Overthinking can seem harmless in small doses but it can lead to unnecessary stress and missed opportunities. Dwelling on the negative separates you from living life. So it’s important to know not only what causes overthinking but how to stop overthinking and relax.
What Causes Overthinking
If you: lie awake at night with racing thoughts…struggle with making decisions…replay past conversations…and predict worst possible outcomes, then it sounds like you could use a break from an overworked mindset. Think about how often do you justify overthinking as just a part of who you are? Maybe some of us are wired more than others to worry. When you excessively worry, second-guess decisions, replay conversations in your head over and over and over again, you needlessly suffer. Anxiety sets in rather quickly and your stress levels increase.
Not only does dealing with the emotional effects of overthinking become a problem. Thinking too much and worrying excessively clouds judgement. Thus decisions become that much more difficult.
Oh the places your mind will go! Overthinking is no joke and it’s not without consequences. But the good news is that once you know what causes overthinking, the sooner you can stop the cycle and enjoy living in the lovely state called peace of mind.
5 Causes of Overthinking
1| Sense of Purpose: In a research paper shared by Biological Psychology, psychologists explain that while most people worry with a purpose, those who overthink their problems tend to do so because it becomes all they know. They lose sight of the why.
“Problem worriers tend to have a kind of perfectionist approach … Once they start down a path of worrying, they feel compelled to ‘working through every eventuality and solving every problem.'” Christian JarretArticle: A New Study Explains the Psychology of the Worry Spiral
Some overthinkers tend to worry that something awful or tragic is on the horizon and it’s up to them to thwart the situation.
2| Perfectionism: The compulsion to make everything perfect, whether or not it really needs to be, is usually due to one’s perception and not the so-called problem at hand. It goes a little deeper than always making sure your ducks are in a row because we all know that self-doubt will usually creep in at some point or another. Waiting or working for a perfect outcome usually never happens and it’s an unrealistic expectation. We’ll talk about when this comes in to play in our 6 ways to stop overthinking section.
3| Habit: Many of us don’t like change, even when it’s for the better. It’s so easy to settle in to a mindset and lose sight of what it may be doing to you in the long run. The longer you indulge negative thinking and allow it to converse in your mind, the less you are even aware that it’s happening. Also the more difficult it will be to break the habit of overthinking and make a positive change.
4| Fear: This is a common cause of overthinking for many reasons. Fear can play on nearly every aspect of our well-being. Maybe past failures prevent you from taking risks or a fear of rejection stops you from building new relationships. Fear feeds on our insecurities and visa versa and it has a great influence on our ability to make decisions and make a move.
5| Anxiety: It doesn’t necessary matter which comes first, overthinking causing anxiety or anxiety as a cause for overthinking. One thing’s certain, thinking too much will leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained (if not sick). If you do however suffer with anxiety, keep in mind that your negative thoughts are likely not very trustworthy ones. You are empowered with ownership of your own thoughts. The more you run interference, the more control you will gain over obsessive thoughts.
The “What If” Way of Thinking
We get so worked up about two things: the past and the future. Worrying about what might happen isn’t what is happening. For many, the future is the most dangerous place to live. And for others, the past is the most haunting place to live. Overthinking and stressing out about future events can hold you back in every area of your life. What if they don’t take me seriously? Or what if I get fired? What if we break up? Questions like these only take you away from what is really happening in the present moment. These questions are unquantified predictions. They are as accurate as a weatherman forecasting a snow squall in Aruba.
The same goes for replaying and reinventing previous conversations to skew the results. What if I had behaved differently. What if I hadn’t gotten angry What if I hadn’t invested in that stock. Your relationships, professional life, investments, you name it, are not contingent on what might have been.
While it’s helpful to reflect on the past or anticipate the future, it’s critical to recognize when reflecting becomes negative thinking and possibly excessive worry. If you find yourself lying awake in the middle of the night, or not enjoying your present moment, then the key is to take action and shift gears. A helpful start is to begin observing your thoughts (more on that below) and not just identify yourself as a worrier.
Slowing down the process of overthinking is a crucial step in the process dealing with overthinking. Eventually by understanding the great power of your thoughts you will be able to use that power to form a healthy, growth-minded approach to many of your problems.
The concept that there are cognitive and emotional factors that feed on overthinking can help you begin to shift your mindset away from 1. feeling guilty about it and 2. the negative inner dialogue to bring you in to a relaxed and productive state of mind.
7 Ways How to Stop Overthinking and RELAX
Everybody is different. While a problem or a situation may seem insignificant to one person, another may not be able to let go. We have different perspectives about how to solve problems or which path to take in life. So because every life lens is colored a little differently, there’s more than one path to get where you need to go. There’s more than one way to live the best life meant for you! Below are 7 simple and effective ideas on to stop overthinking and start making positive change.
- Size it up with Perspective
- Distraction and Forward Motion
- Respond Don’t React
- Remove Self-Imposed Labels
Any positive change needs a catalyst – and that spark is awareness. Take notice of what keeps you awake at night. Not in the sense that you continue to dwell on any bad thoughts and make it worse. The goal is in a neutral and non-judgmental way, notice which thoughts are redundant and weighing you down. Ask yourself if your worries are productive. Introduce the notion that if these repetitive thoughts are not moving you in a positive direction, it’s time to consider a different way to approach the subject.
