go for it and experience the change. Break the chain of constant thoughts and engage in anything like hobbies or something that is beneficial for others. If something you said or did knowingly or unknowingly hurt someone, do not let the guilt bother you. Instead try not to repeat it and replace it with two good deeds for someone.  It not only diverts the mind, but also gives contentment. Small acts like volunteering at old age homes, orphanages, or teaching kids who do not have access to schooling, or as in the current situation offering any kind of help to people in overcoming COVID, can all prove beneficial. Gardening, art, music, dance, reading, writing, cooking, or any other hobby can do so much in making thoughts pleasant. 

Consider Problem-solving One Step at a Time

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Sometimes when we encounter more than one problem at a time, we tend to look at them all at once and lose hope. When we consider them one at a time, and try to find a way out, it works out better. Observe the following steps:

  • Identify the problem/problems.
  • Try to define the problem/problems.
  • Come up with ideas or solutions.
  • Decided on the best possible alternative from your list of solutions.
  • Go ahead and implement them.
  • Evaluate the outcome.

If there is failure again, repeat the steps till you get it right!

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning of any sort is not only an antidote against overthinking, but is also proven to have anti-ageing effects. Learning new things is a refreshing experience and there is no dearth for things to learn. Once you begin, be consistent with it until it gradually becomes a part of daily routine. Morning hours are soothing and best time of the day to start a fresh and incorporate a host of productive tasks that uplift your overall capabilities and help you take control of emotions.

Fighting Fire with Fire

If one is a constant overthinker, why not beat it by putting to use their own imagination in a creative way?

A research in cognitive sciences led by Dr. Adam Perkins, King’s College London, has demonstrated that pessimistic thinkers have high level of spontaneous activity in their medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. This means that they sense any threat even when it is a remote possibility. Their high level of imagination is also because of a high reactivity in the basolateral nuclei of the amygdala of the brain. This is the reason they experience panic much sooner than it happens. But their worry was due to their high imagination in the first place. Scientists believe that worry is also the cause for sensing danger and preparing to face adversities. Worry and imagination can lead to new breakthrough inventions.

For example, worry of starvation led people to invent mechanisms to preserve food that we so commonly use today. The invention of fire or burglar alarms happened when people anticipated problems and devised ways to combat them. The key is to therefore harvest the overthinking potential by engaging in work that benefits mankind.

Breathing Techniques and Mindfulness Meditation

Breath control can bring an overall control over the racing mind and make the haywire thought process slow down. Breath control can also bring stress hormones like the cortisol under control and clear the mind. Mindfulness meditation can help a person let go off the past and live in the present moment. These exercises as well as other physical activities are known to enhance happy hormones and calm you down. These techniques have the added benefits of improving memory and concentration as well. However, benefits can be experienced with habitual practice. These techniques are especially helpful to control underlying medical health conditions such as anxiety or depression. But despite this, if feelings of negative emotions and overthinking continue, it is advisable to seek medical help.

Conclusion: How to stop overthinking

Mind is a sophisticated attribute to mankind and the result of continuous evolutionary process in Nature. However, the mind can be equally difficult to control. With capability of experiencing maximum emotions, it becomes hard to tame feelings many times.

In the current scenario of the COVID 19 pandemic, death of near and dear ones, friends or revered teachers, is hard to come to terms with and move on. However, these things are not always in our control and we must start thinking of how we can make prevailing conditions better to avoid further mishaps.

Overthinking may be normal at times, but never let it be your norm! Overcoming passive recurring thoughts is a skill to develop. Once it is mastered, you learn to ignore them and move on. Keeping busy in productive tasks and connecting with Nature are rewarding to the self and distract the mind from fruitless overthinking. It is never too late to start working on ways that take us out of overthinking and help us build a strong emotional quotient (EQ). After all, what’s a good intelligence quotient (IQ), or creativity quotient (CQ) without a strong emotional quotient?

Stop overthinking now, whatever happens, happens.

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Article Credit

This article is contributed by Ms Preeti Tambraparni, post graduate in microbiology with a certification in clinical research. Her expertise are writing personal blog in life science related topics and health blog.

More articles from Ms. Preeti Tambraparni:

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3 thoughts on “How to stop Overthinking

  1. Great read! Very well articulated. Fear is an important factor for over thinking. Fear which is imaginary.. Not The real one . Real fear like… You are faced with 3 people attacking you with Knife in hand … You don’t even think … On the contrary, fear that someone may attack me ..will lead to overtgining and all kinds of imagination.

    Keep it up!

  2. In Vedic terms the man is made up of 8 things; 5 sense organs, mind, intelligence and ego. Five sense organs are 1 sight, 2 hearing, 3 smell 4 speech and 5 touch. (ಪೃಥಿವ್ಯಾಪಸ್ತೇಜೋ ವಾಯುರಾಕಾಶಾನ್ ಖಂ ಮನೋ ಬುದ್ಧಿರೇವ ಚ । ಅಹಂಕಾರ ಇತೀಯಂ ಮೇ ಭಿನ್ನಾಃ ಪ್ರಕೃತಿರಷ್ಟಧಾ ॥) said Sri Krishna, in Gita.
    Yogis are those who’ve control on all the eight. To have control even one of them is difficult for a commoner. The article deals with the mind’s responses, activities and activities sometimes unnecessarily exaggerated.
    The referred scientist has found out which part of brain sends alert signals. As you have rightly said, this attitude can be put to good use as it was done in designing devices like the fire alarn, burglar’s alarm etc.
    At the same time persons of pessimistic thinking attitude outnumber the optimistic ones. It isn’t easy to get rid of the cobweb they were caught in. No one but they themselves are to be blamed.
    Yes, Talk it Out is the surefire solution you’ve suggested.
    I share one of my failures now with you: In an UPSC interview till last I fared well. When I thought the interview was over and started to get up, suddenly a guest member asked me how do you obtain equal or small amplification using Opamp. Opamps are digital amplifiers known to give thousand times amplification. As I was taken unawares I failed to reply, which cost me the job. While coming out of the chamber, still thinking over it I knew the answer: amplification depends on the input ratio, numerator is greater, then amplification is greater, denominator is greater, then amplification is small.
    Now that I shared with you, the bumblebee which was drilling my mind is gone, dead, not to return again.
    Keep writing, and also let people associate, as I do, with their personal experiences, and relieve themselves of the disturbing bumblebees.

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