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How to stop overthinking and what makes us overthink

overthinking
Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash

Many of us are plagued by overthinking, that hamster wheel of thoughts running around in our heads. Some call this “the committee”, that cacophony of voices steering them in different directions.

Perhaps you ruminate over something you said or should have said. Wake up in a cold sweat over some cringe-worthy episode back in elementary school. Or is that just me?

Often, overthinking negatively affects quality of life and prevents us from getting what we want. It creates anxiety and depresses our mood, taking away the levity and playfulness that help us experience joy.

So, how do we overcome overthinking? Here are six ways.

1. Observe your thoughts.

Rather than letting your overthinking take control, observe when it occurs without judgment. This will help you detach from the ruminating thoughts rather than feeling ruled by them.

2. Practice mindfulness to combat overthinking.

Learning to meditate for ten or more minutes per day will help slow ruminating thoughts. Daily meditation can rewire your brain to work more efficiently and effectively.

If you are diligent with your practice you should notice a difference in your thought patterns over time. They’ll become less oppressive and frantic and more slowed down and organized.

3. Do shadow work.

This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a response to the common self-help advice to challenge our thoughts. Because that advice has never worked for me.

I’ve learned to do the opposite and go deep into the worst-case scenario. What is the worst that could happen? Then entertain that thought and how you would feel, without rationalizing.

For example, don’t say you would get over it and move on. That may be true, but the idea is to feel the disappointment and pain. Acknowledging your worst fears helps you move through them more effectively than avoiding them.

4. Do a brain dump to overcome overthinking.

overthinking

This is a journaling exercise in which you pour out everything you’re thinking onto a blank page. The act of getting things out of your brain and onto paper has a cathartic effect and helps organize those thoughts into something coherent.

If writing is not your thing, you can record a voice memo of your brain dump instead.

5. Take time to sit and think.

Many successful entrepreneurs schedule time in their schedules to simply sit and think. They get their best ideas from these sessions as their thoughts have space to flow without pressure.

Most overthinking comes when we feel constrained and stressed. Relieve some of that pressure by giving yourself a few minutes every day to let your thoughts meander.

6. Do something different.

Get out of the prison of overthinking by distracting yourself with another activity. Getting into your body and indulging the senses serves you best here.

Go for a walk, especially in nature, or move your body in some other way. Listen to some soothing or energetic music and take a dance break.

What causes overthinking?

Stress and anxiety can easily lead to overthinking. And you may be prone to ruminating thoughts when you feel unsupported and don’t take enough time for yourself.

Past trauma also leads to rumination. If you were raised without proper attention to your emotional or physical needs, you become hypervigilant.

That means you feel the need to consider all the outcomes (especially the worst ones) to keep yourself safe. If you let your guard down, your brain reasons, you put yourself at risk.

This is another way self-sabotage stems from a misguided sense of self-protection. For more on that topic, read here.

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