Want to know how to stop overthinking? If you're struggling to quieten a busy brain, you'll know all about the vicious cycle and negative effects of incessant worrying. The good news is, there are ways you can keep your mind distracted when you're in the trap of overthinking. Below, we reveal nine tips to help when stressful thoughts are stuck on repeat...
1. Challenge negative thoughts
Do you have a tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario? Like thinking one small work mistake means you're going to lose your job and then become homeless. To the overthinking brain, these leaps don't always seem unreasonable, which is why it's important to take a step back when you notice your thoughts are starting to spiral out of control. Challenge your brain. Is it really that bad? What evidence do you have that the worst will happen? Pressing pause and reflecting on your worries can help you turn your attention to solving them. Which leads us to...
2. Focus on solving the problem
Recognise that you're overthinking. Then, instead of going over and over the worry in your mind, turn your attention to taking proactive action that will make the worry go away. If you can, come up with a solution to the problem, along with a plan B if needed. Focusing on fixing your worries (however long it takes) will make you feel a lot better than dwelling on them.
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3. Set a time limit on worrying
It's not so easy to stop worrying entirely, so allocate yourself 'worry time' each day. Choose a time when you have nothing else you need to be doing, and put a limit on how long you're allowed to think about it. This should be no more than 20 minutes. Then, if a negative thought comes up outside the 'worry period', tell yourself you have to set it aside for later. When that time comes around, you might have even forgotten about what was bothering you.
4. Try mindfulness practices
Mindfulness practices, like concentration meditation, aren't for everyone, but you lose nothing by giving them a try. Especially as YouTube is full of free meditation videos. So, in times of stress, why not set aside 30 minutes to embrace mindfulness? You can even keep active in the process with walking meditation or a yoga session. If it doesn't work for you, then that's okay. But if it does, you've found a new way to calm your mind and stop overthinking.
5. Log your overthinking pattern
Try to break the habit of overthinking by tracking your triggers. When you find yourself ruminating, jot it down in a journal, including:
- The date and time.
- What you're worrying about.
- What caused it.
- How it's making you feel.
- How long you've been thinking about it.
- What you want to/should be doing instead.
After a while, you might start to spot patterns in your overthinking. For example, it could happen more when at certain times of day, when you feel you should be doing a particular task, or even when you watch a specific TV show that triggers unwanted emotions. When you find these patterns, you can start to break them by adding new habits and distractions to your day.
6. Find a good distraction
Sometimes, to stop the vicious cycle of overthinking, we turn to negative distractions (think overworking or doom-scrolling). Before you go down that hole, find good, healthy distractions instead that keep you busy and, above all, happy. It could be a new hobby, like painting, walking, crocheting, cycling or cooking. Or it could be trying self-care, like giving yourself a massage or a facial each night. Side note: if you go down the massage route, try the CBD Muscle Balm and these massage tips. Not only will they keep your mind distracted, but they'll help you work out tension from all that stressing too.
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7. Put worries into perspective
Will whatever you're worrying about still affect you in three months? Six months? One year from now? Often, the answer is 'no' – and remembering that can help you put overthinking into perspective. This isn't the case for every worry, but for those that apply, remind yourself of the above. It might just help you see a stressful day in a whole new light.
8. Do an act of kindness
One of the very best distractions is a good deed. By helping someone else, you not only quieten down a busy brain, but you also get that feel-good boost of a job well done. So, try an act of kindness – big or small. It could be something simple, like sending a nice message to a friend who needs a pick-me-up, or something bigger, like taking part in volunteer work to support your local community.
9. Ask for help
If you're worrying more than usual, or you suspect your overthinking might be a sign of chronic stress or anxiety, don't be afraid to reach out for help from an expert. Taking that first step can feel daunting, but it could mean the start of a happier future. Talk to your doctor or find a trained therapist through the NHS talking therapies service finder. You don't have to go through it alone.
Up next: Discover the best natural home remedies for anxiety, featuring easy-to-follow tips for taking back control of your body and mind.