It’s easy for people to advise removing the “over” from overthinking. But for people who can’t control their thoughts, it’s easier said than done. This article will teach you how to stop overthinking to avoid staying stuck in inaction and worrying about problems that you create in your mind in the first place.
Everyone over-thinks sometimes. But some do it more frequently than others. Some of these individuals could have anxiety disorders, but not everyone does. The process of overthinking is not clear to scientists. But it probably engages the exact parts responsible for anxiety and fear. The cerebral cortex is the processor of all thinking. It’s the logical part of the brain that can recall memories and help us think about and anticipate things. But if you let yourself obsess about something—you will soon have the amygdala’s attention. It’s the brain’s emotional center involved in fear and anxiety. That’s when things get dramatic. “The amygdala makes our heart pound, says Pittman, an associate professor in the psychology department in Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. “”It makes us feel uneasy and gives us muscle tension.” The more you activate the amygdala, the more it can turn into a vicious cycle, and you could put yourself at risk of anxiety disorders in the future.
While everyone overthinks, some people are plagued with a constant barrage of thoughts. And unfortunately, there are a lot of overthinkers in America, especially among young people. Seventy-three percent of people aged between 25 to 35 years overthink, and 52 percent of people aged between 45 to 55 years. Chronic overthinkers rehash conversations they had yesterday, second-guess every decision they make, and imagine disastrous outcomes all day, every day. They conjure up catastrophic images, too. Their minds resemble a movie, with imaginations like their car going off the road or repeated replays of distressing events. Overthinking prevents you from getting things done and can wreak havoc on your mood.
Thoughts are powerful. Whatever you hold in your mind constantly becomes your reality. Most successful people in the world realize this and learn how to harness the power of thoughts to achieve. It’s also good news for those who want to know how to stop overthinking. You weren’t born an overthinker. We all have patterns in our behavior. These patterns develop over time based on life experiences. And just as they are learned, they can also be unlearned. The key is to identify what’s causing your overthinking, then take decisive action to change your mindset. But that can be easier said than done.
How to stop overthinking and negative thoughts?
What are negative thoughts?
Negative thoughts include beliefs you may have regarding yourself, situations, or others. They can affect your mood and lead to various mental health conditions. They’re also known as automatic thoughts because they happen so quickly. These thoughts “pop up” in your head; you don’t have to do anything to make them happen; they just do.
But once you start to pay attention to your triggers or what caused the thought to appear in the first place, you’ll be able to catch it before it gets out of control.
Why do I have negative thoughts?
Negative thoughts are pretty habitual. You might have negative thoughts because we can be more interested in the negative than positive – a negativity bias. Evolutionarily speaking, it’s also possible that negative thinking was more conducive to our survival. Think about it this way: Negative thoughts appeal more to the mind. Naturally, we pay more attention to the worst-case scenarios, or potential threats, much more often than positive ones. Why? It’s our mind’s way of protecting ourselves. So once we give a negative thought the attention it’s craving, we get caught. Our minds become confined in an ongoing process of “figuring it out.”
Negative thoughts could occur due to cognitive distortions and mental health
Practice mindfulness and self-awareness
Mindfulness is the practice of detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions and viewing them as an outside observer. It can help you become more conscious of your thoughts and build greater self-awareness. In addition, it improves your relationship with your thoughts. Try viewing your thoughts and feelings as objects floating past you that you can stop and observe or just let pass. Be aware of how your thoughts are impacting your emotions and behaviors. Ask yourself if this thought is helpful. What purpose is it serving? How does it make you feel?
The purpose of mindfulness is to gain control of your emotional reactions to situations by letting the thinking part of your brain take over. In addition, it’s been theorized that practicing mindfulness may facilitate the ability to use thoughts more adaptively. Studies have found people who engage in practicing mindfulness experience fewer negative thoughts after exposure to negative imagery, suggesting that mindfulness may lessen the impact of negative thinking.
Identify negative thoughts
As you observe your thoughts, identify and label cognitive distortions and negativity. For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, you engage in “black-and-white” thinking. Other negative thinking patterns include:
- Jumping to conclusions: This distortion involves making assumptions about what others are thinking or making negative assumptions about how events will turn out.
- Catastrophizing: The negative thinking pattern is characterized by assumptions of the worst possible outcomes without considering more likely and realistic possibilities.
- Overgeneralization: This pattern is marked by a tendency to apply what happened in one experience to all future ventures. It can contribute to feelings of anxiety by making negative experiences seem unavoidable.
- Labeling: When people negatively label themselves, it affects how they feel about themselves in different contexts. Someone who labels themselves “bad at math,” for example, will often feel pessimistic about activities that involve that skill.
- Limiting “should” statements: Thinking marked by “should” results in negative perspectives when you think only in terms of what you “ought” to be doing. Such ideas are often unrealistic and cause people to feel defeated and pessimistic about their capabilities. Limit such statements lest they limit you.
- Emotional reasoning involves assuming that something is true based on your emotional response to it. For example, if you feel nervous, overwhelming emotions lead you to conclude that you must be in danger, escalating negative feelings and increasing anxiety.
