Everyone overthinks a decision or situation from time-to-time, but for some it becomes an obsession and gets in the way of their ability to function. When faced with a difficult decision, for example, it’s a good idea to take the time to weigh the potential risks and benefits of your options and consider the possible outcomes. But when it gets to the point where you’re getting distressed by imaging all the worst-case scenarios and then convincing yourself that they’re inevitable, it’s time to stop these thought patterns. Here are a few ways to do it.
Ruminating versus worrying
Overthinking tends to fall into one of two categories: ruminating and worrying. Ruminating involves replaying a situation or problem over and over in your mind, according to the late Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a former professor of psychology at Yale University. Here’s how Farah Aqel, a science journalist for Deutsche Welle (a German public international broadcaster) describes ruminating:
We ruminate by obsessing over our thoughts and thinking repetitively about various aspects of a past situation...People prone to such patterns of thought may, for example, overanalyze every single detail of a relationship that breaks up. They often blame themselves for what has happened and are overcome with regret, with typical thoughts being:
- I should have been more patient and more supportive.
- I have lost the most perfect partner ever.
- No one will love me again.
Ruminating typically involves a combination of regret, self-loathing and self-blaming, and is associated with the development of depression, anxiety and eating disorders, Aqel reports.
Worrying, on the other hand, reflects our desire to be able to predict the future, and causes us to have negative thoughts about what might or might not happen in a given situation. It’s stressful and exhausting, but ultimately, it doesn’t get to the point where worrying is preventing you from fully functioning. But if it does, you may want to try some of the strategies below.
How to stop overthinking
The good news is that there are several strategies to help you stop overthinking. Here are a few suggestions from Ruben Berger, a psychotherapist at the University of Bonn:
Use a thought-stopping technique
When you recognize that you’re getting into a negative thought spiral, Berger recommends telling yourself to “stop” out loud.
Remind yourself that thoughts are thoughts
Chronic overthinkers frequently believe that their negative thoughts on something are facts. Challenge yourself by asking questions like: Is that real? Did that really happen? What is the worst thing that could happen?
Being mentally present in the moment and not judging your thoughts can help stop rumination and worrying, Berger says.
Reframe your thoughts
Frequently, your perception of a situation has a bigger impact on your emotions and behaviour than the problem itself. By reframing your perspective, you can regain control of your thoughts.