One of the symptoms of anxiety is “overthinking” or ruminating. People who overthink feel like they can’t “turn off” their brains. Once your brain latches onto a worry, it’s hard to break free of it. You can easily get caught in a thought loop where you replay every bad outcome imaginable. This, of course, isn’t useful. We all know that worrying doesn’t prevent bad things from happening. Instead, overthinking can negatively impact concentration, productivity, and sleep.
1. Write it down.
Writing works well to clear your mind, process your thoughts and feelings, and creates a “holding space” for your worries. When you write them down, you don’t have to hold them in your mind constantly.
2. Plan a time to worry.
For example, you can plan worry time for 8:00-8:15 daily. This way you know that you will have time to worry at 8:00. Whenever you notice you’re worrying or overthinking, redirect and remind yourself that you can think about this issue at 8:00, but until then you are focusing on other things. You may find that you do this repeatedly throughout the day; that’s OK. Just continue to remind yourself that worry time is at 8:00 and use the other strategies to help you stay on track.
3. Limit worrying to 15-30 minutes.
Overthinkers need to put boundaries around their worrying!
Now that you’ve scheduled a time to think or write about your worries, you also want to set a pre-determined amount of time for it. It’s counter-productive to schedule worrying for 8:00 and not set an end time. It’s important to set a firm time limit because it can easily go on indefinitely unless you put some boundaries around it. I suggest 15 to 30 minutes. This is sufficient, but not so much time that is takes over your day.
4. Distract yourself.
Distraction is a simple and effective strategy that we all use. Sometimes we just need to find something else to do or think about to divert your attention. Often a more complex task works best, but work, talking to a friend, watching a funny video, reading, or music can do the trick.
5. Tell yourself firmly to stop.
Occasionally you may need to firmly tell yourself to stop thinking about something. The old trick of snapping a rubber band against your wrist serves the same purpose. It’s almost a wake-up call to startle you into thinking or acting differently. Splashing cold water on your face can work, too.
6. Determine if you can change it.
It’s useful to determine if there’s something you can do about your worries. If there is, do it. If not, recognize that it’s out of your control and all you can do is process and accept it – not change it.
7. Get Physical.
Physical activity is one of the best things that you can do for your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that make you feel happier, calmer, and less stressed. Even better is to head outside for a little exercise. A change of scenery also helps refocus your thinking away from rumination and onto what’s right in front of you.