Overthinking falls into two categories: ruminating (rehashing the past) and worrying (making often catastrophic predictions about the future).

Overthinking interferes with sleep and threatens one’s mental health.

One way to avoid overthinking is to focus on active solutions instead of focusing on the problem.

Rehashing the past:
– Why did I say that today? Now I feel like an idiot!
– Why did I spend so much money? I am not going to be able to make enough money and now I am going to go broke!
– I never got good grades in school so I will never accomplish anything.

Worrying involves negative—often catastrophic—predictions about the future:
– Now matter what I do, I can’t do it good enough. Why should I even try I will only make it worse.
– If I don’t go to the party then I will never get invited again but if I go no one will talk to me and I will have a lousy time.
– My partner hasn’t called me back. They are probably trying to figure out how to break up with me.

The Dangers of Overthinking
Thinking too much can take a toll on your mental health and wellbeing. As your mental health declines, you begin to spiral into negative thinking and catastrophizing. Once you get in this type of cycle, it can be difficult to stop and think in a more positive way. Not only does overthinking have the potential to negatively impact your mental health, studies have shown that overthinking can also lead to significant emotional distress. Overthinkers often turn to unhealthy actions such as over-eating, over-drinking, over-working or using drugs to help them cope. And as an overthinker, you can forget about healthy sleep. Your mind won’t stop when you try to sleep causing sleep deprivation and more anxiety.

Ways to Stop Overthinking
Overthinking is a learned behavior. It isn’t something that is static and unchangeable. Will it be easy to stop overthinking? Probably not especially if you have been an overthinker most of your life. But with repeated practice and following some tips, you can change the way you think which will change the way you look at things. You won’t be stuck in a negative tornado only to find yourself once again going down the rabbit hole.

The first way to stop overthinking is by beginning to notice when you are overthinking. Tell yourself you have already gone through this time and time again and you don’t need to repeat this line of thinking. You are simply repeating old patterns. Recognizing the pattern of overthinking is the first step to ending the behavior.

Once you recognize you’re overthinking, ask yourself the following questions. Is my line of thinking true? Do I know for sure that it’s true? How would the situation be different if I allowed myself to believe there might be a different way?

Now that you have recognized there may be a different way of looking at this, you can begin to problem solve. Ask yourself, can I control what is happening? If I can, what steps do I need to take to achieve a better solution and outcome? If I can’t control what is happening, how can I control myself for the best possible outcome for me? We cannot always control what is happening around us but with practice, we can always control our reactions.

Asking yourself these types of questions will help you to prevent the spiral of overthinking. If you have to, set a timer and tell yourself you are going to reflect on the situation for 15-20 minutes and then set it aside. Dwelling on it and rehashing it over and over again, is non-productive. Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to walk away and clear your head.

Remind yourself that what you focus on you attract. If you are focusing on the negative, then negative you will attract. Take a walk, change what you are doing, engage in another activity or whatever you can do in the moment to distract you from getting stuck overthinking the situation. Divert your attention.

Meditation or prayer is a great way to turn your worries over to a higher power and ask for help. You will need to practice quieting your mind so that the answers will come. Even spending 5 minutes quiet time without worrying is a great start!
Dwelling on your problems isn’t helpful, but looking for solutions is. Ask yourself what steps you can take to learn from a mistake or avoid a future problem. Instead of asking why something happened, ask yourself what you can do about it.
Once you get in the habit of following these steps, you will stop catastrophizing and worrying about things and instead begin to problem solve and reach productive solutions. Whether it is a solution to the problem or just a mindset change to effectively deal with the problem, you will begin a much better way of dealing with situations. And you will start sleeping better once you learn the process of shutting down overthinking!