When I first heard the term “chronic overthinking” I initially laughed; yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a funny way to talk about a serious issue. Mental health professionals have studied the effects of rumination and depression – the two seem to go hand-in-hand. Both of these mental states seem to feed into each other. Unfortunately, phrasing it this way – i.e. “chronic overthinking” – can make it seem like it is a sickness that cannot be cured easily. The good news is that these thought patterns can be challenged. You can harness your mind to work for you, rather than against you.
To correct some of the maladaptive thought patterns that accompany overthinking, I like to refer to the research of Susan Nolen-Hoeksema – a former Yale Psychology Professor – and Dr. Aymee Coget, my mentor and author/founder of Happiness for Humankind. Let’s explore some of their strategies that I’ve found to be most effective when treating overthinking and rumination:
- Distract Yourself:
Engage in an activity that puts your brain to work. Mentally stimulating activities that you enjoy seem to work best for my clients. You could sing a song, check in on a friend, or complete a Sudoku! The key here is to find an activity that you find captivating.
- Schedule Rumination Time:
Even though this seems counter-intuitive, scheduled rumination time is a widely used strategy in behavioral therapy. I’m often met with astonishment when I recommend this to one of my clients! Here’s the deal: Schedule an intentional time during the day to obsess, overthink, and ruminate. Choose a time of day when you are less likely to be at a low. By the time the hour rolls around, you may be able to think things through
You can still let your mind run away with you, just do it on your own terms. This has helped my clients take back some of the mental power they felt they had lost to rumination.
- Discuss Your Thoughts with a Confidant:
Choose a sympathetic and trusted friend to air the contents of your mind to. A simple chat can make you feel much better and improve your outlook. Just make sure you are intentional with whom you speak to and how frequently you do this. You don’t want to bring someone down by unloading too much on them, but you can’t keep your feelings bottled up forever either. Note: you don’t want to choose a person who is only going to add fuel to the rumination fire, so make sure you pick someone who has a positive outlook on life.
- Write Out Your Thoughts:
Like talking with a friend, sometimes getting the words out of your head and out in the open – or in this case, on paper – can provide some much-needed perspective. It quite literally gets the words out of your head. For this method, I like to visualize my head as a water pitcher filled with liquid thoughts. As I write, the thoughts begin to leave the pitcher as they are poured onto the paper. When these thoughts are physically in front of you – and not swirling around your head like a wash-cycle – it can give you an opportunity to objectively challenge your ruminating thoughts.
Finally, I would like to add an additional strategy that I have found to be most effective in the fight against overthinking:
- Practice Present Moment Awareness:
Practicing gratitude for the present moment allows little room for negative thoughts; and since negative thoughts can influence our emotions, I encourage you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of each moment. Would you rather spend more time experiencing the gift of the present, or spend it with the thoughts in your head? Ask yourself this: “What percent of time do I spend in the moment?” If the answer is less than 80%, (which it probably is if you are reading this blog!) I would recommend downloading my free guide: 5 Steps to Living in the Moment.
I hope that you find these strategies insightful and choose to put at least one into practice. You may not even realize the relief you can gain from alleviating some of your ruminating thoughts until you actually do it. If you have any techniques or strategies that you use when you catch yourself overthinking, share them in the comments! I would love to hear and learn from you.