Constant worrying and overthinking can often lead to issues with mental health and well-being. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, self-compassion, and asking for help from a healthcare professional can help alleviate the stress of overthinking.
Destructive thought patterns
You finally have a few quiet moments to yourself, only to immediately start wondering if you forgot to send that thank-you email or whether you’ve overestimated your chances of getting the promotion. Sound familiar? Worrying and overthinking are part of the human experience, but when left unchecked, they can take a toll on your well-being. Dwelling on the same thoughts may even increase your risk of certain mental health conditions, according to 2021 research . So, what’s an overthinking person to do? These tips can help you move in the right direction.
1. Step back and look at how you’re responding
The way you respond to your thoughts can sometimes keep you in a cycle of rumination, or repetitive thinking. Rumination can often cause negative consequences to a person’s mental health. The next time you find yourself continuously running things over in your mind, take note of how it affects your mood. Do you feel irritated, nervous, or guilty? What’s the primary emotion behind your thoughts? Having self-awareness is key to changing your mindset.
2. Find a distraction
Shut down overthinking by involving yourself in an activity you enjoy. This looks different for everyone, but ideas include:
learning some new kitchen skills by tackling a new recipe
going to your favorite workout class
taking up a new hobby, such as painting
volunteering with a local organisation
It can be hard to start something new when you’re overwhelmed by your thoughts. If finding a distraction feels daunting, try setting aside a small chunk of time — say, 30 minutes — every other day. Use this time to either explore potential distractions or dabble in existing ones.
3. Take a deep breath
You’ve heard it a million times, but that’s because it works. The next time you find yourself tossing and turning over your thoughts, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Try it. Here’s a good starter exercise to help you unwind with your breath:
Find a comfortable place to sit and relax your neck and shoulders.
Place one hand over your heart and the other across your belly.
Inhale and exhale through your nose, paying attention to how your chest and stomach move as you breathe.
Try doing this exercise 3 times a day for 5 minutes, or whenever you have racing thoughts.
Developing a regular meditation practice is an evidence-backed way to help clear your mind of nervous chatter by turning your attention inward. All you need is 5 minutes and a quiet spot.
5. Look at the bigger picture
How will all the issues floating around in your mind affect you 5 or 10 years from now? Will anyone really care that you bought a fruit plate for the potluck instead of baking a pie from scratch? Don’t let minor issues turn into significant hurdles.
6. Do something nice for someone else
Trying to ease the load for someone else can help you put things in perspective. Think of ways you can be of service to someone going through a difficult time. Does your friend who’s in the middle of a divorce need a few hours of child care? Can you pick up groceries for your neighbour who’s been sick? Realising you have the power to make someone’s day better can keep negative thoughts from taking over. It also gives you something productive to focus on instead of your never-ending stream of thoughts.
7. Recognise automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)
Automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) refer to knee-jerk negative thoughts, usually involving fear or anger, you sometimes have in reaction to a situation.
You can identify and work through your ANTs by keeping a record of your thoughts and actively working to change them:
Use a notebook to track the situation giving you anxiety, your mood, and the first thought that comes to you automatically.
As you dig into details, evaluate why the situation is causing these negative thoughts.
Break down the emotions you’re experiencing and try to identify what you’re telling yourself about the situation.
Find an alternative to your original thought. For example, instead of jumping straight to, “This is going to be an epic failure,” try something along the lines of, “I’m genuinely trying my best.”
8. Acknowledge your successes
When you’re in the midst of overthinking, stop and take out your notebook or your favourite note-taking app on your phone. Jot down five things that have gone right over the past week and your role in them.
These don’t need to be huge accomplishments. Maybe you stuck to your coffee budget this week or cleaned out your car. When you look at it on paper or on-screen, you might be surprised at how these little things add up. If it feels helpful, refer back to this list when you find your thoughts spiraling.
9. Stay present
Not ready to commit to a meditation routine? There are plenty of other ways to ground yourself in the present moment.
Be here now.
Here are a few ideas:
Unplug. Shut off your computer or phone for a designated amount of time each day, and spend that time on a single activity.
Eat mindfully. Treat yourself to one of your favorite meals. Try to find the joy in each bite, and really focus on how the food tastes, smells, and feels in your mouth.
Get outside. Take a walk outside, even if it’s just a quick lap around the block. Take inventory of what you see along the way, noting any smells that waft by or sounds you hear.
10. Consider other viewpoints
Sometimes, quieting your thoughts requires stepping outside of your usual perspective. How you see the world is shaped by your life experiences, values, and assumptions. Imagining things from a different point of view can help you work through some of the noise.
Jot down some of the thoughts swirling around in your head. Try to investigate how valid each one is. For example, maybe you’re stressing about an upcoming trip because you just know it’s going to be a disaster. But is that really what’s going to happen? What kind of proof do you have to back that up?
11. Take action
Sometimes, you might go over the same thoughts repeatedly because you aren’t taking any concrete actions about a certain situation. Can’t stop thinking about someone you envy? Instead of having it ruin your day, let your feelings help you make better choices.
The next time you’re visited by the green-eyed monster, be proactive and jot down ways you can go about reaching your goals. This will get you out of your head and channel your energy into taking actionable steps.
12. Practice self-compassion
Dwelling on past mistakes keeps you from letting go. If you’re beating yourself up over something you did last week, try refocusing on self-compassion. Here are some ways to get you started:
Take note of a stressful thought.
Pay attention to the emotions and bodily responses that arise.
Acknowledge that your feelings are true for you in the moment.
Adopt a phrase that speaks to you, such as “May I accept myself as I am” or “I am enough.”
13. Embrace your fears
Some things will always be out of your control. Learning how to accept this can go a long way toward curbing overthinking. One study from 2018 shows that accepting negative thoughts and fears can help improve psychological health.
Of course, this is easier said than done, and it won’t happen overnight. But look for small opportunities where you can confront the situations you frequently worry about. Maybe it’s standing up to a bossy co-worker or taking that solo day trip you’ve been dreaming of.
14. Ask for help
You don’t have to go it alone. Seeking outside help from a qualified therapist can help you develop new tools for working through your thoughts and even changing your mindset.
If you need further support remember to let us help you here at #talktotom. We can be your guide - contact us on (0818) 303061or via Whats App. To launch a chat now click here. You can find out more about our counselling service here.
Other services you where you can reach someone to talk to: Samaritans offer a 24-hour listening service over text message, text 'Hello' to 087 260 9090 to get started (standard text messaging rates apply) or call 116 123 to talk to someone over the phone. Childline text and instant messaging services are available from 10am - 4am every day to young people under 18, text 'Talk' to 50101 to talk to a trained counsellor by text message or call 1800 66 66 66.
Visit Your GP: We always recommend that you visit your GP with whatever health issues you are facing. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. Your doctor is a professional health care provider and will be familiar with how you are feeling. Your mental health is just that - your health. You would visit your GP if you had been feeling physically unwell right ? Your emotional health is just as important as your physical well-being - in fact the two go hand in hand. If you don’t have a current GP you can find a list of services in your area here. You can also contact the CareDoc service on 1850 334 999
Contact the Emergency Services:
If you are an immediate danger to yourself and are going through a suicidal crisis please contact the emergency services by dialling 999 or visit your nearest Emergency Department.