I don’t know about you, but if overthinking everything was a competitive sport, I could give the best overthinkers a run for their money. Do you ever find yourself overthinking? I certainly do from time to time. It took me some time to realize that overthinking was not helping me and to separate what I called “analyzing the situation” from overthinking. I’ll tell you what I did to stop overthinking in a little bit, but first, let’s take a closer look at overthinking.
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Let’s define overthinking and then we will go into trying to understand it better. The simple definition of overthinking is to “think about something too much for too long.” Once again, we have a short definition that speaks volumes. I can totally relate to that, can you? Can you remember a time that you thought about something too much for too long?
The definition of analyzing says to “examine methodically and in detail the constitution or structure of (something, especially information), typically for purposes of explanation and interpretation.” Looking at the two definitions, it’s easy to see how what starts out as analyzing can lead to overthinking. For me, I think the distinction is the emotion attached to it and the truth of the findings.
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The Difference in Overthinking and Analyzing
When you analyze data in science, it’s drawing conclusions based on data that is there – conclusions that are true and based on the facts. However, when you try to analyze events or feelings, the slope starts getting a bit slippery because the data is not all cut and dried facts.
If I can analyze a situation from a neutral point of view and look at the facts of what happened and what was actually said (in contrast to what I felt like was implied or not said), then that’s analyzing. If it starts slipping into the “what iffing” of worry that is based on what I think MIGHT be true, then it becomes overthinking.
What Does Overthinking Look Like?
If you google the above phrase, you get some really cute videos, like this miniature horse:
While it’s absolutely adorable with the horse, the video actually does give us some insight on what overthinking looks like. See how the little guy hesitates? He wants to go outside, but he’s a tiny bit scared of the snow, so he backs up. Often when we overthink things, we think about all the things that could go wrong if we took a specific action.
Like the little horse, we have to first overcome our fears before we take the leap – fears that we dreamt up in the first place. While it’s good to think about the consequences of our choices, don’t let fear paralyze you and make you too scared to jump. You might just find that what you were scared of is quite fun, and not nearly as scary as you thought it was going to be!
So how do you know if you are overthinking? What does it actually look like if you are not an adorable little horse afraid to go out into the snow? Here are a few insights on some of the symptoms of overthinking that I’d like to share with you. However, it’s important to note that all these overthinking symptoms are caused by chronic overthinking – which means overthinking frequently on a regular basis. A whoppin’ 73% of middle age adults engaged in overthinking, according to a study done at the University of Michigan. If you overthink, you are in good company. It’s important to note that these symptoms can happen for CHRONIC overthinking, not just overthinking occasionally.
- Frequent Insomnia
- Frequent headache
- Stiff Muscles and Joints
- Emotional Eating
- Ruminating (Going through the same thing over and over in your head)
- Inability to be fully present
I would like to call special attention to the last two.
Overthinking and Anxiety
“Anxiety and overthinking are evil partners” I read this quote while doing research for this post. The statement made me laugh and does ring true. If you are living with anxiety, you are most likely no stranger to overthinking as well.
Overthinking and Depression
When you overthink, you tend to ruminate, which can trigger depression. Ruminating is going through the same thing over and over in your head. Often times, it’s not a positive experience. You constantly re-live something that’s sad or that you could have done better and your inner critic takes over and starts beating you down for what you said or did.
Causes of Overthinking Everything
So why in the world do we overthink things anyway? What causes YOU to overthink may be different because we are each individual. However, the three main causes of overthinking are insecurity, uncertainty about the future, habit. Many times the root cause of overthinking is insecurity caused by lack of confidence. Luckily there are things that we can do to improve our confidence levels.
We never know what the future holds, and often that can cause uncertainty, which leads to overthinking. When I feel myself feeling uncertain and starting to overthink everything, I try to remember that although I may not know what tomorrow holds. I do know Who holds tomorrow.
When it gets right down to it, worrying and overthinking are habits. We start overthinking and worrying and we unconsciously train our brains to lock into the habit of overthinking. Nonetheless, habits are actions that we have the power to change.
15 Ways to Stop Overthinking Everything
1. Realize that You Are Overthinking
The more I research as I write and learn, the more I find that realizing what you are doing is often the first step to overcoming it. You can’t fix a problem unless you first know there is one. When you catch yourself overthinking everything, stop and take a minute to consciously acknowledge what you are doing. Then, you can go from there to start taking steps to stop it.
2. Focus on what Actions You Can Take
Overthinking is, by definition, a form of thinking. That means that you are spending more time thinking than you are taking action. Action is what actively does something about whatever problem you are faced with.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is where you live in the moment. I’ve been so guilty of not doing this in the past. I’ve taken the kids to the park and totally zoned out on the park because I was too busy worrying about other things. I got none of the benefits of going to the park – it wasn’t relaxing and I didn’t really enjoy it. I just checked something off my to-do list.
Enjoy each moment as it comes. If you are eating at a restaurant with your family, then remember to immerse yourself in the moment. Talk with them, laugh with them, and enjoy the experience, the food, and the company. Often worrying too much robs us of the enjoyment of the moment.
4. Change the Channel
Have you ever been listening to the radio and a song came on that you hated and didn’t want to listen to? What did you do? You probably changed the station. Likewise, if something comes on TV that I don’t want to see, I do not hesitate to use the remote to change the channel. That way, I do not give a second thought to whatever flashed by that I did not want to see. You can do that with your thoughts as well. It may take some practice, but it is possible to learn to do it. Just turn your thoughts in another direction when you find yourself starting to overthink.
