I cannot tell you exactly how many people suffer from overthinking, but I know it’s a considerable number. I’ve seen myself get stuck in it, as well as people in transformational coaching programs I join and members of my personal and spiritual growth program. Sometimes I think overthinking is pandemic.
Simply defined, overthinking means thinking too much. It’s a “condition” that keeps people mentally going round and round about a topic, event, or decision. Overthinking is like having your mind stuck in a thought loop, unable to reach the end of its mental discussion.
When you overthink, you analyze the simplest of situations or events until they make no sense or become skewed out of all proportion. You are overthinking if you dwell on or worry about the same thought repeatedly. If you are paralyzed by worries and can’t make decisions or take action, you are overthinking.
That means you remain stuck.
Are You an Overthinker?
If you are unsure if you qualify as an over-thinker, here are some classic symptoms of overthinking:
- You worry about the future.
- You ruminate about the past.
- You are stressed about what others think of you.
- You let negativity build up in your mind.
- You have “paralysis by analysis.”
- You feel depressed or stressed.
- You overgeneralize.
- You take an all-or-nothing attitude.
You are an overthinker if you can relate to one or more of these symptoms.
15 Strategies for Getting Out of the Overthinking Loop
When you get in an overthinking loop, what’s the best remedy? There are many, but try one or more of these 15 strategies to get unstuck.
- Realize that you are the thinker of your thoughts. As such, you have control over what and how you think. That means you can control your thoughts if you really want to do so and get yourself out of that spin cycle.
- Use a pattern interrupt. When you realize you are overthinking, do something that snaps you out of the mental loop. For instance, you can wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it. You can even say, “Snap out of it!” or “Stop it!”
- Move your attention to something…anything…else. Remember, you are the thinker of your thoughts. Then choose what to think about. This is an especially powerful strategy when used after a pattern interrupt.
- Move your body. It’s amazing how going for a walk, run, or bike ride can shift your thoughts. Take a yoga class or go to the gym. You may get clarity while exercising, which puts an end to your overthinking.
- Allow yourself to be in silence. You can meditate if you like, but do something that allows your mind to get still. Then tap into your innate knowledge of what is best for you. You will realize that you understand more than you think. In the stillness, overthinking eventually slows down and may even stop. In fact, one new thought can bring you the clarity you need.
- Focus on problem-solving, not on the problem. Too often, overthinking involves repetitively thinking about a problem, but that won’t solve it. So shift your focus to finding a solution.
- Challenge your thoughts. Overthinking usually involves a lot of thoughts that are simply false interpretations about an event, person, or situation. To stop the process, ask yourself, “Is this true?” Ask more than once! Be an investigative reporter and drill down to the facts.
- Stay present. Overthinking often is caused by living in the past and future—even though it’s only possible to live in the present. You think the terrible things that happened in the past will happen again, which puts you into the future. Be in the moment.
- Give yourself a deadline. Decide when you will stop overthinking and make a decision, take action, or simply shut down that train of thought. Utilize Parkinson’s Law, which states that work expands to the time we allow it. So only let yourself think about a topic for a given amount of time. Then change your focus.
- Distract yourself or do something mindless. Often, the answers we seek come when doing something else, like walking the dog, making dinner, or taking a shower. The same is true of overthinking. You might find a solution, decide, or begin thinking about something else while you wash dishes, fold laundry, or whatever.
- Use your intuition. Intuition is well used with intellect but better used by itself when overthinking. If you are caught in a thought loop as you try to make a decision, get out of your head and into a feeling place. Ask yourself what is for your highest good, and listen to the answer you get.
- Limit the number of decisions you make each day. Decision fatigue can make it difficult to make any choice because you’ve simply reached your capacity to decide. So keep your decisions to a minimum. For instance, have the same thing for breakfast, wear the same type of clothes each day, or have a routine you stick to.
