Have you ever felt frustrated because you couldn’t stop overthinking everything in your life? You over analyze, worry about every little detail, get stuck thinking about something that happened in the past, stress out about the future, and lose sleep because your brain is stuck in an unproductive spiral that you can’t seem to get out of.
It’s exhausting and it’s hurting your mental health.
I’m going to give you 10 strategies you can use to stop the cycle of overthinking. This will give you back control over your thoughts and allow you to make decisions and pursue your goals with confidence.
Overthinking begins as an attempt to solve a problem, but then it continues because either we can’t solve the problem yet we can’t let it go, or we can’t make a decision on how to solve the problem out of fear of making the wrong choice.
Think of your thoughts as a river. Sometimes a river is calm and peaceful, other times it’s chaotic and maybe even violent. This might be because of outside forces, or it could just be a facet of the river at that time and place.
We’re usually stuck in the flow of our thoughts. That’s not so bad when our thoughts are happy and peaceful, but when they are angry, hurt, sad, or overly critical being stuck in the river sucks.
Why is Overthinking so Harmful?
Some people are only occasionally plagued with overthinking, but for others it can be a daily debilitating burden.
Overthinking is toxic to our mental and physical health.
First it affects our emotional health. Studies have found that people who tend to overthink regularly are more likely to get depressed than those who do not, and women are even more prone to overthinking than men.
It creates stress and anxiety, which then impacts our physical health which can cause a lowered immune system, stomach issues, headaches, and chronic pain.
Overthinking can keep us from making important decisions or even simple ones.
We struggle so much with which is the right decision that sometimes we end up not taking any action at all and staying in limbo. We doubt ourselves and assume the worst will happen, so we give up and don’t try anything.
“When we assume we can’t, it’s guaranteed we won’t.” – Don’t Overthink It
We stay up late into the night worrying about what to do, or going over the past questioning decisions we made, replaying scenes in our minds wishing we’d done things differently.
I’ve personally laid awake until 2 am so many times struggling with toxic thoughts, until I learned how to stop the cycle of overthinking at night.
I learned that you can either be in the river with your thoughts, or you can swim to the shore. Getting out of the river doesn’t automatically stop the flow of your thoughts, but when you step outside of them they don’t create as much of an emotional reaction and you can gain some control.
10 Steps to Stop Overthinking
1. Become Aware of the Spiral
The first step to overcome overthinking is to become aware of it on a conscious level.
Stepping out of the flow of toxic overthinking allows you the opportunity to change the direction of your thoughts. You can pull a mental lever and redirect the river of your thoughts to a calmer path.
To do this start to take note of how you’re feeling throughout the day. When you notice yourself feeling down or stressed tune into your inner dialog. What thoughts are you thinking?
Are you ruminating on the past or worrying about the future? Are you talking down about yourself? Are you obsessing over what someone else did?
Identify the source of your wayward thoughts and then use one or more of the following strategies to help you stop overthinking everything.
2. Create a Trigger for Positive Thoughts
Once you become aware of the overthinking spiral, create a trigger that prompts you to redirect your thoughts (pulling the lever).
Telling yourself to stop thinking about something doesn’t always work, sometimes it causes you to think about that thing even more.
However if you redirect your thoughts you’re less likely to circle back to the thing you were stressing about
When I notice I’m in a negative thought spiral I think the word ‘spiral’ and that triggers me to think about something harmless.
This especially helps me to stop overthinking at night when my brain doesn’t have anything else to do but replay events from the past that were upsetting or embarrassing, or worry about the future.
Sometimes my brain goes back to the unwanted train of thought, but I just pull the lever again (thinking the word spiral) and redirect as many times as needed.
3. Change the Story
Sometimes overthinking comes from the story we’ve created around a situation.
If you find yourself obsessing about the same thing over and over again, start to study it.
What is the foundation of the situation you’re worrying about? When did it start and what started it? What’s your internal dialog around this story? What emotions does it bring up?
Maybe something you obsess about stems from something you observed or experienced as a child, or something you learned from society.
When we’re kids we don’t have the ability to understand and apply logic to what we’re seeing, so sometimes we create beliefs and stories that don’t really make sense.
For example, studies show that women are less likely than men to apply to a job if they don’t meet all the requirements. Why do men apply to jobs they aren’t necessarily qualified for but women don’t? They have different stories that don’t them to overthink submitting their resumes.
Boys are taught to just go after what they want, girls are taught to be more cautious and thoughtful. We’re told “be a good girl, this is your role in life, don’t be too loud, you aren’t smart enough or strong enough to do that,” etc.
Women overthink whether or not they are qualified, if they’ll be wasting their own time, the companies time, if they’ll be caught as a fraud (hello imposter’s syndrome!), etc.
We women have to change our stories about our abilities, worthiness, and our place in the workforce. We have the change the story from “I can’t do this, I’m not worthy” to “I can do this, or I can learn to do this, and I am worthy.”
When you change your story around a subject you change the impulse to overthink about it.
4. Listen to Your Intuition, Not Your Fear
Overthinking is part of the fear response from your Ego. The ego likes to be safe and it loves your comfort zone and routines.
