You know that situation where you weigh the pros and cons of an event for so long that you forget to actually do something? Or are you going through a conversation so many times in your head that you end up feeling like you actually spoke to the other person? If this applies to you, you could be an “overthinker” or chronic brooder. Although everyone worries about a certain thing from time to time, chronic rumination can make it difficult to actually solve the problems. Because of this, it’s important that you learn new strategies to help you break out of your mind loop and come back to the present.
Table of Contents
- 1 Distract yourself when you’re brooding
- 2 Put your thoughts on paper
- 3 Set aside a period of time each day for your worries
- 4 Discuss your thoughts with a friend
- 5 Try to see problems as challenges
- 6 Focus on the big picture
- 7 Take small, proactive steps to move towards a solution
- 8 Learning to live in the moment
- 9 Find out what triggers your rumination
- 10 Think positive about yourself
- 11 Don’t let fear of failure or dreaded disappointments slow you down
- 12 Learning to recognize cognitive biases
- 13 See a therapist for help
Distract yourself when you’re brooding
Do something that you enjoy and that keeps you busy.
When your thoughts get the upper hand, sometimes doing something else for a while is enough. This can be anything as long as it distracts you from the reason for your rumination. Some people draw or do puzzles, while others go for walks or play sports. Choose something that makes you feel good. If you love gardening, get outside and pull weeds or repot a plant that needs more space. If you like being active, go for a jog, do a few laps in the pool, or practice your basketball throws.
Put your thoughts on paper
Try to take ten minutes each day to write down your thoughts.
Keeping a journal can be an effective way to calm your thoughts. Writing helps you organize your thoughts so they don’t feel so jumbled and overwhelming. It can also help you find the root of the problem, which could make it easier for you to resolve it or even make you realize it’s time to let go of those feelings. After you’ve kept a journal for a while, you should go back over what you wrote and look for your thought patterns. Ask yourself how these patterns affect how you perceive yourself, your relationships, and the world around you. When critical thoughts plague you, try writing them down in “you” rather than “I” tense. For example, seeing a sentence like “You’re doing really bad at school” might make you realize how hurtful your critical inner voice can be. For each of these “you” phrases, try to come up with a counter-argument, such as “You always do your best.”
Set aside a period of time each day for your worries
Tell yourself not to worry outside of that window.
Set aside a time in your daily schedule just for worrying — maybe 15 to 20 minutes to think about whatever’s on your mind. Then keep a list handy throughout the day to jot down anything that worries you. Tell yourself not to think about it until your allotted worrying time. That way, your mind won’t be on one thing all day, especially if it’s an issue that could be resolved in those few minutes. Just make sure your worrying time isn’t too close to your bedtime, or you may not have worked through the feelings you’ve created before bedtime.
Discuss your thoughts with a friend
Saying your thoughts out loud can help you process them.
If you just can’t get rid of a certain train of thought, you should try to confide in someone – preferably a close family member or friend. Tell them what’s worrying you and why you think those thoughts keep coming back. Then give each person some time to think about what you heard and give you their perspective. Maybe she has good advice for you that will calm your thoughts.
Try to see problems as challenges
Look for solutions instead of thinking about the obstacles over and over again.
If you find yourself pondering every minute detail of an upcoming decision, or pondering all the possible negative outcomes of a situation, then you should try to refocus your thoughts. Focus on how to be proactive, i.e. how to solve the problem or what you can learn from it for future situations. This simple shift can help you feel inner strength instead of overwhelming. To find a solution, it can also help to look at the situation from the perspective of an outsider without bringing your own feelings into play.
Focus on the big picture
When you think too hard about something, you often get caught up in the details.
Although you might see something new if you think about these things for a moment, it’s better to step back and look at the bigger picture. For example, if you have a crush on someone, you might find yourself thinking about their every comment and facial expression after a meeting. But if you scrutinize every little detail, you might not see what’s really going on. Does your crush act like they’re interested in you most of the time? Or are you just hoping for a subliminal sign from him based on your feelings? Being realistic about your relationship as a whole can help you stop picking apart every little thing.
Take small, proactive steps to move towards a solution
Big problems seem less threatening when you split them up.
Sometimes you might be mulling over a problem that just seems overwhelming and almost insurmountable. If you are dissatisfied in your job, it could be that you find yourself in a merry-go-round of thoughts about all the negative aspects. But this won’t help you in the long run. Instead, you should find the first step to solving the problem — like taking an online class in your spare time or starting a side business that you could ultimately pursue full-time.
Learning to live in the moment
Practice mindfulness to develop this habit.
As an overthinker, you’re probably reminiscing about the past or trying to weigh all the possible outcomes of a future situation. However, if you can learn to bring your attention back to what’s going on around you, it can help you choose your thoughts more consciously. A good way to practice mindfulness is to engage with all your senses in the here and now. To do this, try to find at least one thing around you that you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
Find out what triggers your rumination
Identifying a pattern can help you break it.
The next time you catch yourself brooding, stop and try to trace your thoughts back to the moment that triggered them. If you practice this over and over again, over time you’ll likely discover some similarities that get you all rolling. Once you’ve identified these triggers or triggers, you can identify when you’re more vulnerable, making it easier to stop your rumination before it starts. For example, you may find that when you are nervous about a difficult conversation, you find yourself reeling in thoughts over and over again. In this case, it might help if you write down everything you want to talk about and then set a time limit for that conversation.
Think positive about yourself
Stand up for yourself instead of putting yourself down.
Sometimes we tend to brood because we are angry about a mistake we made. Perhaps your thoughts have taken on the voice of someone who used to criticize you heavily. Instead of dwelling on your mistakes over and over again, make a habit of turning that negative self-talk into something positive. For example, if you made a mistake at work, you might think that you make mistakes all the time and don’t deserve the job. Instead of those thoughts, think something positive like, “I may not be perfect, but they hired me because they saw my potential. I earned my place and I can learn from this mistake.”
Don’t let fear of failure or dreaded disappointments slow you down
Ask yourself if rumination is a delaying technique for you.
You may have to weigh every detail of a decision because you are afraid of failing. On the other hand, you may not want to try anything new because you’re afraid you’ll regret your decision later. But if you’re not ready to jump into the unknown, then you’re denying yourself the chance to be successful. For example, if you can’t decide whether to go to a certain party, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” or “What do I have to lose?” or “What if I’m just having a great time?” Even if things didn’t go your way, you would certainly regret not going and missing your chance more.
Learning to recognize cognitive biases
These are thought patterns that affect how you perceive a situation.
Cognitive distortions are basically a negative filter for your thoughts. Fortunately, once you learn to recognize them, it becomes easier for you to put them down. Some of the most common cognitive distortions include: The all-or-nothing mindset: The belief that something is either all good or all bad. Overgeneralization: Seeing negative experiences as part of a larger picture, rather than looking at them individually and jumping to conclusions. Selective Generalizing: Seeing only the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive ones. Maximize or minimize: exaggerate or understate; feeling that bad things are incredibly important while good things are given less weight. Catastrophize: Automatically assume a situation will turn out badly.
See a therapist for help
Talk to a therapist about your overthinking.
Sometimes you might assume that problems in everyday life are the cause of your constant rumination. However, the underlying problem could also be a trauma in your past or a deep-seated fear of failure. A licensed therapist can help you identify the root cause of your overthinking and teach you new strategies to better manage those thoughts, as well as the underlying feelings. Remember, there’s never a harm in asking for help when you need it—especially if your overthinking is keeping you from doing things you really want to do!