- Create a new story. You interpret everything and give it meaning. These become your stories, the tales you tell yourself and others. But you can choose to tell a different story that serves you better and stops your overthinking. For example, instead of telling yourself the story that you are horrible at making decisions, tell yourself you are good at making decisions. Consider when in your past you made a decision quickly, and it all worked out. That’s proof your story is true!
- Control your emotions. While there is some debate about whether thoughts arise out of emotions or emotions arise out of thoughts, we can agree the two are connected. So, when you are overthinking, get in touch with your emotions. Then choose to feel something else, and watch your thoughts and thought process change to align with your emotional state.
- Imagine what you would do if anything were possible. Ask yourself “What if…” but fill in the blank with positive outcomes. This will put the kibosh on your negative thought loop and demonstrate that there are other possibilities than the ones keeping you stuck in your head.
Bonus Strategy #1: Reduce Fear
Additionally, you can identify what you gain by overthinking. What is the reward for staying in a mental loop?
For me…and most of my clients, it’s decision avoidance or fear of making a decision. So, for example, I deep dive into overthinking when considering an expensive purchase or investment.
You are indecisive and in your head because you think you’ll make the wrong choice. Or you might regret your choice because it might cause you to miss an opportunity or not take action on something that might have benefited you.
But what if that weren’t true…or it could all work out perfectly? You’d have no fear, right? And then you could decide.
Bonus Strategy #2: Take Responsibility for Your Choices
Overthinking keeps you trapped. You are like a hamster on a wheel, and you can’t get off. Your mind just keeps running round and round and round.
In fact, you can get off that wheel any time you like. You can choose to stop running…stop thinking those thoughts. You are responsible for your choices—even the choice to overthink.
So choose not to overthink. Instead, choose to be clear-minded, decisive, and bold.
If you overthink because you are afraid of making a “wrong” decision, feeling sad or regretful, or missing out, realize that’s your choice, too. You don’t have to believe or feel those things if you don’t want to. You can decide there are no wrong or bad decisions. Therefore, everyone is always working out for the highest good.
Bonus Strategy #3: Trust Yourself
Overthinking is often caused by a lack of trust in yourself and your ability to figure things out and make a good decision. Therefore, trust is an antidote to overthinking.
So, why don’t you trust yourself to figure things out or make good decisions? You were taught early in life that you can’t trust yourself. Forget this lesson and learn to trust yourself again.
Like building muscle, you build trust in small increments. Start with small weights first, and when you’ve gotten a bit stronger, use heavier weights. For instance, trust yourself to choose what to eat for lunch. Then trust yourself to decide on a dinner menu or place to eat out.
Also, journal about times when you trusted yourself and took action based on the faith that it would all work out perfectly—no matter what. Then you have proof that you survived—or thrived—no matter how that decision turned out. I bet you might remember several times in your life when you didn’t overthink, trusted yourself, decided, and took action, which led to something incredible.
Bonus Strategy #4: Love Yourself and have Self-Compassion
Beating yourself up over overthinking won’t help…at all. Instead, have compassion for yourself. Be kind to yourself.
Love yourself enough to feel compassion for yourself. Love yourself enough to stop condemning yourself for being stuck in a thought loop. Love yourself enough to give yourself permission to stop overthinking.
Also, from a place of self-love, you can assure yourself you will be fine…no matter what. From that place, you can trust yourself…and know that everything will work out and there are no mistakes. If you believe that, you have no reason to overthink.
If you drop your overthinking habit for a bit and then relapse, love yourself all the more. Forgive yourself, and try again.
Here’s my final thought on overthinking (no pun intended): thoughts are creative. Whatever you are thinking, you are creating. Thus, you will eventually see those thoughts made manifest. If that’s not a reason to stop overthinking…unless you are thinking about what you want, I don’t know what is!
Do you struggle with overthinking? How do you get out of your thought loops? Tell me in a comment below, and please share this post on social media or with a friend.
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Photo courtesy of NejroN.