What to do when you are overthinking

If you are a constant overthinker you may not even realize when you are overthinking. It has become so ingrained in your everyday life that it feels normal to look deeply into everything, trying to figure it out and make a plan. For others, overthinking may be associated with certain topics, times, or situations.

Whether overthinking is a daily occurrence to you or only happens on occasion, knowing how to handle it so it doesn’t overtake any more of your life than it already has is key.

Remember that not everything your brain thinks is true

As the first step towards grounding yourself back to the here and now, remind yourself that not every thought in your head is true. Not all the information you have in your head is accurate. We want to be able to trust our brain, but not everything in it is based on reality. We make a lot of assumptions and fill in blanks with information we think could be true, but might not be.

When we get overwhelmed with the vast number of thoughts filling our brain, it can be a helpful reminder that not every thought it something that warrants our attention or needs to take up space in our head. Some things we have put there because we thought they needed to be there, but in reality they serve no purpose.

Don’t feel guilty for stepping away

Overthinking is not a productive way to spend our time, but it is often something we have a hard time controlling. Stepping away does not mean you are ignoring the thoughts or what you were working on, but simply taking a break.

No progress can be made when thoughts are circling, sometimes the best thing we can do is to do is to take a step away.

There can be a fine line between walking away because we don’t want to do something and walking away because we need to take a break before returning.

In the first situation you may want to ignore what you should be doing because it’s not fun, you don’t want to do it, or maybe you’re not sure how to do it. Walking away from what you need to do without a clear decision in your head that you will come back means you are delaying the inevitable and causing more stress in the mean time.

In the second situation you are taking a break to clear you head or make sense of your thoughts, fully understanding that you will return. The goal of stepping away is to be more efficient and effective when you come back to what you were working on. When you step away to take a break before coming back, make sure it is clear in your mind you will come back, when you are ready.

Studies have shown that taking breaks can be beneficial for multiple reasons, including increasing productivity, reducing decisions fatigue, and improving learning. So when you step away from what you are working on you’re giving your brain the time it needs to process and make sense of the information it has in it.

Write it down

When you have a lot of thoughts going around in your head it can be hard to focus and actually make any progress. We get so overwhelmed with everything going on inside our brain that we are unable to do what we need to do or efficiently process what is happening. Writing away your worries can be a helpful way to reduce the noise in your head and allow you to focus.

What you can do

Gather materials to write. Maybe it’s a pad of paper and pencil, opening a note taking app on your phone, or creating a new sticky note on your computer. Choose whatever way is easiest for you, it doesn’t matter the medium you use, just that you have a way of getting all of the thoughts out of your head and into written words.

Don’t censor yourself. Write thoughts as they organically come into your head. Don’t worry about grammar or full sentences, just write.

Write until it feels right to stop. You may get a sense of when you are done, maybe no more thoughts are easily coming into your head, or maybe you are just exhausted. This will be a different point for everyone, but listen to your body and how it feels. Once this exercise no longer feels useful, move on.

Walk away from your words. It’s likely you won’t be able to leave all of your thoughts on those pages, but the hope is that they are not as loud in your head as they previously had been. Try not to immediately go back and read what you have written, but take the time to let your brain be as quiet as it can be before introducing those thoughts back in.

Revisit your words. Once you have had some time away, look at what you have written with fresh eyes and work to make some sense and order of your words.

Move your body

When your thoughts have overtaken you and you feel like you are getting nowhere, it might be time to go move your body. Exercise has been shown to help with anxiety, which along with stress, overthinking can often lead to.

What you can do

Move wherever you are. If you are unable to leave where you currently are for any reason or you would rather not leave, you don’t have to get up and go to a completely different area. If you can go to another room or outside, that’s great, if you are able to turn your chair around and change your field of vision that works as well.

Find a movement that feels right to you. Don’t force yourself to run or do yoga if those aren’t things you would normally enjoy doing. The movement should be something you want to do, something that brings you joy.

Make it easy. Maybe turn on some music and move your body or find a video online you can follow along to. The goal is to find a movement that makes you feel content, happy, or at peace. Consider listening to some calming music and doing light stretches and movement right where you are sitting or standing.

Take the time you need. If you have limited time, maybe set a timer or a certain number of songs you will listen to. If you don’t have limited time, try to let you body move as much as it wants to for as long as it wants. Letting ourselves become fully enveloped in an activity that brings us joy helps relax us.

Revisit your words. When you are ready, go back to what you have been working on or the thoughts that were going through your head. When you get overwhelmed or you feel no progress is being made, allow yourself a break. There are times to push through your thoughts and times to rest and come back with fresh eyes.

Distract your brain

If you have been ruminating on the same thoughts and haven’t made any progress but also can’t let those thoughts go, find a way to distract your brain. Making your brain take up space with other thoughts or information can help force the cycle of unproductive thinking to stop. Then when you take up those thoughts again later, it can help you see things from a different perspective or with more rational eyes.

Getting into an overthinking rut can make it hard to be productive, we are stuck thinking about the same things in the same way. Research has shown that even when our brain is distracted, it is still working to process decision information. So sometimes the best way to make progress is to let ourselves be distracted.

What you can do

Make a note of what you were working on. If you are worried you will forget what you had been working on, write yourself a reminder of what you were working on and where exactly you were. Write down whatever you need to to make it easier to let go of the thoughts and fill your brain with something that makes sense and will make you happy.

Find an activity that you can truly dive into. Something that momentarily takes you away from the world. It could be dancing, reading, playing a game, going for a bike ride, solving crossword puzzles, drawing a picture, writing a story, or anything else you can come up with.

Allow yourself to become fully immersed. You don’t have to force any thoughts out of your head, but as thoughts pop into your mind, make a conscious effort to focus on what you are currently doing.

Take the time you need. If you have limited time, maybe set a timer. If you don’t have limited time, try to let yourself do your activity for as long as it wants or feels right. Allowing our brain to fully relax and take a break from overthinking can allow us to be more productive when we go back to what we were working on.

Revisit what you were working on. When you are ready, go back what you have been working on or the thoughts that were going through your head. When you get overwhelmed or you feel no progress is being made, allow yourself a break.

Final thoughts

There are positive and negative aspects of overthinking, but when your mind is filled with too many thoughts and you feel you can’t make any progress, give yourself permission to step away.

If you don’t know how to get out of an overthinking rut, start trying different ways to help your brain make sense of everything that is going on. For some that is writing down everything in a designated notebook, for others it is painting a picture of how they are feeling. You won’t know what works and what doesn’t work for you until you try a variety of approaches.

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