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How to Stop Overthinking and Anxiety: Simple Steps to Help You Deal with Overthinking and Worrying

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What is overthinking?

Overthinking is the act of analyzing and reanalyzing a situation. It’s an attempt to solve a problem or find a solution when there isn’t one. Overthinking is easy to spot in other people, but hard to see in yourself. It can lead to a host of physical and mental health problems, including: headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and self-loathing.

It’s often associated with anxiety. However, anxiety is an emotion; overthinking is a behavior. It is more common in people with anxiety disorders.

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Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

Overthinking is a natural process of our brain as it tries to make sense of the world around us. It is a distraction from the present moment, which results in an inability to relax and live in the present moment. According to research, the average person overthinks almost 50% of their thoughts.

Overthinking can be a huge problem for people who have ADHD or OCD, but it also affects anyone who lets their mind wander.

Overthinking can sometimes aid in solving problems or planning for the future, but if you find that you’re doing it frequently, it’s likely hurting your brain and body in the process.

Research suggests overthinking can contribute to chronic stress, anxiety disorders, depression, headaches and migraines, insomnia, fatigue, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease and stroke risk factors, obesity risk factors, eating disorders, addiction risk factors, risky sexual behavior, poor immunity and virility, as well as poorer physical health. And it doesn’t just affect adults either – overthinking has been linked to poor academic performance in children.

Why does overthinking happen?

Overthinking is a vicious cycle. One reason why it happens is that we’re not used to dealing with complex situations in real life. It can also occur because of stress or anxiety. When we’re stressed out about something, our mind starts to ruminate about it, often imagining the worst-case scenarios instead of concentrating on solutions. Some people also tend to overthink because of their desire of perfectionism.

The problem with overthinking is that it’s a form of what psychologists call “introspection.” This causes you to become trapped in your own head, and it can have a negative effect on your mood and mental state.

Put your anxiety into perspective

To get a better idea of what anxiety is, let’s look at what happens in the brain during a panic attack.

In the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for emotional responses, certain neurons fire when they receive signals from other neurons in the thalamus. This process causes the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that produce feelings of fear or panic.

The amygdala also has memory centers that hold onto memories of similar events and use them to trigger responses when similar events happen in the future. For example, if you’re afraid of dogs after being bitten by one as a kid, you’ll probably have an immediate fear response when you encounter another dog later in life.

And this can cause some pretty negative behavioral responses beyond just feeling afraid or anxious. People with anxiety disorders are often hyper-vigilant—meaning they’re always on the lookout for potential threats. This can lead to people avoiding things like public speaking or going outside in public because they’re afraid of what might happen to them when they do.

It may also lead to avoidance behaviors such as not leaving your house or doing anything that might cause you to be alone or away from loved ones—even if it’s something you used to enjoy doing regularly. This can have serious consequences on your quality of life: it can make it difficult for you to function normally and leave you feeling isolated and alone.

So what should you do if you find yourself living with an anxiety disorder? The first step is to talk with your doctor about your symptoms so they can help you determine whether it’s something more serious than just normal anxiety and what type of treatment might be best for your situation—whether it’s medication, therapy, or a combination of both that works best for your body and mind depending on your own personal goals and circumstances.

How Can Overthinking Affect Mental And Physical Health?

Overthinking is a major source of stress. And stress is linked to deteriorating physical and mental health. Overthinking can cause physical symptoms such as headaches or insomnia. In addition, it can cause major psychological harms such as anxiety and depression.

One study showed that about 19% of people with high levels of overthinking report symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety disorder, which includes high levels of stress and tension along with physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia, and stomach problems. [1] Overthinking can also increase your pain sensitivity and interfere with your sleep cycle.

Psychological problems (such as depression or anxiety) are also more common in people who tend to overthink. People who overthink also tend to have more somatic symptoms meaning they feel more pain for longer periods of time than others do. In fact, studies show that people who have chronic pain and are prone to overthinking tend to report more severe symptoms than those without these tendencies do.

