How often does your brain feel like it’s whirling with “what ifs?”? Do you struggle to sleep because you keep replaying past conversations and analyzing every detail? It’s okay if you feel this way. It’s called overthinking, and it causes anxiety, paralysis, and missed opportunities for many of us.

In the same breath, letting go and letting be can seem impossible if you are an overthinker. The good news is that there are ways to calm this mental storm.

Understanding the Overthinking Cycle

We need to examine the mind of an overthinker before we tackle the solutions. Often, it involves the desire to be in control.

As guru Mahsati A says, “Overthinking will not empower you over things beyond your control. So, let it be if it is meant to be and cherish the moment.”

However, overthinking is more than simply pondering thoughts; it’s about getting swept up in them. An individual who analyzes every detail replays past events, and predicts the future is prone to catastrophizing. As a result of this mental habit, various manifestations may appear, such as:

  • Constant self-doubt. You question your abilities, your decisions, and your value.
  • Rumination. Being unable to let go of past mistakes or regrets.
  • Negative anticipation. Thinking about the worst-case scenario and potential problems.
  • Perfectionism. Having unrealistic expectations leads to stress and procrastination.

Overthinking can have a variety of causes, but the following are some common ones:

  • Anxiety. As a coping mechanism, overthinking fuels general unease and worry.
  • Low self-esteem. When you doubt your own abilities and values, you tend to overthink and self-criticise constantly.
  • Fear of failure. When we are afraid of making mistakes, we can overanalyze and catastrophize the possible outcomes.
  • Need for control. In an attempt to anticipate and prevent problems, overthinking can lead to a desire to control everything.

Ultimately, we can lose joy, productivity, and peace when overthinking, the chronic overanalysis of situations and emotions, is left unchecked.

Breaking Free from the Cycle

Overthinking is a natural, yet intractable phenomenon, and we need tools to help us break free from it. Listed below are some strategies you can use:

1. Trick your brain.

In some ways, overthinking is like being sucked into a vacuum. “It removes us from active participation,” explains David Carbonell, a clinical psychologist and author of The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It. “The more we are engaged in overthinking, the less are we actually doing things in the physical environment.”

The good news is that you can break the cycle of thinking and reclaim your life. “Telling yourself to not to have a certain thought is not the way to not have the thought,” says clinical psychologist Catherine Pittman, an associate professor in the psychology department in Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.”You need to replace the thought.”

Imagine if someone told you to stop thinking about pink elephants, for example? What do you think about it? Obviously, pink elephants. If you prefer not to think of an elephant, think of a tortoise instead. “Maybe a big tortoise is holding a rose in its mouth as it crawls,” adds Pittman. “You’re not thinking about pink elephants now.”

In addition, Pittman urges her clients to reserve some time to obsess in the future. “I often tell them: Can we schedule a time for you to worry from 4 to 5 p.m. and that’s all you do during that time?” Pittman states. Should overthinking really need to be addressed, you can always return to it later. After that, you can devise a plan for dealing with it. It is less likely that you will be tempted to return to the original worry once you have a plan of action.

2. Breathe deeply.

Relax by closing your eyes and breathing slowly. By taking deep breaths, you provide more oxygen to your brain. In addition, it stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you digest and rest.

The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect of the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers your “fight or flight” response. It relieves stress, calms you down, and diminishes your fears and anxiety.

You can also try other mindfulness technologies like:

  • Meditation. Observe your thoughts without judgment and concentrate on the present moment. You can use meditation apps like Headspace or Calm to assist you.
  • Body scan. Concentrate on your body’s sensations to bring your awareness to the present.

3. Positive reframing.

People confuse this with “toxic positivity,” which encourages people to think positively despite difficult circumstances, says Jenny Maenpaa, LCSW and founder of Forward in Heels on CNBC.

In contrast, positive reframing acknowledges the negative aspects and then suggests alternatives. You might be able to gain benefits from it or make some changes to it.

For example, you always complain about being a boss. In addition to these deadlines and responsibilities, managing a team with various personalities proves challenging. Due to this, you are emotionally and mentally exhausted.

You might feel good after venting for a moment. But it does nothing to solve the problem. If you keep dwelling on how unhappy you are at work or how ineffective you think you are at managing, you’ll likely continue to do so.

Instead of the thought above, Maenpaa suggests you replace it with: “Things are challenging right now, and I’m feeling disconnected from some things on my plate. I wonder if I can change anything about this situation or my expectations about it.”

By changing your thought pattern, you can change your situation. If you’re feeling anxious, start small by looking at what needs to get done first, then either delegate or delay the rest until you’re feeling better. Just take a step back and tackle one thing at a time.

4. Distract yourself.

There is some evidence that distraction can help you overcome overthinking. However, as rumination can be strong, you may want to consider choosing high-engagement and positive activities. This shifts your focus away from overthinking.

Examples may include:

  • Exercising vigorously
  • Taking a hot shower
  • Working on a crossword puzzle
  • Reading a book
  • Watching a captivating movie
  • Playing a game

To start, you should give yourself a deadline. An example would be reading for 30 minutes. Suddenly, you may feel as if you are in a completely different environment.

