Thinking too much is exhausting. Paralysis by analysis is one of the main problems of our time. Overthinking is one of the main reasons why we feel frustrated and low on energy in our day-to-day lives.
Analyzing a situation and studying the pros and cons is something necessary and healthy when making good decisions. However, on many occasions, we go over and over in our heads without reaching a concrete conclusion or solution.
What’s more, sometimes we jump, without pausing, from one argument to another that contradicts itself or we quickly move from one emotion to another. For example, we go from feeling excited about a new job opportunity to starting to list everything that could go wrong or project the possible unfavorable scenarios. Thus, in most cases, when we are excessively surprised, we go from showing positive emotions to negative ones such as guilt or fear.
Research shows that overanalyzing things has several negative effects on our bodies: it raises cortisol levels (the stress hormone), reduces creativity, clouds judgment, and impedes decision-making. However, there are ways to stop overthinking things. In this article, we will see the best tips to stop overthinking backed by psychology.
What is the pattern of overthinking like?
Overthinking is common; however, this does not mean that it is positive. Overthinking manifests itself primarily in two ways: rumination (repetitive negative thoughts that have no real solution) and projection (often making catastrophic predictions).
People who overthink don’t just use words to evoke their thoughts. They can also imagine (usually catastrophic) situations and events; for example, they may imagine their car going off the road or losing their job. However, however they do it, the habit of overthinking and overthinking prevents them from ultimately doing anything productive.
Additionally, overthinking can have negative consequences on our mental health. A study carried out by Harvard University recently showed that an excess of brain activity is responsible for the depletion of an essential protein in our body. This means that excessive thinking can reduce our life expectancy.
There are also important psychological consequences of overthinking. For example, “rumination”, that is, repetitive thoughts can lead to anxiety or depression, binge eating, and in more serious cases, self-harm. Overthinking in its most severe form (when it manifests itself more intensely than usual) is often a symptom of an underlying condition, which needs to be treated.
Due to our behavioral patterns, we all think too much from time to time; in fact, worrying is part of the human condition. However, we were not born thinking too much, this is the result of our development. Both good and bad behavior patterns are learned through life experiences over time. And just as we can learn them, people can also unlearn these harmful patterns by changing their behavioral habits.
Guidelines to follow to stop overthinking
Before learning to stop overthinking, you need to understand where the problem is coming from. Sometimes, thinking about things too much is a consequence of a lack of security, this can have its origin in certain mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. If this is the case, it is essential to consult a health professional to treat the problem.
In some cases, excessive thinking only appears when making a difficult decision or facing certain insecurities. Although, initially, analyzing complex situations in detail is a good way to reach satisfactory solutions or conclusions. Overanalysis is not part of rational thought, since it does not respond to any specific objective, it is simply a way of delaying a decision.
Whatever the reason for overthinking, different techniques can help relieve stress caused by excess brain activity. One of the first questions we should ask ourselves is: “Why do I think about things so much?”, and depending on our answer, explore the different solutions that allow us to change this pattern of behavior. However, this is not an easy task, so here we list a series of tips to achieve it.
1. Identify our harmful patterns
As we have seen, when we worry too much or ruminate on problems for too long, our thought processes can become destructive. This is often caused by negative thought patterns that manifest when people are under stress or experiencing conflict (external or internal). Two of the most common harmful patterns are rumination and projection.
Rumination is the act of continuously thinking without reaching conclusions about pessimistic or dark subjects. This type of behavior can cause people to become isolated and even depressed. Rumination is particularly common in perfectionists, although anyone can experience it. Projection is similar to rumination, but it is focused on the future: it consists of anticipating that something will go wrong. These negative thought patterns are deeply related to limiting beliefs and past experiences.
2. Change the story we tell ourselves
The stories we tell ourselves about who we have a significant effect on our lives. But the key question is whether these stories we tell ourselves are holding us back or allowing us to move forward. Overthinking makes people develop a whole series of statements about themselves, such as “I’ve always been an insecure person” or “I’m more anxious than the rest.” These limiting beliefs can be very difficult to change if we never ask ourselves the right questions, such as “Why do I overthink things so much?” or “Why do I worry so much about being wrong?”
To overcome these thoughts about ourselves that keep us trapped, we must first identify them. Next, whenever we detect that we are repeating one of those old stories, we have to try to replace it with a positive one, such as “I am able to control my emotions.” By changing the story we tell ourselves, we can change our mindset.
3. Let go of the past
Typically, people with a tendency to overthink focus a lot of energy on the past, thinking about what could have been or should have been. However, these thoughts do not contribute anything useful (what is past is past). The only thing we can change about the past is our way of interpreting it.
Leaving the past behind allows us to change our history significantly. This means that bad experiences do not control our present emotions and that mistakes do not influence future decisions. Furthermore, forgiving others and coming to terms with our past also allows us to let go of any pent-up anger or bitterness.
4. Focus on the present moment
One of the most effective ways to avoid rumination and excessive worry about the future is to learn to live in the present moment. However, most of us are not able to do it.
Being aware of the present moment requires constant focus. How does the world around us look and sound? What are we thankful for? By practicing daily rituals like meditation and mindful breathing, we can gradually learn to live in the present instead of worrying about the future. Numerous studies have shown the power of meditation on our brain and the reduction of stress levels.
5. Accept our emotions
Excessive worry is usually caused by facing some type of fear, for example, feeling that situations are not under our control or that we do not have the life we want.
Contrary to what most people believe, living in the present moment does not mean burying our negative emotions, but attending to them. So, we need to learn to identify the causes of our emotions, and the first step is to recognize them. Only when we can accept our feelings, even the worst, can we deal with them properly.
6. Focus on solutions
We have to remember that no one controls our life more than ourselves. Focusing on solutions is about: identifying the problems in our lives that cause us stress and anxiety, and once we do, working to solve them instead of dwelling on them endlessly.
Only by taking control of our lives can we stop overthinking for good. For example, if our negative thoughts are related to stress from work, we may need to consider changing employers or careers.
7. Do not get carried away by negative feelings
As we have seen, thinking too much can make us get stuck and not be able to make decisions. This often happens because of the fear of making the wrong decision. When this happens, it is important to notice if this feeling is something rational or comes from an unjustified fear. To solve it, we can focus on our body, take a deep breath and imagine ourselves making the decision. Doing this is a way of knowing what feeling is guiding our behavior, and what is the best way to move forward.
By learning to live in the present instead of thinking too much, we can considerably improve our happiness and above all our peace of mind. To achieve this we must remember that life is not something that happens to us without our being able to act; this means that even negative emotions can lead to positive results. By treating these emotions as part of our growth, we can make the most of them.