- Blaming yourself unreasonably: This involves taking things personally, even when they are not. It often leads people to blame themselves for something they have no control over.
While mindfulness helps you give less weightage to your ideas and reduces their impact on you, thought-stopping is the opposite. It is the act of being on the lookout for negative thoughts and insisting they be eliminated. The problem with thought-stopping is that the more you stop your negative thoughts, the more they surface, known as thought rebounding. However, experts believe that this rebounding after stopping negative thoughts is more damaging. So instead, psychologists generally recommend finding ways to deal with the negative thoughts more directly.
Unhelpful thinking patterns differ subtly. But they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of looking at situations and people. Always remember to pause to accept the thought for what it is. And remind yourself that it’s just a thought and not a fact.
Exercises to help you stop overthinking
A powerful brain exercise to stop overthinking is visualizing beautiful things; you automatically feel good, feel happy, and even smile, which is a sign of improving health and prosperity, and harmony. You have to train your mind to visualize positive things only. Research shows that visualization is one of the best ways to reduce stress and get your mind back on track to regain your balance. When you imagine living your dream, your brain assumes it happening, and this is how you can harness your brain for your good.
Creating art, painting, gardening, or listening to slow music and visualizing your day helps organize your thoughts and put you at ease. Once you get good with visualization, You start training your mind to rewire itself to new possibilities at a subconscious level. Once your inner reality changes, you can genuinely influence your outer environment.
Any form of physical activity can prevent or reduce the extent of mental illnesses such as depression. It is also believed to have a positive effect on self-esteem in adults. It can also enhance mood and reduce stress levels, thus helping you in tackling daily challenges more positively, optimally, and constructively.
Exercising for half an hour three times a week can result in desirable psychological benefits like stress reduction; an hour may result in even more psychological benefits.
One of the most straightforward brain exercises to stop overthinking is to have a creative outlet. As exercise is to the body, book reading is to the mind. Not asking you to read a book right away, but your brain can adapt and change. But only when it stays challenged. Overthinking kills your creativity and paralyzes your productivity. A creative hobby helps you feel good, for some music works, for some art. So keep it stimulated by taking up a hobby or learning a new skill.
“Overthinking is not a disease; it is due to the underuse of your creative power.”
― Amit Ray, Meditation: Insights and Inspirations
Never compromise your sleep. Period. With the advent of social media, web series, and many online avenues, we sacrifice our precious sleep and play with the body’s natural needs. Sleep has become a luxury these days, and whether you believe it or not, your brain needs rest. Overstimulation before going to bed brings down your melatonin- the sleep-inducing hormone. It disturbs your sleep cycle ultimately. Sound sleep is one of the most straightforward brain exercises to stop overthinking. A good sleep pattern can help you to stay active and refreshed. You should avoid screen-time before bedtime and wake up feeling grateful.
How to stop overthinking when trying to sleep?
Some nights, you can’t get your brain to shut up long enough for you to fall asleep. You’re mentally reviewing past scenarios while also previewing future possibilities; sometimes, your mind may dig deep into the archives to pull up something embarrassing you did long ago.
Racing thoughts can signify a health condition like anxiety. But these nights also happen to everyone from time to time. And when we’re too old for bedtime stories, it’s not always clear what to do. Many people with insomnia have a common complaint: “I just can’t turn off my mind at night.” In the stillness of the night, when you’re desperate for sleep, the mind seems to churn and keep some people awake. So what causes racing thoughts at night, and how can you relieve them? Well, to turn off a racing mind, you have to cut off the fuel your mind needs to start spinning in the dark.
If you struggle with falling asleep, you’ve likely wondered how to stop overthinking at night.
You lay down in bed after a stressful day. The room is cool and dark. You’re snuggled up under the covers, and you’re waiting to fall asleep, and your mind is off to the races. Can you relate? No one solution will work for everybody, of course, so instead, we’ve rounded up suggestions from eight sleep experts. At the very least, it’s something to read next time you can’t sleep.
“Imagery distraction” is a helpful technique when you can’t sleep, where you imagine yourself in an engaging and exciting scenario. Although there’s less evidence suggesting imagining a scenario reduces how long it takes to get to sleep than articulatory suppression. However, using mental imagery to fall asleep has been reported to increase sleep quality.
Once you’ve chosen your scenario, the aim is to immerse yourself in it as deeply as possible by imagining all the sights, sounds, smells, and ultimately relaxation that comes with it so that it becomes impossible to think of anything else. It’s essential to avoid arousing scenarios, like a sporting event or sexual encounter, because they are unlikely to be relaxing and will make you feel more awake rather than helping you sleep.
“Thinking about sleep and wishing for it to happen is a recipe for staying awake. This is where paradoxical thinking comes in. If you give yourself the paradoxical instruction to stay awake instead, you’ll be more likely to fall asleep. If you can be comfortable with the idea of remaining awake, then the performance anxiety and frustration that are associated with trying to sleep have nowhere to go, and your arousal level drops.” — Colin Espie, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford.