Of course you’re not expected to totally let go and let be all that worries you. It is not about minimizing your concerns. Try to consider the idea that sometimes your thoughts can grow and take you away from what it’s original purpose.
2| Size it up
When you are in the thick an overthinking spiral, it’s easy to not even realize what’s happening. The physical and psychological magnitude of your stream of thoughts has a great impact. So use your awareness to gather your perspective.
All-consuming negative, worrisome thoughts take on a life of their own. They will take you far away from the present and dig you in to a place that is completely unproductive. Again, without judgement bring back what triggered the thinking in to overthinking mode as ask yourself whether this situation will be as significant to you in the future as it is in this moment. Will it matter years from now? Weeks, days, and possibly even tomorrow?
While a problem can be something to affect you for a while, in the grand scheme of life, where does it fall, what is it’s overall impact to your life?
When we overthink, the causes are usually about anticipation, fear or regret. So the most powerful thing you can do is recognize the moment, not the thoughts, you are currently in and embrace it.
The present moment is the safest place you can be and it’s the only place you are fully occupying. Regretting the past or worrying about what might happen in the future does not change that you are okay in this moment. So remind yourself, say it, and repeat as much as needed the following mantra: “In this present moment, I am okay. I am here and I am safe.”
Sometimes our thoughts can be rooted in our own insecurities and desire to seek approval or validation. If your mind chatter is telling you that you are not good enough, smart enough, wealthy enough, etc., nothing will be enough.
Self-acceptance begins with self-compassion. While there will always be plenty of circumstance that go beyond your control, focus on your intent and doing the best you can with what you have. Realize that you are accountable for thoughts and actions. If insecurity plays a role in how you think, only you have the power to take action and do something about it.
5| Distract and Move forward
When you recognize that you are wrapped up in a spiral of deliberation and worry, going nowhere fast, that’s the time to break free. It’s easier than you may think and here’s why:
Usually when you are at a “rock bottom” sort of moment, when your mind is tapped out, your psyche is actually ready to move on! Compare it to having a full meal. Momentum may tempt you to keep eating yet your stomach gives the cue your mind needs to know that you have had enough. Heed the warning from awareness and slowly shift your thoughts to that neutral space we talked about, the perspective on working on what is within your control and the security of the present moment.
6| Respond with Relaxation Techniques
While the mind is complicated, calming the mind is actually quite simple as long as you know what works best for you. Remember, you’ve already neutralized your overthinking momentum by becoming more aware of your thoughts. Next is to shift to a realistic perspective by sizing it up. It’s not easy to stop overthinking cold turkey. Plus, no one is capable of living without worrisome thoughts. However, taking the following measures to support relaxation while in the midst of trying to alleviate the weight of worry will go a long way.
- Meditation is one of the most effective strategies to shift focus and address negative thinking. It can be done in conjunction with other activities such as yoga or prayer, or it can be practiced right at your office desk. The point is to use the best meditation technique that you are comfortable with and give yourself some time to learn the process.
- Practice staying in the present moment. You don’t need to necessarily mediate to yield the benefits of staying present. Recognizing the when you are overthinking is the first step to being in the moment.
- Physical activity has many psychological and social benefits. It’s is a powerful and simple way to distract the mind.
- Taking up a hobby, volunteering or learning something new is one of the best distractions and gifts you can give yourself. Getting outside of your usual routine (in mind and body) will give you something positive to focus on and create further distance from negative thinking.
- Overall, the takeaway is that once you know what triggers your overthinking, or that your overthinking has been triggered, implement the strategy that works best for you.
7| Change Labels
You may not have even realized it but it’s likely you’ve labeled yourself an overthinker. Maybe you even glorified the label by calling yourself a perfectionist. Whether it’s conscious or not, self-image is how you see yourself and the respective behavior simply follows. So it’s time to dis-identify yourself in any negative way.
Labels are powerful. Whether it’s fashion brand identity, professional titles or personality descriptions often we take on the extreme traits. We become what we name ourselves. If you think of yourself as worrier, if you call yourself a worry-wart, then that you will be. Let go of any negative or unproductive labels and become the observer. Owning and observing your thoughts will empower you to respond without reacting. You will remain in control of where you go next.
Aaron Doughty shares a highly effective strategy by to overcoming overthinking in the video clip below.
It’s not as easy to put a stop to dwelling on the past or worrying about what the future holds. So having a system in place for dealing with stressful thoughts will help you to turn the corner to occupy a more productive and positive space. Therefore, it’s healthy to keep in mind what causes overthinking because the knowledge helps to gain perspective on where to go from there. Our 7 simple ways how to stop overthinking and actually relax requires awareness and practice.
Know that you are in the driver’s seat. Once you recognize a negative mindset you can put on the brakes and prevent yourself from overthinking. But wait, don’t stop there. Replace the negative, get-me-nowhere thoughts with positive, emotionally healthy alternatives. Remember to be grateful for the present moment and that you have the power to own your best at whatever you choose to do.