Overthinking is the culprit to sleepless nights, stress, worry, and even a distorted reality of truth. Do you find it incredibly difficult to make a decision, whether it’s what you should have for breakfast, what kind of iPhone case to get, what to say in an e-mail or text message, or what college you should attend? Do you spend hours looking up symptoms on Web MD and somehow end up diagnosing yourself with a weird syndrome?
Research shows that dwelling on your mistakes, real or imagined, is linked to depression, enhances negative thinking, impairs problem-solving, interferes with instrumental behavior, and erodes social support. Other studies reveal that overthinking can lead to emotional distress, which according to Psychology Today, in turn, can lead to coping strategies like eating your feelings or downing a bottle of wine, which aren’t any better for you than overthinking. This problem is more common with women than men. There are ways to stop this film from playing in your mind and you changing the ending over and over again.
How to Stop Overthinking
- Susan Nolen-Hoeksema wrote the book on rumination (it’s called Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life) suggests teaching yourself not to engage. “Try noticing your thoughts as if they were leaves floating by in a stream,” she told Real Simple. That means letting your worries flow over you, but don’t respond to them, don’t engage with, and just let them go. It’s a way of being mindful about what you let into your brain.
- Catherine Pittman, an associate professor in the psychology department at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, told the Headspace blog to try replacing the thought, instead. So, if you’re obsessing over the idea that your sister is mad at you, consider putting that thought aside and thinking about, say, the contestants on that guilty pleasure reality TV show.
- Distract yourself from the thoughts by filling your time. Call your parents, tackle a crossword puzzle, take your dog on a walk, pick up an engrossing thriller, volunteer, visit the library and load up on books. Do anything to keep your mind otherwise occupied.
- Schedule time to worry. Pittman told Headspace that she often recommends her clients schedule a strict timeline for worrying, for instance, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. During that timeframe, parse the problem, analyze every word, think of every angle, dig in to the details, but when the clock hits 2:30, time’s up and you have to convince your brain to move on.
- Bruce Hubbard, the director of the Cognitive Health Group and an adjunct assistant professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, told Real Simple. Instead of ruminating, try to come up with a concrete solution that you can act on—then do it. That could mean apologizing if you inadvertently offended your mother in law (Southerners do love a good handwritten note) or re-doing work that you believe you have messed up.
- Talk to your doctor about whether you may have an anxiety disorder. There may be medicine that can help alleviate your anxiety and in turn your overthinking.
- Studies show you should behave like the person you want to become. Take action first and you’ll change the way you think and the way you feel. Here’s an example. When you feel sad you’re likely to hunch your shoulders, avert eye contact, and participate less in conversations. Those behaviors keep you in a depressive state. But if you smiled, put your shoulders back, and started some friendly conversation, you’ll feel an instant boost in your mood.
- Be Mindful. Get out of your head and look at your surroundings. Concentrate on everything you see and not what you are thinking. Notice the smells, sights, and sounds around you.
Ref. Psychology Today, MSN/lifestyle, Southern Living, Yale University, elitedaily.com, psychologicalscience.com, inc.com
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