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 a
So, what’s an overthinking person to do? These tips can help you move in the right direction.
The way you respond to your thoughts can sometimes keep you in a cycle of rumination, or repetitive thinking.
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.
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 organization
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.
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.
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 three 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.
Not sure how to get started? We’ve got everything you need to know in this how-to guide. All you need is 5 minutes and a quiet spot.
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.
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 childcare? Can you pick up groceries for your neighbor who’s been sick?
Realizing 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.
Automated 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.”
When you’re in the midst of overthinking, stop and take out your notebook or your favorite 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
Some things will always be out of your control. Learning how to accept this can go a long way toward curbing overthinking.
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.
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.
Cindy Lamothe is a freelance journalist based in Guatemala. She writes often about the intersections between health, wellness, and the science of human behavior. She’s written for The Atlantic, New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, Quartz, The Washington Post, and many more. Find her at cindylamothe.com.