Should I wake up now or give myself 30 more minutes? Did I answer the questions correctly? How will my presentation go?
These are all thoughts that cloud our minds during the day. Thinking is one of the major differences between us and animals.
Charles Darwin hypothesized that we are similar to animals, merely more intelligent. Your thoughts can keep you from getting wet when it’s raining, or remind you to save up for retirement. Essentially, your brain’s ability to conjure complex thoughts is what makes you stand out.
Unfortunately, as with anything else, overthinking can be harmful. Yes, your brain is always thinking. Whether it’s what time you need to leave the house to be on time for work, or you’re trying to figure out what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is, you have to engage your brain.
What happens, however, when you can’t calm your mind? What should you do if you find yourself continually overthinking?
It’s important to note now and then, everyone overthinks. When you or someone you know is diagnosed with a serious illness, you might find yourself overthinking. If you get into an accident, you may also start obsessing about what you could have done differently.
You can also overthink in anticipation of the future. When a child knows they’ll get a new toy tomorrow, they’ll often overthink about the toy. When there’s a new phone or gadget about to be released, most people overthink about the new features.
Clearly, it is impossible to live life without overthinking. However, some people have a hard time controlling their thoughts and will repeatedly overthink different scenarios.
Overthinking can be looked at from two different angles. The first is ruminating or reflecting on past events. Did I send the report before leaving work? Did I lock my door when I left? I shouldn’t have quit my job. The second is worrying about future events. What if I don’t get the job? What if I fail at the presentation? What if I get into an accident?
Thinking can help you learn from your past and prepare for the future. However, overthinking, as research has established, can lead to mental health problems. (1) Moreover, rumination has also been linked to anxiety, anger, and depression. (2)
Herein are 5 practical tips on how to stop your mind from overthinking
1. Delegate time for reflection
When most people realize they are obsessing over a particular subject, they try to block these thoughts. Unfortunately, your brain keeps going back to these thoughts.
Avoiding the thoughts may work for a while, but eventually, they will creep back to your mind.
What then, should you do? Create a schedule where you can sit, relax, and think about these thoughts. Instead of running away from them, delegate a time where you dive into the thoughts.
The time you delegate should be focused mainly on the issues that are causing you to overthink.
Moreover, you need to take it to the next step. Establish the underlying cause of these thoughts and how you can fix them.
For instance, are you worried that you might not pass your upcoming exam? This thought can keep you from being productive or from concentrating. During your designated thinking time, dive deeper into the issue. Why are you concerned about failing the exam? Is it because the topic covered was challenging for you? Is it because you haven’t done well in the previous exams? Or is it because you haven’t studied for the exam?
Once you have established the root cause of your worry, come up with a solution to fix it. If you realize you haven’t studied for the exam, create study time to help, you prepare. If the topic was particularly challenging, get a tutor or someone to help you understand it better.
2. Recognize when you’re overthinking
In most cases, you don’t overthink about random ideas. While you may think about why oxygen is odorless, you likely won’t obsess on it for too long. Chances are you’re obsessing about one or a few issues that have a direct impact on your life.
Awareness is perhaps the essential step in keeping your mind from overthinking. Anytime you notice you’re obsessing about something, take note of it. Afterwards, combine these notes, and you’ll likely realize they lead to one or a few particular issues. Compiling the little things causing you to overthink will help you see the bigger picture.
Once you have sight of the major issue stressing you, it’s easier for you to deal with it. Do not try to ignore your thoughts, hoping they will go away; they won’t. In some cases, they may get worse with time.
The sooner you’re aware of what is stressing you, the earlier you can tackle the underlying issue and move on. If you’re having a hard time figuring out what it is you’re overthinking about, you can consult a specialist or physician.
3. Focus on the now
As mentioned above, most people either obsess about something they did or didn’t do in the past or something they want to do or to avoid in the future.
Focusing on the present is one of the best ways to combat overthinking. While it sounds simplistic, it is one of the hardest things to do.
Most people are always looking at the past to see the opportunities they missed, or towards the unknown future. While it may be tempting to focus on the past, remember there is nothing you can do to change the outcome.
That, however, is not to say you should not learn from the past. Simply, it’s saying you should not obsess over something that has already happened since the results are already apparent. The same goes for the future, while you can plan, you don’t have control over everything that will happen.
Instead of replaying past events or obsessing about future decisions, focus on what you can do now. For instance, if you’re afraid your presentation won’t go as planned, instead of worrying about it, take action. Go over the presentation until you’re confident of your presentation skills and the presentation itself. Building up your confidence can help keep you from overthinking.
4. Stay positive
In almost all cases, when you start overthinking, your brain takes a negative turn, and you start considering all the negative possibilities. According to research from John Hopkins Medicine, (3) people from families with a history of heart disease are a third less likely to have heart conditions if they maintain a positive outlook on life.
Being positive will not only keep you from overthinking, but it can also keep you healthy.
So, how do you keep a positive mind when you notice you’ve started overthinking and negative thoughts are clouding your mind?
You can use a method known as positive reframing. Positive reframing is shifting your focus from what could go wrong to what could go right or what is working for you.
For instance, if you’re stuck in traffic, instead of worrying about every negative aspect, try and focus on the positive ones. Be thankful you have a car, for example. Appreciate it’s harder to get into an accident. Or, even use the time to meditate or to listen to your favorite audio-book or podcast.
5. Get a distraction
Sometimes, avoiding a thought only leads you to overthink about it. It’s not easy to push out thoughts every time you realize you’re obsessing. Sometimes, the thoughts become so loud that you can no longer control them, and they are the only things you hear.
If you find yourself in such a situation, it’s time to get a distraction. You’ll notice you’re mostly overthinking when you’re inactive. That being said, it is important to mention you can overthink while you’re active. This has led to many accidents and calamities as the person was not fully focused on what they were doing.
Whichever the case –whether you find yourself overthinking when you’re active or passive, there are ways to calm your mind and manage your thoughts.
One simple yet effective way is by getting a distraction. The distraction doesn’t have to be something major, just something that will calm your mind. For example, you can go for a walk, play video games, try learning a new instrument, try knitting or listen to music.
Keep in mind that this is a distraction and not something you can keep up forever. You can combine this technique with the aforementioned time delegation. Get an activity to distract your mind until the thoughts calm or you get to your delegated thinking time.
Finally, research has shown that overthinking can lead to depression, drug use, overeating or undereating, and emotional and mental instability. These five tips will help you learn how to not overthink everything and to control your mind and keep away from obsessive thoughts.
That being said, if you suspect you’re overthinking and it can lead to harm, seek out a professional who can help you calm your thoughts before they become destructive.
Related Reading: 6 Helpful Tips on How to Relax Your Mind and Body from Anxiety
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Featured Image by tookapic from Pixabay
- National Center for Biotechnology Information
- Sciencedirect.com – Rumination—relationship with negative mood and sleep quality
- Hopkinsmedicine.org – The Power of Positive Thinking
- Strategies for Dealing with Life’s Difficulties – Jennifer Viveros and Dr. David Schramm