It may be hard at first and you may find your thoughts wandering back. With some practice, you will find that you can train your brain to change channels to something more pleasant to think about.
5. Designate a “worry/overthinking time”
This one I have not personally tried, though I have often seen it recommended as a strategy to stop overthinking everything. Designate a certain time of day to worry or overthink. That’s all you do during that time. If you find yourself starting to overthink during other times of the day, remind yourself that you have a special time set aside for it. When that time period ends, then much like changing the channel above, you consciously stop overthinking or worrying, instead, putting it off until the next day.
Exercise is something that really helps me when I find myself overthinking. When you exercise it increases blood flow all over the body, including your brain. I love going outside for a walk when I need some time to think things through. Often I will begin my walk overthinking. (If I do have a certain time for overthinking, it’s during my walk.) As I continue walking, being outdoors usually lifts my mood, especially if it is sunny.
Additionally, I often find myself silently praying as I walk, which also helps me to stop overthinking everything. I take great comfort in laying everything at Jesus’s feet as I am walking. It relieves my mind and makes me feel like a big weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
7. Deep breaths
Deep breaths are calming. Like with exercise, they help increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, which helps you think better. As I take those deep breaths, I usually do one of two things. I pray, as I described above, or I close my eyes and try to clear my mind. I envision breathing all my negative feelings out, and breathing love, joy, peace and other fruits of the spirit in.
I love my journal. There are several different types of journaling, but regardless of which one you pick, writing down your thoughts, feelings, and concerns is a great way to deal with your emotions. When I overthink, there are usually many emotions and negative thoughts associated with it. I use my journal to try to cultivate positive thoughts and it helps me mentally to get all my thoughts out on paper.
I’m sure my mother is laughing at this tip to stop overthinking everything. She always told me that when I was tired I got cranky. I am an adult now but it still holds true. If you are tired, or short on sleep, you will not be in the best mental state. That usually contributes to my overthinking. Just a short nap can help restore you.
I do have a quick tip – do not nap longer than 45 minutes. Our sleep cycles normally range for about an hour and a half. So if you sleep longer than an hour and a half, you go into a much deeper sleep that can actually leave you feeling more tired than when you took a nap. I generally prefer about 20-30 minutes, but if I’m really tired I’ll go for about 45 minutes.
10. Change Environments
Sometimes just changing your environment can help you to stop overthinking. You can do this in several ways. You can get up and leave and go somewhere else, or you can clean your environment. I have been listening to Jim Kwik’s podcast on brain training and I am amazed at the effect your physical environment has on your mind and your productivity.
11. Look at the Big Picture
Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees. (My husband laughs at this sometimes because he’s very good at seeing the big picture- just one more instance of him balancing me.) Is whatever situation that you are overthinking something that’s going to matter in 5 days from now? How about 5 weeks, 5 months, or even 5 years? Is it really worth getting that upset over?
See Also: 6 Keys to Happiness in Marriage
12. Make decisions faster
I have gotten better about not taking forever to make decisions, but I used to be really bad at researching and agonizing over every single decision. I’d try to look at it from every angle and overthink it to death. If you start getting in the habit of making decisions faster, you will not have the time to overthink them. Yes, you should consider the consequences of your choices, but remember to weigh it against not overthinking.
13. Take Time for Self-Care
Sometimes we are burnt out and we forget to take time for self-care. We can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking time for self-care is not being selfish. Your gifts of love, caring, concern, and compassion will be so much better if you have more to give because your cup is full. Taking care of you is also taking care of your family. They need you and they need your joy. When you overthink and it brings you down, it does not just affect you, it affects those that you love. Take the time that you need to recharge.
14. Let Go of Trying to Control Everything
My oldest son does not like the “Let it Go” song from “Frozen.” If I start singing it, he usually starts shouting “Noo! Stop Mom!” (Which makes it fun to do every now and then!) I think that song resonated with a lot of people because many of us DO try to control everything. At some point, you have to ask yourself if your overthinking everything is actually solving anything, or if you would be better off letting it go.
15. Structure Your Day
I love planning my day. I have a morning routine that I like to follow when I can, but I always have some sort of structure for my day and a to-do list. When you have your day structured, it is much more likely to start off on the right foot. Additionally, when you have things on your to-do list, you don’t have time to sit around all day and overthink things to death.
Last Thoughts on Overthinking Everything
If you are prone to overthinking everything, you are not alone. 73% of middle-aged adults are right there with you! Overthinking can cause some physical symptoms and have been linked to anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, there are things that we can do to stop overthinking. Overthinking is a habit that we get into, which means that there are actionable things we can do to break that habit. If all 15 of them seem a bit much for you, then pick just one to try. The most important tip is the first one because you have to realize that you are overthinking in order to do anything about it. I’ve done almost everything on the list, and they have made a huge difference in my life.
I feel much more at peace with myself when I do not overthink everything. Do any of the tips speak to you? Which ones do you think you might like to try? Do you have any good tips to share? Leave me a comment below! I’d love to hear from you!
Check out my book, “The Pearl Perspective: How Changing Your Perspective Can Change Your Life” for more great ideas on how you can be happier with your life.