How to Stop Overthinking
As a counsellor in Kelowna, British Columbia (or even in online counselling) many people seek therapy because they are stuck in their own head and wonder how to stop overthinking. Overthinking can fuel anxiety, depression, stress, low self-confidence or self-esteem, and negative self-talk. Overthinking can also interfere with everyday functioning, relationships, work/school/sport or overall performance and wellbeing.
When you are stuck in the overthinking cycle, you can beat yourself up over a previous mistake and replay it on repeat. Overthinking can also involve worrying about how you’re going to succeed tomorrow or in the future. Essentially overthinking traps you inside your own head.
So, how can you get out of your own head and stop overthinking?
Some important steps to overcome overthinking are often just becoming aware of your thoughts in order to challenge and replace them. This can be writing it out to get it out, or even talking it out. Counselling is a safe place to learn these skills to overcome overthinking.
While everyone overthinks things once in a while, some people just can’t ever seem to stop replaying unhelpful thoughts or self-talk.
See an article from one of my favorite therapists and authors, Amy Morin, on Psychology Today that unpacks this in a very helpful way. I’ve copied it to read below:
The inner monologue of overthinking includes two destructive thought patterns—ruminating and worrying.
Ruminating involves rehashing the past:
- I shouldn’t have spoken up in the meeting today. Everyone looked at me like I was an idiot.
- I could have stuck it out at my old job. I would be happier if I would have just stayed there.
- My parents always said I wouldn’t amount to anything. And they were right.
Worrying involves negative—often catastrophic—predictions about the future:
- I’m going to embarrass myself tomorrow when I give that presentation. My hands will shake, my face will turn red, and everyone will see that I’m incompetent.
- I’ll never get promoted. It doesn’t matter what I do. It’s not going to happen.
- My spouse is going to find someone better than I am. I’m going to end up divorced and alone.
Overthinkers don’t just use words to contemplate their lives. Sometimes, they conjure up images. too. They may envision their car going off the road or replay a distressing event in their minds like a movie. Either way, their tendency to overthink everything holds them back from doing something productive.
How To Stop Overthinking
Putting an end to rehashing, second-guessing, and catastrophic predictions is easier said than done. But with consistent practice, you can limit your negative thinking patterns:
1. Notice When You’re Thinking Too Much
Awareness is the first step in putting an end to overthinking. Start paying attention to the way you think. When you notice yourself replaying events in your mind over and over, or worrying about things you can’t control, acknowledge that your thoughts aren’t productive.
2. Challenge Your Thoughts
It’s easy to get carried away with negative thoughts. Before you conclude that calling in sick is going to get you fired, or that forgetting one deadline is going to cause you to become homeless, acknowledge that your thoughts may be exaggeratedly negative. Learn to recognize and replace thinking errors before they work you into a complete frenzy.
This is my specialty and favorite part of counselling; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT on how to identify, challenge, and replace thoughts.
3. Keep The Focus On Active Problem-Solving
Dwelling on your problems isn’t helpful, but looking for solutions is. Ask yourself what steps you can take to learn from a mistake or avoid a future problem. Instead of asking why something happened, ask yourself what you can do about it.
4. Schedule Time For Reflection
Stewing on problems for long periods of time isn’t productive, but brief reflection can be helpful. Thinking about how you could do things differently or recognizing potential pitfalls to a plan, for example, can help you do better in the future. Incorporate 20 minutes of “thinking time” into your daily schedule. During this time, let yourself worry, ruminate, or mull over whatever you want. Then, when the time is up, move onto something more productive. When you notice yourself overthinking things outside of your scheduled time, remind yourself that you’ll think about it later.
5. Practice Mindfulness
It’s impossible to rehash yesterday or worry about tomorrow when you’re living in the present. Commit to becoming more aware of the here and now. Mindfulness takes practice, like any other skill, but over time, it can decrease overthinking.
6. Change The Channel
Telling yourself to stop thinking about something can backfire. The more you try to avoid the thought from entering your brain, the more likely it is to keep popping up. Busying yourself with an activity is the best way to change the channel. Exercise, engage in conversation on a completely different subject or get working on a project that will distract your mind from a barrage of negative thoughts.