If you’re anything like me, you find it hard to stop overthinking. I worry about what others think of me, I worry about what might happen in the future…I just worry! There are times when I find it almost impossible to stop overthinking but there are specific strategies that you can use to reduce the amount of time you spend needlessly ruminating over things.
Generally, we worry because we think that it will help us somehow. It doesn’t make any sense that you will solve a problem when the same issue is going round and round in your head without any definite problem solving going on. Think about whether you have positive beliefs about worry. The truth is that overthinking in itself is not the answer. All it will do is prolong the stress and anxiety. Uncertainty is something most of us find hard to tolerate and this can increase overthinking (or rumination as we therapists like to call it).
How to stop overthinking
Distinguish between real and hypothetical problems
A real problem needs to be dealt with immediately. An example of a real problem would be your washing machine or your car breaking down. A hypothetical problem is a problem that might happen but it may not. An example of a hypothetical problem is: ” What if I end up alone?” or “What if I get cancer?”. In this instance, the problem hasn’t happened, there is only a possibility of a problem occurring. It’s important to know the difference because hypothetical problems create emotional distress without any real evidence. Hypothetical problems are often the type of issue that we will overthink because there is uncertainty involved. Hypothetical problems can’t be solved as they haven’t happened yet and may never happen. It is for this reason that you should not spend too much time overthinking them.
Learn to accept uncertainty
I hate to break it to you but uncertainty is a part of life. We all have to find a way to accept it and work with it. Resisitng uncertainty won’t get you anywhere and it will create an incredible amount of stress. Instead of saying to yourself, “Why me? Life is so unfair” (a perfectly understandable response), it is far more helpful to accept that life will have its tought imes and know that you aren’t alone in this. Always make sure you get support when you feel you aren’t coping…having someone to talk to can make you feel less alone and cope better with uncertainty and life’s challenges. Accepting uncertainty doesn’t mean we have to like it but resisting what is will be exhausting in the long run.
Create worry time
If you find that you have something on your mind and can’t stop thinking about it, it’s a good idea to try delay the worry. Instead of getting upset several times a day, say to yourself, “I am not going to worry about this now, I will allow myself time later”.
You can set yourself an hour or half an hour at a specific time each day when you are allowed to worry as much as you like and overthink the problem. Delay your overthinking until this allocated time. What you might find is that when it comes to your scheduled worry time, you may not feel the need to worry at all.
It’s important to realise that worry in itself will get you nowhere but it will upset you a great deal. If you want to think about a problem, try to create steps to solve the issue if possible. If you can’t problem solve it, mentally shelve the worry until your scheduled worry time arrives.
Hypothetical problems are hard to solve because they are based on the premise that they might happen.
Once you have completed the above steps, distraction is a good way to keep your mind off your problems. See friends, go to the gym, get stuck into work or go for a walk in nature. Keep busy and try to enjoy the moment. The only power we have is in the moment, not yesterday or tomorrow.
Stop overthinking and you will claim your life back. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find it hard to not overthink. Our brains are wired in a way that enables overthinking. We don’t have to be slaves to our intrusive thoughts though.