Not all overthinking is the same.
This may sound strange so let’s look at it a bit more closely.
One type of overthinking means obsessing over a single thing or event over and over again. It could be something in your present that you can’t seem to let go of such as why your head hurts so bad? Could it be a symptom of something more serious? Perhaps even something deadly? Is that why you can’t seem to sleep well at night? And so on.
Another way to overthink is to regret a decision or action you may have taken. This one takes you back to your past and keeps you rooted there. An example may be choosing a career choice that didn’t work out as planned. Instead of trying to change their circumstances, overthinkers tend to get stuck in the “what if” phase ruminating over the past. This neither helps change the past nor improve their current status.
Then there is the scenario where you keep deliberating about a possible future and how things may pan out. Thinking about how bad the economy is may lead you to ponder endlessly on how your investments are going to be worthless, how you may lose your job or how you may never be able to send your kids to college.
In any of these scenarios, overthinking the situation means that you can’t think about anything else and it starts to affect your life in a negative way.
How to stop overthinking
The initial step to quieting a frenzied mind is acknowledging that there is a problem. So to cope with overthinking you need to be aware of when it’s happening. A good way to start is to take a look at how overthinking is actually affecting your daily life.
For example, you may be concerned about why your colleague hurrying down the hall didn’t make eye contact with you. If the thought bothers you and you let it go thinking you’ll ask that person if everything is alright the next time you see them, you’re okay. But if you start obsessing about why they were avoiding you, could it possibly be something that others know about and you don’t, and the thought sticks with you, distracting you from your work obligations, then you are in trouble.
In most cases, overthinking is brought on by the most basic of emotions, fear. With all your attention focused on the adverse things that may happen, it is not difficult to become helpless. So when you sense yourself spiraling in that particular direction, stop. If you have to think, then think about everything that may go right, keeping the positive thoughts up front and present.
Put things in perspective
It isn’t hard to succumb to the lure of overthinking small events in life. And when you do, ask yourself if the thing you are thinking about will matter in another four weeks, four months, four years? If you broaden your perspective using this one simple question, you may find that it is very easy to snap out of thinking too much and be able to let go of the situation.
Find a distraction
Sometimes when you can’t take immediate action, you can try to entertain your mind instead. You can look for a hobby, an activity or some other task that occupies your mind. When you find a distraction, you stop overthinking and ultimately the wandering thoughts begin to disappear.
An example would be to go out for a run or jog. Exercise is a great way to clear the mind of obsessive or spiraling thoughts. Exercise gets your endorphins and blood circulating with activities which trigger you to move and put you in a positive mindset.
Some people turn to meditation for the same effect while others listen to music or practice personal rituals. The important thing here is to involve the mind in activities which are totally unrelated to your worrying thoughts.
Making a decision
Not all decisions will affect you for life, so treat them according to the level of importance they actually have in your life. If you find that making a decision takes way too long, then create a game plan. For instance, if you don’t set a time frame for when you need to finalize a decision, then you will likely keep turning the thoughts in your head and be stuck with them for a period of time that is longer than necessary.
Improve your decision-making skills and get into action by establishing deadlines in daily life. For smaller everyday things like whether to wash the dishes right away or after watching your favorite show, give yourself less than a minute to decide and move on.
For somewhat bigger decisions, give yourself 24 hours to consider the consequences of the decision you could make. Then, make the decision.
Life changing decisions may need more time, but don’t take more than 5 days or you’ll find yourself spiraling into the overthinking cycle again and no decision will be made.
Single-tasking helps you keep your focus intact and finish what is most important first. This eliminates the need to overthink things while also pacing your day, giving you enough time to rest as well as time to recharge.
If you aren’t used to it, you may think that single-tasking will slow you down. Not true! What it does do is set you up with a relaxed mindset with improved focus that allows you to concentrate with clarity and make better decisions. This also prevents you from avoiding ending up stressed and prevents overthinking.
Single-minded work enables you to reach the real depth of what you do, appreciate the action you took and enjoy it as well.
Minimize daily input
The amount of input you receive, whether at work, school, home, or through social media clutters your mind. The greater the input the more you have to respond to and the harder it becomes to keep things simple.
It’s important to understand that you can’t and shouldn’t have to be part of everything. So stop trying to think everything through to deliver the perfect result. There is no way you can be in control of everything so step outside your comfort zone and take some action despite the risk of making a mistake.
Let go of perfection
Which brings us to the next point. Everyone aiming for perfection needs to become more realistic. Being ambitious is great but looking for perfection in everything is not only unrealistic and impractical, it can also be highly debilitating.
While everyone does overthink situations occasionally, those who are overthinkers are bombarded with a torrent of thoughts every day, all the time. Incessant overthinkers rehash every conversation they have and second guess each decision they make in search of perfection.
But the problem with this is that thinking overly about an issue often engages much more than words. In fact, overthinkers create different images in their minds and the overthinking stops these people from getting anything done.