Get out of bed
“If 20 minutes have gone by as the mind races, unable to relax back to sleep, it’s best to get out of bed. Then, without looking at your phone or other screen devices, go to another dimly lit room where you keep a notebook. Write down the thoughts that are keeping you awake. Finish with the words, ‘It can wait until tomorrow. Then, go back to bed, focus on the breath, and mindfully relax into those words, giving yourself permission to yield to sleep.”— Jenni June, sleep consultant.
Organize your thoughts
“Spend a maximum of 20 minutes just getting everything out of your head and onto paper every day. It’s a therapeutic way to see that you probably don’t have loads to worry about, rather just a few recurring things. You can then see which worries are hypothetical (i.e., what if I make a mistake at work and lose my job) or ‘real’ worries (e.g., I made a mistake and have lost my job). For the real worries, you can then make an action plan/problem-solve and for the hypothetical ones, learn to let them go.” — Kathryn Pinkham, National Health Services insomnia specialist.
Get back in bed
Insomnia has many causes. One of them is stress and anxiety, which leads to churning thoughts when trying to sleep. By identifying your stress, scheduling time to attend to your worries, and establishing a healthy bedtime routine, you may be able to avoid racing thoughts and sleep more soundly.
How to stop overthinking and relax?
There will always be more to do, but you have done enough for today. Now it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep. Spend at least 30 minutes, or perhaps as long as one or two hours, unwinding and decompressing before bedtime. Your circadian rhythm is the internal clock that tells you when it’s time for sleep. Unfortunately, several things can throw these internal rhythms off, including lack of sunlight and too much blue light from computer screens. So, a few hours before bed, turn off any screen. In addition, put aside your work and disengage from social media.
Once you’ve eliminated screens, fill the time with relaxing activities. You may want to try activities like reading, listening to music, stretching, a shower or bath, or meditation. You may find that establishing a nighttime ritual that incorporates some of these activities sends your body signals that it’s time to wind down. During the time before bed, or if you find yourself awake at night, you may want to further incorporate some other relaxation techniques, including breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation.
Create a pre-bed routine. Avoid using technology or other devices to help you unwind. These activities can distract you from the effort related to trying to fall or stay asleep. They can also reduce racing thoughts.
How to stop overthinking in a relationship?
If you want more peace of mind in your relationships and reduce feelings of anxiety, insecurity, or jealousy, this article is precisely what you are looking for. You may be asking yourself, “How to stop overthinking in a relationship?”
Overthinking is often rooted in uncertainty. Perhaps the need to be sure about the future of your relationship is what eventually drains it off all the energy. Promises and commitments give rise to expectations that stretch through decades while we are seldom sure about the next few moments. But people end up parting ways despite having made plans together. And in moments of temporary seclusion, wonder what the relationship could have been like had they considered the possibility that it might come to an end at some point. Would they have still indulged in the aimless contemptuous engagements that eventually drew them apart? Would they have held each other’s hands, promising to grow old together instead of understanding that it was quite possible to grow tired of each other in only the next few months or years? Perhaps, we would only value each other more if we understood that we don’t need to pretend to be sure about what we can’t be.
Asking why we hurt the ones we love is like asking why we pluck the flower we like. We value ourselves more than those whom we claim to love. Do we love people, or do we love the idea of them being with us or worse – for us? Can you dehumanize somebody and yet claim to love them? Our love revolves around ourselves. It is important to value yourself, and it is valuable to understand that you’re not that important. You don’t get hurt unless you think of yourself as more important than you are. But in love, we make each other feel important and get hurt when we’re reminded that we are but characters in chapters of each other’s stories.
To stop overthinking in relationships: be clear with yourself about what it is you really need in a relationship, develop trust by sharing your concerns with your partner, learn to be in the present to get the most out of it, and always remember that your relationship with yourself is more important than any other relationship you will ever have. If you have tried implementing these or other suggestions and don’t feel like you can handle your habit of overthinking, something else may be going on. For example, if you had a parental figure that inconsistently provided love and emotional support in your childhood, you may have developed an anxious attachment style. People with such attachment styles often fear abandonment by those around them, even if it’s irrational. This (among other causes) may lead to overthinking in a relationship. In this case, it’s probably a great idea to talk to a therapist.
Is overthinking a mental disorder?
Overthinking is not a mental illness, but it can be a symptom of another underlying mental health issue. Overthinking, in general, can cause your mental health to decline, and you often find yourself in a downward spiral of anxious thoughts.
If you notice yourself constantly stuck in cycles of overthinking, struggling with negative thought patterns, and it’s impacting your life, consider working with a licensed therapist or counselor. While it can be tough to share your thoughts with someone, therapists can assess your negative thinking patterns and help you create a healthier inner dialogue. Cognitive-Behavior Therapy is an evidence-based, practical approach for obsessive thinking, worry, and rumination. They can support you in managing your overthinking and letting go of any unhelpful, negative thinking patterns.
Danielle Haig, Principal Psychologist from DH Consulting, shared that the most important thing to do first is to be self-aware: ‘You must catch yourself overthinking to stop yourself. ‘A great way to do this is to say out loud, “Stop!” it really helps to verbalize this to break this loop of worrying thoughts.’