Overthinking is an anxious tendency that I often encounter in my psychotherapy practice. There are many ways we tend to overthink, such as rehashing the past – replaying the same scenario over and over in our head. Worry is another form, in which we obsess over what the future might bring.
I can empathize. When I was younger, overthinking diminished my quality of life. Research has shown that overthinking can decrease energy, limit creativity, and cause sleep problems.
Eventually, I knew I needed a healthy way to cope, and created a career helping others do the same. Here are three strategies I use every day to stop overthinking:
1. Positive reframing
This is often confused with “toxic positivity”, which asks people to think positively, no matter how difficult a situation is.
Positive reframing, on the other hand, lets you recognize the negatives and then asks you to assess whether there is another way to think about the situation. Maybe there are benefits or things you can change about it.
You find yourself constantly complaining, “I hate being a boss. On top of all these deadlines and responsibilities, it’s hard to manage so many complex personalities. It’s emotionally and mentally draining. My job just sucks.”
Ventilation might be nice for a second, but that doesn’t solve anything. And you’ll likely continue to dwell on how you hate your job or how badly you manage.
To practice positive reframing, replace the thought above with, “Things are tough right now and I feel disconnected from some things on my plate. my expectations about it.”
This thought pattern gives you the power to change your circumstances. You can start small by considering which important tasks need to be done first, then delay or delegate the rest until you feel less anxious. The key is to take a step back and take things one step at a time.
2. Write down your thoughts once, then distract yourself for 24 hours
When our brain thinks we are in conflict or in danger, a built-in alarm system is triggered internally to protect us.
One thing I’ve been successful with is writing down my feelings and waiting at least 24 hours (or just a few hours if it’s an urgent matter) before responding or taking any kind of action. impulsive.
Then I put that draft away while I distract myself with another task.
You just received an email about something that went wrong. You get upset, your heart races, your breathing becomes shallow, and you become hyper-focused on what’s wrong and why it’s your fault.
If you respond to the email while your brain is in “alarm mode,” you might say things you later regret, which could then fuel the vicious cycle of overthinking.
Writing down negative thoughts takes away their power; Often I don’t feel the need to act on my anxious thoughts once I write them down.
3. Practice “Specific Recognition”
In psychology, we know that expressing gratitude can increase our happiness. It can help us contextualize our frustrations with what we love and help us connect to something bigger than ourselves, whether it’s other people, animals, nature. or of a higher power.
But I find that repeating the same gratitude practice over and over can become routine and diminish returns. To me, it can start to feel like a meaningless chore instead of mindful practice. So, I like to practice something I call “specific gratitude.”
Instead of writing in my journal every day that “I am grateful for my health”, I will write something like: “I am grateful to have woken up today with no back pain and to have the ability to practice today”.
It helps me stay focused on the here and now, rather than overthinking general abstractions. Tomorrow, I might still be grateful for my health, but I might be especially grateful for having enough energy for a long time.
Jenny MaenpaaLCSW, is a psychotherapist and founder of Striker in heelsan intersectional feminist group therapy practice in New York that empowers all women to stand up and own their worth.