While everyone overthinks situations once in a while, some people are plagued with a constant barrage of thoughts all the time. Chronic overthinkers rehash conversations they had yesterday, second-guess every decision they make, and imagine disastrous outcomes all day every day.
Thinking too much about something often involves more than words--overthinkers conjure up disastrous images too. Their minds resemble a movie where they imagine their car going off the road or they replay distressing events over and over again.
Thinking too much prevents them from getting anything done. And it wreaks havoc on their mood.
Destructive thought patterns.
Overthinking often involves two destructive thought patterns--ruminating and incessant worrying.
Ruminating involves dwelling on the past. Thoughts may include things like:
- I shouldn't have said those things at the meeting yesterday. Everyone must think I'm an idiot.
- I should have stayed at my last job. I would be happier than I am now.
- My parents didn't teach me how to be confident. My insecurities have always held me back.
Persistent worrying involves negative--often catastrophic--predictions about the future. Thoughts may include things like:
- I'm going to embarrass myself tomorrow when I give that presentation. I know I'm going to forget everything I'm supposed to say.
- Everyone else will get promoted before me.
- I know we won't ever have enough money to retire. We'll be too sick to work and we'll run out of money.
How to stop overthinking.
Like all habits, changing your destructive thought patterns can be a challenge. But with consistent practice, you can train your brain to think differently. Here are six ways to stop overthinking everything:
1. Notice when you're stuck in your head.
Overthinking can become such a habit that you don't even recognize when you're doing it. Start paying attention to the way you think so you can become aware of the problem.
When you're replaying events in your mind over and over, or worrying about things you can't control, acknowledge that your thoughts aren't productive. Thinking is only helpful when it leads to positive action.
2. Keep the focus on problem-solving.
Dwelling on your problems isn't helpful--but looking for solutions is. If it's something you have some control over, consider how you can prevent the problem or challenge yourself to identify five potential solutions.
If it's something you have no control over--like a natural disaster--think about the strategies you can use to cope with it. Focus on the things you can control, like your attitude and effort.
3. Challenge your thoughts.
It's easy to get carried away with negative thoughts. So before you conclude that calling in sick is going to get you fired, or that forgetting one deadline will cause you to become homeless, acknowledge that your thoughts may be exaggeratedly negative.
Remember that your emotions will interfere with your ability to look at situations objectively. Take a step back and look at the evidence. What evidence do you have that your thought is true? What evidence do you have that your thought isn't true?
4. Schedule time for reflection.
Stewing on your 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 your plan, could help you perform better in the future.
Incorporate 20 minutes of "thinking time" into your daily schedule. During that time period let yourself worry, ruminate, or mull over whatever you want.
When your time is up, move onto something else. And when you start overthinking things outside of your scheduled thinking time, simply remind yourself that you'll need to wait until your "thinking time" to address those issues in your mind.
5. Learn mindfulness skills.
It's impossible to rehash yesterday or worry about tomorrow when you're living in the present. Mindfulness will help you become more aware of the here and now.
Just like any other skill, mindfulness takes practice, but over time, it can decrease overthinking. There are classes, books, apps, courses, and videos available to help you learn mindfulness skills.
6. Change the channel.
Telling yourself to stop thinking about something will backfire. The more you try to prevent a thought from entering your brain, the more likely it is to keep popping up.
Change the channel in your brain by changing your activity. Exercise, engage in conversation on a completely different subject, or work on a project that distracts you. Doing something different will put an end to the barrage of negative thoughts.