If you threaten what your ego perceives to be safety of your comfort zone, it will go a little crazy. It’ll trigger your fear response to keep you from ‘danger.’
Your ego will chime in with a chaotic bombardment of second guessing, what if-ing, and doomsday projections. It’ll be completely irrational, but because you’re so used to trusting that voice it’ll take you along for the ride.
You can stop overthinking by learning to recognize your intuition so that you have certainty that you’re on the right path. When you do this you can calm your ego’s fear response.
5. Create Rituals and Routines
Creating rituals or routines can take away some of the stress of making daily decisions. Humans get decision fatigue. As the day goes on it gets harder to make rational, clear headed decisions. This can lead to your mind making things more complicated than they should be.
A routine is a series of linked behaviors. With enough repetition your routine becomes a habit and you don’t have to think about it, you just do it.
If you overthink whether or not to workout everyday, make it part of your routine by linking it to another habit. Eventually it’s just something you do, not something you have to think about.
Create environmental ques to prompt your desired behavior.
6. Let Go of What You Can’t Control
So often we ruminate about the past, which we can’t change, and we worry about the future which we can’t always predict or control because life throws curve balls at us.
It’s important to know when to tell yourself, “I can’t control this, overthinking this is only hurting me, and I need to let this go.”
This is a talk I’ve had to have with myself when overthinking is keeping me from falling asleep. Part of your mind protests and wants to keep thinking this thing through, hoping a solution will come to you, but sometimes you have to be stern with yourself and reel in your thoughts.
I’ll be honest, it can feel like trying to herd cats, but with practice you can learn to let things go or at least redirect your thoughts.
Make a conscious effort to be in the moment and not in the past or future what-it scenarios.
7. Take Action
Once you let go of what you can’t control it’s time to focus on what you can. If you can act to fix or change something then do it!
Taking action is a great way to stop worrying about a situation and feel some relief because you are doing something productive.
Even if the action turns out not to be the ‘right one’ it still gives you clarity. You learn what doesn’t work, and are left with other options that will. Even when our choice doesn’t work out we gain knowledge and experience which helps us make better choices in the future.
What small steps can you take today to solve a problem or work towards achieving a goal?
Do the next right thing. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing, just a small step in the right direction.
Keep it small, don’t self-sabotage by creating unreasonable expectations of having this problem solved right now.
8. Shift Your Perspective
Overthinking usually gets our emotions involved, how could it not when our inner dialog is forecasting doom and gloom?
Try to emotionally take a step back from the situation. Look at it from the perspective of a stranger, is your emotional response justified? Is the world really ending, or are you being a little over dramatic? Are you making more of the situation than you should?
Objectively, what’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best that could happen?
Does this really matter right now? Will this matter 6 months from now? What about a year from now?
Get real with yourself, ask these questions, and choose to take a new perspective on the situation.
9. Define Your Priorities
Sometimes we worry about things that aren’t even important to us but somehow our brain starts going down a stupid path or worrying about what should be a simple choice and we don’t even realize it.
If you take the time to define your priorities, you can easily decide if something is worth your time and energy.
When you find yourself worrying about something that doesn’t really matter or trying to make a decision look at your priorities to guide your actions.
If you have kids and you get stressed out about a messy house decide what areas are most important to have clean and then create a strategy that focuses on those areas so you don’t have to overthink about what’s important and what isn’t, and you don’t get overwhelmed by trying to manage every single area.
If you worry about how to spend your money decide what your priorities are. Do you want to save for a house or are you happy renting? Do you want to have one big vacation a year or a 2-3 small vacations, or would you rather skip vacations and splurge on other things in your daily life? If paying off your debt is your priority then make your spending reflect that and reel in frivolous purchases by asking smart questions like, “is paying my debt down more important than buying a new $1000 phone when my current one still works?”
If you find yourself worrying about what your mother in law thinks of you ask if her opinion is really that important. Should you live your life overthinking about her opinion, or should you just get on with your day when you can’t change or control her?
10. Practice Self-Care
Overthinking often comes with self-criticism. Make a deliberate choice to practice self-care instead of beating yourself up.
Self-care is a wonderful way to show yourself compassion, lower stress levels, and quiet an overactive mind.
Notice what activities make you feel blissed out and relaxed and make time each week to do those things, even if it’s just for 15 minutes after you put the kids to bed or finish your homework.
I have a list of 30 self-care ideas with suggestions for you.
When triggering positive thoughts doesn’t work distracting yourself with a good book, watching a favorite tv show, doing a hobby, or taking a walk can be good ways stop toxic thinking patterns and practice self-care.
Final Thoughts on How to Stop Overthinking
I hope these strategies help you to stop overthinking your life and gain inner peace.
I used to be a chronic overthinker who spent so many nights lying awake worrying about things I couldn’t control, and sometimes I still catch myself in those toxic thought spirals, but since using these strategies to stop overthinking my mind is a much nicer place to live.
What do you do when you catch yourself overthinking everything in your life? Let me know in the comments below and subscribe if you’d like to be notified of future posts!
Thank you for visiting A Point of Light.