How to Combat Overthinking
What is overthinking?
Overthinking is defined as “a loop of unproductive thoughts” or “an excessive amount of thoughts that are unnecessary.
Overthinking can be a hard habit to break. You might even convince yourself that thinking about something for a really long time is the way to get the best solution or answer. But that’s usually not the case.
In fact, the longer you think about something, the less time and energy you have to take productive action. And then, all that thinking about the things you could have done differently, second-guessing your decisions, and continuously imagining worst-case scenarios can be exhausting.
Mostly we spend out overthinking time ruminating which involved going over and over past events or worrying and hyper focusing on an anxious concern about the future.
Overthinking can impact a person’s mental health, it can fuel perfectionist behaviours, and lead to cyclical negative thoughts. Everyone overthinks sometimes and it might never fully go away, it becomes less as you learn to manage it.
Types of Overthinking
All-or-Nothing Thinking – only seeing things in black or white. Rather than seeing both the good and the bad, you might see things event only in terms of a total success or a total failure.
Catastrophising – thinking about the absolute worst case scenario to every situation, you end up down a rabbit hole of what could go wrong and it’s all a catastrophe when the reality is that it really isn’t bad at all
Overgeneralising – basing a rule or expectation for the future on an event(s) from the past. This thinking assumes that certain things will “always go like that” or “that will never happen”, leading to overthinking and worrying about things that might never occur.
What happens when we overthink?
The things that happen when overthinking takes hold may include:
- Trouble sleeping: If you are stuck in a ruminative loop you may find it difficult to close down all those tabs you have open in your brain at bedtime. These thoughts might cause you to wake up in the middle of the night and then have trouble falling back asleep
- Indecision: Overthinking involves repetitive thoughts, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed when decisions need to be made. Reaching a decision might feel like the end of the overthinking but then you might start to second-guess yourself only raising your stress level again
- Problem-solving difficulties: An overthinker will imagine (and often catastrophise) every possible outcome of a situation, which prevents their ability to find productive solutions and to take action
- Repetitive thoughts: A hallmark of overthinking is thinking, worrying, or ruminating about the same few stressful thoughts on a loop
Overthinking is a “Confidence Demon” because it’s one of those things that can have a negative impact on our confidence.
Remember confidence is about what we THINK & BELIEVE we can and cannot do. Overthinking can cause procrastination which stops us from doing things, from taking action resulting in us losing confidence in what we think and believe we can and cannot do.
Why do we do it?
We overthink for numerous reasons:
- It has become a habit
- It can be a result of anxiety, stress or perfectionism
- It can become a reason to procrastinate or avoid something
- It can be a learned response from having to deal with difficult situations early in life
5 Ways to Help Combat Overthinking
- What’s in your Control?
Control the Controllables. We spend a lot of time thinking and focusing our energy on the things that we can’t control, putting unnecessary pressure and stress on ourselves. If we put that energy and focus into things we can control, this will help to turn down the volume on our overthinking.
Most things that we worry about we can influence. For example; we can’t control the weather, so there is no point in worrying about what it’s going to do, however, we can control what we choose to wear when we go out in the weather!
Take a breath and ask yourself;
- What can I control about this situation?
- What are the facts and what do I actually know about it?
You could try writing it all down.
- Create 2 lists; one headed ‘Things I can’t control’ & the other headed ‘Things I can control’
- Underneath each header write everything that you are overthinking so you have 2 lists
- Once you have everything written in 2 lists have a look at the “Things I can’t control” column and being really honest with yourself, are there any points that you can move into the “Things I can control” column?
I bet there are more things that you can control than you thought. Ask yourself now what do you now need to do to take action?
Don’t be too hard on yourself, recognise and acknowledge that repeatedly thinking about a situation without taking action is unproductive and unkind to yourself.
- Thinking time / Distractions
Set aside an amount of time each day to think. Start small, this may be 15, 30 or 60 minutes daily. Set an alarm going and during that time, write everything down you are thinking about. When the alarm goes off, you can either pick one or two things in action immediately without overthinking about it. Or you can put the list to one side then distract yourself by doing something else.
Often things become clearer when we step away from the thing we are overthinking. Try going for a walk, for a run, doing the cleaning, ironing or something productive. Distractions can often be a way of helping your brain to work out a solution in the background while you’re doing something else. And it gives you a break too.
You can always sleep on it and see if it becomes clearer in the morning. Sleeping is the way the brain resets and restores itself.
After one week, try reducing the amount of time that you allow for thinking, and continue to do this each week. By limiting the amount of time, this works towards changing the habit of overthinking
- Focus on solutions
When we are in overthinking mode, we worry about what could go wrong rather than what could go right. Where we put our energy and focus is really important, so if we focus our time and energy into finding solutions to the problem this instantly feels more productive.
Taking productive action helps to ease stress and the feelings of helplessness that overthinking brings. Write down a few actions you can take to mitigate a situation you’re overthinking. To help with this you could ask yourself:
- What would I say If I was talking to a friend / family about this problem and they asked me what I think they should do?
- If there were no barriers, what are the different ways I could solve this problem?
- What have a tried before? What worked well?
- If I were looking down on this situation without knowing the details, what would I be seeing and what would I advise doing?
Focusing on solutions, will help you externalise and take away some of the power the negative thoughts are having over you.
- Challenge your thoughts
Remind yourself that your thoughts are not facts. Every thought you have will not be truthful, accurate, or even realistic. Learning how to reframe them in a more positive way can help relieve the tendency to overthink.
When you find yourself overthinking, challenge these thoughts consider;
- Are they realistic?
- What are the facts about what you are thinking?
- Are the thoughts true? If so, what do you need to do about them – what action do you need to take?
- Are the thoughts false? If so, how can you mentally screw them up and throw them away?
- If you don’t know if they are true or false, what can you do to find out? Who can help you?
It can be difficult at first to call yourself out on your own overthinking, but if you can be curious about your thoughts by challenging them or even re-framing them into a positive scenario, it will reduce the amount of time spent overthinking about the things that are unlikely to happen
- Awareness of your thoughts – triggers
Overthinking can become such a habit that you don’t even recognise when you’re doing it. It’s worth noticing your thoughts more so that you can understand what the triggers might be for your overthinking.
When you feel yourself overthink, try to calm yourself down by taking deep breaths and noticing how your body feels. Identify the thoughts or beliefs that are making you stressed, accept them without judgement or without getting into a conversation / argument about them with yourself and then challenge them in curious way.
Thinking is only helpful when it leads to positive action.
1:1 Coaching can help with overthinking
This comes up a lot in coaching and recently it’s come up in a couple of workshops I’ve facilitated. The question people always ask is; “How do I stop overthinking, what can I do?” Hopefully there are some ways in this blog that will help you if you practice them.
If you’re an overthinker and would like to find out more about how 1:1 Coaching would work for you get in touch HERE