It’s easy to get into a pattern of going over details or rethinking an event over and over in our minds. Maybe you have a big test or project coming up, or maybe it’s that meeting you had last week with a client.
Thoughts like, “Will I pass?”, “Can I do a good enough job?”, “Did I say the right things?”, may be on constant replay in your head. We all have these kinds of thoughts. I call it “spinning” although the official term is ruminating.
Usually when I find myself “spinning” or overthinking, I can pull myself out of it. The act of just recognizing I’m doing it is enough to kick it into gear, make a decision, or reassure myself and move on.
However, sometimes it isn’t so easy and we’re not able to just turn our minds off. We can get trapped in a pattern of worry, which can affect our happiness and our ability to enjoy life.
While it can sometimes feel impossible to shut off this mind chatter, learning to move past overthinking is possible. Let’s take a quick look at the causes of overthinking then we’ll explore some techniques we can all use to stop our minds from “spinning” and relax.
What Causes Overthinking
Our busy modern lifestyles and pressures from work and family can all be sources of stress. While stress is normal, when allowed to go unchecked it can turn into anxiety, which is the biggest cause of overthinking.
When we are anxious, our body’s fight or flight response is triggered which sends a signal to our brain to be on the lookout for anything perceived as dangerous or bad.
The problem is that when this response is triggered, our brain can’t distinguish between real danger and normal daily experiences. Everything is viewed as a threat.
This response is very useful when you need to actually escape a dangerous person or situation, but not so helpful when preparing for a presentation or reflecting on a past event.
The result – we replay our thoughts over and over in our minds, obsess and worry over every little thing and eventually exhaust ourselves both mentally and physically.
Ways to Stop Overthinking and Relax
Before we explore some ways to help stop overthinking, I want to preface with the fact that I’m not a therapist or medical professional. I’m just a regular person like you who has personally suffered from overthinking and learned to manage it using many of the techniques discussed below. If you feel your anxiety is related to depression or another serious mental health issue, seek the guidance of a therapist.
Let’s dive in.
Practicing mindfulness has a wealth of benefits, some of the most notable being the proven ability to:
- reduce stress
- lower blood pressure
- improve clarify of thought
When you’re more present in the moment you are more aware of your thought processes and are more likely to notice when you get into a “spinning” frame of mind. Having simple awareness can be one of the most powerful tools for combating stress and overthinking.
One of the easiest ways to begin practicing mindfulness is to pick a simple daily activity and just pay close attention to what you’re doing. It can be something as simple as getting dressed or tidying up. Instead of thinking about work or letting your mind wander off, you are present in the moment. I love practicing this technique while fixing my morning coffee, making dinner and even folding laundry.
Deep breathing is another simple mindfulness exercise you can start practicing today. Taking 3-4 deep breaths is a quick way to calm down and bring your attention to the present moment.
You can find these and other tips in this article on mindfulness from Psychology Today.
Researchers have called expressing gratitude one of the simplest ways to feel better. Focusing on what you’re thankful for takes your attention away from lack and turns it towards abundance and positivity. In turn, focusing on abundance and what you have brings a sense of peace and calm, which alleviates stress.
A simple way to start a gratitude practice is by keeping a daily gratitude journal where you list 10 things you are grateful for each day. Even if it is just simple things like clean sheets, the clothes on your back and food to eat. The act of being thankful will work its magic.
Exercise to Reduce Stress
Overthinking can also do a number on your physical well-being. Low energy associated with stress can make it difficult to feel motivated and take action. Speaking from personal experience, I know how difficult it can be to find the time and motivation to exercise.
However, if you can muster enough energy to just get started – exercise will benefit both your body and your mind. Exercise releases endorphins, which acts as a natural painkiller as well stress reducer. Exercise also helps to improve your mood.
It is best to start small and build up your exercise routine slowly. For example, short walks can be a great way to start. Additionally, if it has been a while since you’ve been active, consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Set Mini Goals
Goals give your life direction and something to work towards – they help drown out the mind chatter and reduce doubt. When working towards a goal, you’re more likely to take action versus overthinking the next step.
Setting small achievable goals is a great way to reduce stress. These are often referred to as mini goals, or goals within goals. Achieving mini goals will increase your self-confidence and affirm your abilities. When you’re more self confident you don’t stress as much.
To set mini goals; start by breaking up a larger goal into smaller monthly, weekly and daily steps. The simplest way to do this is by taking your larger goal and reverse engineering it.
For example if your main goal is to eat healthier and lose 30 pounds you may set one mini goal to loose 1-2 pounds a week. Another mini goal may be to replace one dinner per week with a vegetarian one.
As you can see, mini goals help map out the steps for the bigger goal and give you multiple opportunities for mini-wins along the way, which are important for keeping you motivated.
Routines provide structure and consistency. They eventually become habitual and reduce anxiety and stress because you do not have to think about what to do. They also alleviate stress because they are predictable. You are also are less likely to forget to do something when it is part of your routine.
Routines are a great way to practice mindfulness and take simple pleasure in daily mundane activities.
With repetition, you also get better at what you do. So performing an activity you’ve created a routine for can become a reassuring and comforting task because you are doing something you do well.
Treat your body and senses
Sometimes you just need to relax your body to relax your mind. Deliberately schedule in some “Me Time” to give yourself mini breaks.
Taking time for yourself gives your brain a chance to reboot, which improves your concentration, gives you a chance to think deeply, and provides the needed space for your body and mind to rest.
Make your time count. Experts suggest scheduling a named activity versus just scheduling a block of time called “Me Time”. They say it makes it much more likely that you’ll actually do the activity. You’re less likely to fill the time with running errands and the like.
Need some ideas?
- Get a massage
- Listen to soothing music
- Soak in a hot bath
- Use aromatherapy
- Enjoy the silence
- Get out in nature
Everyone overthinks at one time or another, but you can learn to recognize the signs. Implementing just one of the suggestions in this post can go a long way to helping you overthink less frequently.
Whenever you start to experience the first signs of “spinning” or ruminating take it as a queue to stop, take a moment, and use one of these suggestions. Overtime you’ll get better at relaxing your mind.
You’ve got this.