How can you train your mind not to over-think?
Last Updated: 11/09/2020 at 2:34pm
Cynthia Stocker, LCSW
Clinical Social Work/Therapist
My approach is direct, kind, honest & collaborative. My clients appreciate that I help them in a way that cuts through the jargon and gives clear explanations.
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It's a long process, and I know that many people are interested in this. Overthinking is a thing that you can't actually stop and there's no medication for it. I don't want to recommend stuff like breathing and so on, because that didn't help me, and I'm sure that lots of you are searching for some other answer. There's actually no formula for stopping that overthinking: like I said, it's a process, and when you live and actually don't analyze are you overthinking or not, that's the first step of stopping it. Just firstly stop thinking about overthinking, about diseases, about your mental health issues, stop giving them a name, stop calling them "depression", "anxiety". For example: When you're anxious, don't say to yourself I'm anxious, tell yourself what you actually feel. You feel really fast pounding heart, you feel dizzy, you need water.. But don't generalize it and don't try to put it in one word named 'anxiety'. Also, don't try to put your problems in one word named 'overthinking'. Your problems are much more than one world. I think I told too much. I hope my answer helps someone.
Practice "non-attachment." Over-thinking tends to occur when we worry about the outcome of events, when we have something we hope for, expect, or want very badly. Therefore, let go of your desires and expectations for how things turn out. "Did I pass the test? I don't know. I hope I did, but hey, there is nothing I can do until I get the results back, so why should I think about it until then?" This type of reasoning will not work every time, but eventually, you will experience a sense of control and mastery over your emotions once you learn to accept what is, and let go of what you want.
When I catch myself overthinking something, I might: • Make a simple, chronological list of each step I need to take, noting any details I'm worried about forgetting. • Make a single goal to prioritize at present, plus one event to look forward to after the current situation has ended. • Compare the 'ideal' and 'most efficient' ways to navigate the current situation, and figure out an approach that gives me the best of both worlds. • Write out my feelings and then look at them critically, imagining other perspectives if relevant — what do I know is true, what may not be, what is the consequence and what can I do about it? • Consult with someone I trust. • Remind myself that I am strong enough to make it through this temporary situation. • Ask myself how important this will be in one year, or five. • Imagine a peaceful or favorite place. • Take a break for a stroll, put on some music and focus on the sound, my surroundings and movements.
I learned that meditation, to focus on your own breathing, helps not to over-think difficult things.
Concentrate on what it is you are over thinking about and why it is not healthy to do so. If you believe that it is in your own best interest to not over think, realize the reasons as to why this is true. Repeat these reasons to yourself and you will be constantly reminded why you are avoiding overthinking.
For me when I was in the military I was always thinking of what needed to be done and what I have not accomplished yet. This thinking would go even into thinking about my future and my children's. I started to lose sleep by over-thinking everything and then I started to double guess myself. Simple issues took way longer than what they should have. Eventually with the help of my wife and some friends at work, they taught me that the reason why I was over-thinking things was because I was thinking about other things at the same time, multi-thinking is what they said trying to be a little funny. I learned to think about one goal at a time. If that was to write a report, then to focus on that one thing. Listening to classical music helped for me to concentrate. Soon afterward, I started to finish goals and assignments really quickly, and it was good work.
The key is to try to not think at all. Yes its crazy to say, but a lot of the times we tend to think about problems which make the whole situation even worse for us. So just think a bit, but after some time distract yourself from the matter and focus on something else: such as a hobby.
If you are able to catch your mind with racing thoughts or thinking way beyond what you are supposed to be thinking about a situation; I have used a mental picture of a STOP sign. This helps my thinking to cease and to focus strictly on the picture of the stop sign which puts an end to the thinking to much. You are focused enough on what is in front of you that it interrupts what you were previously doing.
Be conscious and stop yourself. You may think you dont have control but you do. Your belief that it wont stop running and tripping over thoughts is why it doesnt. Believe that it will stop and stop it.
I distract myself. I go to the gym or talk to friends about it, anything to make me calm. breathe and keep busy is sometimes the best thing to do.
There are many ways to prevent unhealthy over-analysis of events in your life, if you're particularly experiencing this about past events you could be suffering from Rumination. A personal technique of mine is often reminding myself that this over-thinking won't achieve anything and that people perceive things often in a much different light than I do, a welcome distraction helps too.
Writing down your thoughts can help you identify them, and ask yourself questions such as "how does it impact me" "how much do i really believe it" "are there any positive alternatives?"
Instead of sitting idle, read a book or a blog or even do something that will take your attention. Always have something going on, that leads to no room for over thinking.
What I've done is try to stay concious of my thoughts and when I begin to over-think I have to be proactive about it, and stop that thought in any way I can. If you need to yell "STOP!" and then quickly turn your attention to something you enjoy doing that keeps your thoughts focused on that task.
Continuously being busy! Either that or distract yourself from the things you're thinking about. For me, exercising helped me get through final exams my Senior year of high school, and taking breaks from studying.
One of the best ways I have found is to ask myself. "In the realm of the universe, space and time, my existence, how important is this thing which has me thinking so much?"
A great way to train your mind not over-think is to bring yourself back to the present. If you're thinking about stuff that has happened in the past, that stuff is already over. If we keep dwelling on the stuff that has already happened then we are struggling with something that isn't really happening to us. If we are worried about stuff that could happen in the future, most of the things we are thinking about are things that probably aren't ever going to actually happen. If we stay in the moment, we find that in the moment we are okay.
At times when you find yourself over-thinking, it is best to immediately remove yourself from your current location; even if it is to simply get up from your seat. I've found that moving around momentarily (particularly working out) can help you to no longer over-think.
Challenging your thoughts is helpful. Acknowledge that your thoughts may be exaggeratedly negative. Schedule a time for general reflection on your day and life. Simply keeping yourself busy is a wonderful way to stop over thinking.
By learning to "live in the present". It requires many different things, including mindfulness (meditation) and practicing to clear your head. The latter is something especially many Western people have almost forgotten to do.
I overthink a lot and it's horrible but I would say being aware that you are overthinking is crucial. Also don't focus on the negative things that can happen instead the positive things that could happen. Anxiety for example is fear of the unknown, once you understand that fully you will have much more control of the situation, why fear the unknown when we don't know what could happen. Remove yourself from negativity and remember that positive things could also happen :) Making yourself busy like having a hobby could help you forget about certain situations! I hope this helps :)
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