Overthinking is something we are all guilty of. However, for some people it can become overwhelming and begin affecting their daily lives. This is known as ‘rumination’ – the process of continuously thinking the same negative thoughts.
The odd intrusive thought may pop into your head like, ‘did I forget to do that?’ or ‘why did I say that?’, but this is a normal part of life. Afterall, the human brain has around 6,000 thoughts a day which we mostly take no notice of. It is when these thoughts become repetitive and begin causing anxiety that your mental well-being could be affected. The NHS Mental Health Service has some amazing advice for those looking for help if they are feeling overwhelmed.
There are also some simple steps you can take to help stop overthinking. We have outlined a few of these well-being strategies below to help you get started.
This technique is also known as ‘changing the channel’. Think of your brain as a TV channel that is playing the same thing over and over again (the thought you are overthinking). Attempting to stop yourself from having these thoughts just leads them to continue to pop up. Therefore, you need to actively distract yourself.
When you are feeling worried, or a thought keeps entering your mind that is distressing you, it’s time to turn to something you love that will distract you. If you’re feeling stressed in the office, why not pop outside for a quick walk and just take some time to enjoy the fresh air? Or you could turn to a friend, colleague or family member and start a conversation on a completely different subject to begin engaging with something else. Whatever makes you happy, and keeps you busy, is the perfect way to keep your mind distracted.
Sometimes we just need to take a moment and catch our breath. Breathing exercises are a tried and tested coping mechanism if you’re feeling stressed from overthinking. This is because taking a deep, long breath is one of the quickest ways to calm yourself down. It also helps to alleviate some of the symptoms of stress such as a rapid heartbeat or hyperventilating.
All you have to do is take a big deep breath, making sure the breath comes from the bottom of the lungs and not your chest, and hold for 5 seconds. Then breathe out very slowly for 4 seconds. Keep repeating this exercise for 5 minutes, or until you block out your negative thoughts.
For more guidance on simple breathing techniques read our blog on Breathing Exercises to Combat Stress.
Overthinking can involve rehashing the past. We can replay moments where we felt the most anxious or embarrassed, which causes us to feel those emotions in the present. Over-thinkers also tend to focus on the ‘what ifs?’. For example, ‘what if I stayed at my previous job, could I have been promoted by now? But we can’t change the past. What you are doing by overthinking, is letting the past control your future…
Instead, we need to take control of our own story. Be present in the moment and get on with the decisions we have made in life. Yes, you may have a new job, but that is an exciting opportunity to grow in your new career rather than worrying about your old one. It is all about refocusing your mind to look at things from a new, positive perspective.
One of the best ways to stop overthinking the negatives, is to celebrate the positives. When you catch yourself continuing to think the same thing, grab a pen and paper and start listing some of your latest achievements. This can be 5 things you have done in the last week that are worth a little self-praise. No matter how big or small, you should be proud of the things you have done, rather than worrying about the things you haven’t done.
For example, if you are worried about presenting, you could list 5 times you delivered a great presentation. Even if you were worried about it back then, you got through it 5 times before and you can do it again. Sometimes we just need to self-reflect and remember all the good stuff we have done when a little self-doubt begins to creep in.
Mindfulness simply means focusing on the present. It is a great way to block out overthinking because you are training your brain to focus on the here and now. This can include a ‘body scan’ where you take a moment to just focus on your whole body, from your toes to the top of your head, and just see how they feel and how they move. This stops your mind from overthinking by giving it the task of focusing on something else.
There are so many other mindfulness techniques, from meditation to eating mindfully, you just have to find what works for you. If you want to practice mindfulness, but are not quite sure on how to start, read our guide to Mindfulness Exercises to help you on your well-being journey.
Last but not least, you need to put what you have learned into practice. When you notice yourself overthinking, look at what actions you can take to solve the problem. You are now equipped with the well-being techniques above which gives you the power to alter your thoughts. After all, it’s all about control!
Often when we are feeling overwhelmed it’s because something is out of our control. However, we just need to look at it from another angle to see how we can get control back. If it is something like a natural disaster that no human being can control, then you can focus on your coping mechanisms instead. Or if it’s something that you are fearful of then try to embrace your fears one small step at a time. Of course, this is easier said than done so remember to always seek help and advice if you need to.
There we have it! 6 ways to help stop overthinking to improve your health and well-being. For even more well-being tips checkout our well-being blog on all things from manifestations, to how to get a good night’s sleep and self-care packages to treat yourself to.