5. Be aware of automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).

ANTs refer to automatic negative thoughts. As defined by the APA Dictionary of Psychology, ANTs are “instantaneous, habitual, and nonconscious thoughts.” They are also sometimes referred to as “routinized thoughts.”

As part of cognitive behavior therapy, Dr. Aaron Beck introduced the concept of automatic negative thoughts. However, in the 1990s, Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and brain disorder specialist, coined the term “ANT.”

Similarly to how ants work, negative thoughts steal away our joy and increase our stress levels. The good news, though, is that you can eliminate ANTs by:

  • Keeping a notebook can help you keep track of your emotions, moods, and the first thought that enters your head.
  • Investigate why these negative thoughts are being triggered.
  • Understand what you’re telling yourself about the situation by breaking down the emotions you’re experiencing.
  • Try to come up with an alternative to what you originally thought. Rather than concluding that this will be an epic fail, try something like, “I’m doing the best I can.”

6. Write down your thoughts.

Don’t keep your thoughts to yourself; write them down. Start a journal or a ‘thoughts jar’ where you can post your thoughts. By doing so, you won’t have to hold onto them.

7. Rethink your “what ifs.”

Is your mind constantly occupied with thoughts like “What if I lose my job? ” or “How about if I get sick?”

Even though these thoughts are everyday, they become problematic when centered solely on the worst possible outcome.

“For every ‘what if’ worry, change this to an ‘if-then’ statement where you come up with a ‘then I will do/say’ if that ‘what if’ or even worst-case scenario does happen,” says psychotherapist Natacha Duke, MA, RP. “Focus on having a concrete plan in place.”

8. Embrace Imperfection.

The pursuit of perfection will only lead to overthinking. Instead, allow yourself to make mistakes to learn from them. The goal should be progress rather than perfection.

9. Face your fears head-on.

There is no way to change the past. However, you can adjust your response to past life memories.

By cultivating positive thoughts and accepting that failures aren’t the end of the world, we develop resilience and are prepared for future setbacks. When you can push past your fears and move forward toward your goals, it is healthy to be a little afraid.

10. Acknowledge your successes.

You can use your notebook or your favorite note-taking app on your phone when you overthink. Take a moment to consider five things that went right over the past week and how you played a role in them.

Don’t worry if they’re not big achievements. Even the smallest successes and milestones are worth celebrating. As a result, self-confidence is built and overthinking is reduced.

Also, this list may be helpful when your thoughts spiral out of control.

11. Set boundaries.

When you say “no” to commitments you can’t handle or that drain your energy, you can relieve stress and avoid overthinking. In other words, don’t overload yourself.

Instead, you should learn to politely decline commitments that pull you away from your priorities, like self-care or important deadlines

12. Speak to a therapist.

Seeing a therapist will help you make sense of your world if overthinking is ruining your life, and if you think you may be spiraling into depression or anxiety. By building self-identity and creating stronger foundations, therapy can help you live life now rather than worrying about the future.

Further support is available from:

  • Get involved in a support group. It can be a reaffirming experience to talk to someone who understands your struggles and can give you helpful advice.
  • Take time to read self-help books. Books that provide insights and exercises on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness are useful.


What is overthinking, and why is it bad?

Overthinking is the act of dwelling on thoughts and worries excessively, which is often accompanied by anxiety and stress. Among its negative effects are:

  • Paralyze you from taking action. Your mind gets stuck in a loop, preventing you from moving forward.
  • Distort your perception. You may perceive things as worse than they really are if you have negative thoughts.
  • Impact your physical health. Other health problems can result from chronic stress, such as insomnia and headaches.

How can I tell if I’m overthinking?

A few signs to look for are:

  • A constant replay of past events or excessive worry about the future plagues you.
  • Due to overthinking, you have difficulty making decisions or taking action.
  • Your self-talk is negative and you constantly criticize yourself.
  • Anxiety, stress, or overwhelm are some of the feelings you are experiencing.

Why do I overthink?

Overthinking can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Personality traits. People with anxiety and rumination tend to be more prone to these problems.
  • Stress. An ongoing worry or a stressful life event can cause overthinking.
  • Lack of confidence. It is common to doubt yourself and overanalyze situations when you feel insecure or inadequate.
  • Perfectionism. It can be difficult to accept mistakes and move on when you strive for perfection.

Are there any quick fixes for stopping overthinking?

It’s not possible to stop overthinking with a magic bullet. To succeed, you must practice and work consistently.

In the meantime, quick mindfulness exercises, such as focusing on your breath, can provide temporary relief.

What are some common mistakes people make when trying to stop overthinking?

  • Trying to suppress thoughts. It often backfires and strengthens them. Don’t judge your thoughts, just acknowledge and observe them.
  • Avoiding situations. Your growth is limited as a result of this fear. Ensure that you are gradually exposed to triggers in a safe environment.
  • Expecting perfection. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s important to learn from your mistakes and move forward.

Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska; Pexels