Here are 10 ideas to help Overthinkers to stop spinning their wheels:

  1. Tell yourself you’re going to focus on one thing for a certain amount of time, and then you can let your mind wander. You can also tell yourself that you don’t have to have all the answers right now or deal with all of the problems in your life right now. You can tackle them one by one as they come up.
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes and just think about something for 10 minutes without stopping or judging yourself. This is harder than it sounds because, as we said, overthinkers tend to judge themselves harshly when they aren’t producing perfect results. So give yourself a break and allow your thoughts to wander freely without judgment or criticism for the next 10 minutes.
  3. Make a list of everything on your mind and then cross things off the list one by one until there’s nothing left but the essentials.
  4. Do something physical for at least 30 minutes every day (even if you hate exercise).
  5. If you find yourself obsessing over something, tell yourself that it’s okay to think about it, but not okay to dwell on it for more than 20 minutes total today, and then set a timer for 20 minutes.
  6. Do something once every day without giving it another thought.
  7. Think of something good about today once per hour until you fall asleep tonight (and every night thereafter). This might sound silly, but trust us: There is ALWAYS at least one good thing going on in any given moment.
  8. Don’t let yourself get too hungry or thirsty — blood sugar levels affect mood!
  9. Take a few deep breaths (especially if you notice that an emotion has intensified).
  10. Notice whether your emotions are actually connected to anything specific going on around you right now — if not, try redirecting them by focusing on something else instead. [2]
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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Get into a habit of noticing you are overthinking

If you find yourself overthinking in certain situations, take the opportunity to notice this and shift your focus to more useful thoughts. If you are at the gym, for example, realize that you can either think about how much time is left on the clock or how good you are feeling right now. This way, you will be able to shift your focus to more positive thoughts and actions. The next time you find yourself overthinking, just remember to take a step back and focus on the present moment. [3]

Identify Your Ruminative Thoughts

Rumination is a style of thinking that involves repetitively focusing on the symptoms of one’s distress. Rumination is linked to many problems, including depression and anxiety, but what makes rumination different from other negative styles of thinking such as worry and negative self-talk is that it is a relatively involuntary process. Yet, despite its involuntary nature, it can be changed with practice. [4]

However, it is important not to suppress your thoughts. Research suggests that the more you try to suppress your thoughts, the more likely they are to persist and intensify over time.

The best technique against these ruminative thoughts is to practice mindfulness. Once you are in the present moment, noticing everything around yourself that indulges your senses, your brain does not get the time or energy to think any other thoughts. This is why mindfulness meditation promotes non-judgmental awareness of all the things that your mind focuses on during meditation sessions. Once you learn how to focus your attention on different things, you can then apply this skill to everyday life. [5]

Another technique you can use when experiencing a ruminative thought is the grounding technique. In this activity, you realize all your senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing.

Around yourself, list:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste.

Once you ground yourself in your surrounding and present time, it will be easier for you to distract yourself from your ruminative vicious thoughts.

Continuing this practice over time will decrease the frequency with which you experience ruminative thoughts and will help decrease your anxiety levels.

Don’t Believe Every Thought

The thoughts you have on any given day can have a profound impact on how you feel and perform. To take control of your thoughts, it’s important to learn how to separate the thoughts that matter from the ones that don’t.

Here are a few ways to do this:
Ask yourself:

“Is this thought helping me or hurting me?”
“What is the evidence for and against this thought?”
“Does this thought help me achieve my goals?”
“Is there another way to look at this situation?”

Try to identify any negative thoughts that circle your mind. If you notice a recurring theme, write it down so you can really learn what is holding you back from reaching your goals. Try to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example, if every time you go for a run, you tell yourself how tired you are, make an effort to remind yourself of how great running makes you feel instead.

This might seem counterintuitive at first. However, when your brain gets used to having positive thoughts in place of bad ones and starts expecting them instead of anticipating negative outcomes all the time, it will start creating new pathways for good instead of bad habits. This is part of why affirmations seem like a waste of time but actually work pretty well if they are used consistently.

Challenge your anxious thoughts

Anxious thoughts are often irrational, but they can still have a powerful impact on our emotions and actions. For example, you might think, “I’m going to mess up my presentation,” and then you feel anxious about the presentation.

The next time you find yourself thinking an anxious thought, try challenging it. Ask yourself if it’s realistic and accurate. Consider the evidence for and against the thought. If you have evidence against it, you might even consider writing out all the reasons why your thought isn’t true. Then ask yourself if there’s anything else you could do in the situation besides worry about it. By challenging your anxious thoughts, you should be able to reduce your anxiety over time.

Anxiety is a powerful tool for survival. For example, if you’re being chased by a lion, anxiety helps you run faster. But sometimes anxiety can get the better of you and create problems where there are none.

Now that you are aware about some of the techniques and tips you can use to counter overthinking, you should be better capable of addressing it. Always be mindful and take note of your symptoms and emotions. Consult your psychologist or any other doctor, and remember, your mental and physical health should receive your utmost attention.

Marc Kraft

Marc is the creator of Mindful Searching, a content site dedicated to providing actionable, unbiased tips to reduce anxiety, stress, and improve cognitive performance. He's struggled with social anxiety for many years. Over the last 5 years, Marc has been researching and testing lifestyle changes, products, and techniques to build a happier, healthier, anxiety-free life.

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