Why We Overthink and How to Stop (365 Days of Spirited Living — DAY 308)
“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain, do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?”
— Warren Ellis
Most of us do our best to think and be positive, but sometimes we allow ourselves to slip into negative ways of thinking and behaving that are detrimental to our lives and bottleneck our overall progress in life.
We might stress about past mistakes or failures. We may over-analyze normal experiences, encounters, and interactions with people we know very well. Occasionally, we read into things that aren’t really there. We tend to associate one bad experience with all of the other bad things that have happened in our lives.
We obsess about how we look, what we wear, what we have, and how we appear to other people. It’s difficult, even in the slightest of matters, to make a decision. Anxiety about the present and fear about the future can cause us to think about bad things that may never happen at all. We hide our flaws and feel miserable that we are not perfect.
If you find yourself in this position more times than you would like to think, you are what psychologists call an over-thinker. And overthinking everything can be harmful to your wellbeing and stop up progress like a backed-up kitchen sink.
Research has shown that overthinking can lead to severe cases of depression and anxiety. It can cause one to hold back on making important decisions that can in turn result in a bigger problem. On the flip side of that research, psychologists have found that overthinking people are often highly creative problem-solvers. And when we really think about it, many discoveries have come about because of someone yielding to their neurosis.
Overthinkers are not bad people. On the contrary, many of them are bright and genuinely caring of others. It is how they go about caring — sometimes in a worrying, obsessive manner — that often pushes people away.
Changing overthinking patterns of behavior is not easy. It won’t happen overnight. There is no on/off switch to make it magically go away. Instead, like most everything else, it takes gradual time, effort, and commitment to recover from overthinking.
Instead of being lost in what could have, should have, or would have been, here are 6 ways that you can stop overthinking, make decisions, and be at rest:
1. Set a time limit for your thinking. There are some things upon which we can probably all agree that there is never “enough” time that can be given to it. However, setting time limits on your thinking, just like setting time limits for most everything else, can help us make decisions and move on to do other things.
2. Accept that uncertainty is an uncomfortable, but inevitable part of life. No matter how much or how long we think, there will simply be things that we don’t know. We don’t have all the answers or always know what is up ahead of us on this journey called life.
3. Break away and do something physical. When you feel your mind is overwhelmed with a million different things, a change of pace or even a change of scenery can help with getting you back on track.
4. Interrupt the thinking process. Overthinking interrupts our lives from focusing on what is really important. When you notice yourself overthinking, change your subject of focus for as long as you need to.
5. Stop talking. Discussing your problem with someone else or holding a conversation about it with a group of people will only leave you thinking about much more than you need to. You will end up more confused and won’t know what direction to take.
6. Blank out and relax. Sometimes it is best not to think at all. Not thinking can rejuvenate your mental faculties and refresh your energy. With a clean mental slate, you will be able to see things more clearly. When you start to think again, you will be better equipped to make right decisions.
“Half our mistakes in life arise from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where we ought to feel.”
— John Churton Collins