3 Easy Ways to Get Overthinking Under Control

Try these techniques for slowing your ruminating mind.

Posted in , Jan 9, 2020

How to stop overthinking things

There is a set of mistakes that we all make when we get caught up in the spiral of overthinking. First, we tend to assume that the worst case scenario is the most likely to come to pass. Second, we underestimate our ability to handle the catastrophe we are sure is coming our way. And finally, we get caught up in the impression that if we just think about it a little while longer, the problem will somehow solve itself.

When I’m not in an overthinking state of mind, I see so clearly how flawed the logic of rumination is. A ruminator is overconfident in their control of the future (“the worst will happen”) but is equally convinced that they are helpless in the face of their own pending trouble (“I can’t cope”). And then, like a nasty cherry on top of this toxic sundae, comes the false commitment to the idea that more ruminating is the answer!

When a cycle of overthinking takes hold, it is all too easy to forget about logic and wisdom, though. So how are we to break free? These three techniques have helped me.

1) Create a Thought-Swap
When you recognize your hyper-vigilance on a topic that’s not getting better with more thought, swap it out for a neutral or positive thought that can occupy your mind and reset your thinking. For example, instead of going over a tense conversation you had with a neighbor over and over again, visualize the spring bulbs you hope will pop up in your garden.

2) Think, Plan and Do
Thoughts that get us stuck in rumination are usually abstract, unlikely to send us in the direction of a thoughtful, grounded action. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the chair of the department of psychology at Yale University and the author of Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life, told Medium, “Instead of ‘I’m stuck in my career,’ tell yourself or better still write, ‘I want a job where I feel more engaged.’ Then make a plan to expand your skills, network and look for opportunities for a better career.”

3) Look Realistically at Probabilities
Are you sure that your new friend is going to stop talking to you? How do you know your boss thinks you’re slipping at work? What is the likelihood that your upcoming trip will be delayed by the weather? Ask yourself these questions with the precision of a scientist looking for data. The weather might be likely to disrupt your plans—so what is your plan B if that happens? With the friend or boss, likelihood might be hard to accurately identify. So ask yourself what other possible outcomes of the current moment are—and how you would be able to handle yourself if any of them came to pass.

Are you an overthinker? What helps you slow and calm down?

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