How do you know if you’re overthinking? Ask yourself if you do the following:
- Worry about the future: “What if this happens, what if that happens…”
- Dwell on the past: “It should have/could have been this way…”
Overthinking is different from reminiscing about good memories or creating a vision for the future.
Whereas we’re in control when we reminisce or visualize, overthinking can often seem unstoppable and easily spiral out of control.
It takes on the form of obsessing over the past or the future, creating strings of unhelpful thoughts.
From this place of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, we can also experience variations of overthinking, such as:
- Self-doubt – “How do I really know… what if I’m wrong… did that really happen…can I trust this…”
- Self-punishment – “I should have done this, I’m never going to accomplish that, that’s never going to work for me, I’m always going to be this way…”
Some of us may even have a pattern of repetition for the type of overthinking we indulge in.
But whichever type we engage in will always result in unease, discomfort, and often stress, anxiety, and depression.
Why Does Overthinking Create Stress?
It Makes Us Unhappy
When we’re dwelling on the past, we tend to feel regret, and sometimes shame and resentment. It becomes unhelpful when we believe the only way to “fix” it is to turn back the clock and do things differently – which of course, none of us can do.
When we obsess about the future, we tend to experience worries and anxiety because the future is always uncertain. It becomes unhelpful when we believe we need to control the outcome of the future, which is impossible.
Overthinking wastes our time because, while our brain thinks we’re problem-solving, what we’re actually doing is just wasting our energy on hypotheticals.
The only time we can be productive is if we take action in the present.
Have you ever been confronted with so many options that it impedes your decision-making? For me, it happens all the time at ice cream shops.
Although being inundated with dozens of delicious flavors is an overly simplistic example, it’s the same thing that happens when we overthink. We’re presenting multiple options and permutations of what would have happened, or could happen, or will happen, which can stop us in our tracks.
When we’re locked into our looping thoughts, it can prevent us from fully living our lives.
A thought can loom over our daily lives for days, months, and sometimes years. And some of these thoughts are preventing us from seeing the beauty in the present moment or doing the things that will bring us joy.
Many of us have heard of “analysis paralysis.” It’s when we’re so concerned about running different scenarios that we don’t realize the world’s passing us by and we’re still modeling out our hypothetical situations.
6 Ways to Stop Overthinking Today
1. Create a different relationship with your thoughts
You are greater than your thoughts because you’re observing your thoughts.
Your brain is generating thoughts automatically and all the time, but you also can step in and redirect any thoughts that don’t serve you.
Look at your thoughts rather than from them. Applaud helpful, creative, compassionate, insightful thoughts, and redirect unhelpful thoughts to serve your greater good (for more on mastering your thoughts).
2. Bring yourself back to the present moment
Notice when your thoughts are making you feel uneasy or stressing you out.
Take a moment to ground yourself back to the present through your breath.
The present is the only time when you can influence and change the outcome.
Redirect your thoughts to focus on how you can be (e.g., accepting, compassionate, etc.) or what you can do (e.g., reach out to someone, create a plan, etc.) in the present moment.
3. Take action
Building on the previous point of being in the present moment is to act. Action creates clarity. When we spend too much time in our thoughts, we lose touch with the clarity, beauty, and ease that comes with action.
4. Drop into your heart
Remind yourself that your heart is a powerful system that can help you make decisions too.
Sometimes our brain spirals out of control because it’s searching for a piece of data that is actually located in the heart.
Use your whole self to problem solve.
5. Ground yourself in a mantra
Find a mantra (or reminder) that feels peaceful and right for you.
Repeat your mantra a few times a day so that it becomes woven into your life.
When you find yourself spinning in uncontrollable thoughts, ground yourself with your mantra.
A few to consider:
- “I trust in the timing of my life.”
- “The universe supports me.”
- “The destruction of the old allows for the creation of the new.”
- “I’m learning every day.”
- “Everyone is doing the best that they can.”
Search for mantras that work for you in books, on the internet, or even on my Instagram page.
6. Be kind to yourself
Often, overthinking is a tool created by you because it has helped you at one point in your life.
Thank that part of yourself for being tirelessly vigilant, and also acknowledge how exhausted that part must be.
Then, let that part of yourself know that it doesn’t have to beat you up about what happened in the past, because you did the best you could with what you had.
And finally, let it know that it doesn’t have to plan how to be perfect in the future because you trust in the perfection of your creation, the teachings and opportunities when things don’t go as predicted, and the magic of the present moment.
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