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How to Stop Overthinking

Do you overthink everything in your life? Do you ruminate and play over situations that happened like a broken record? Do you worry about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet? If so, read this post!

What is overthinking? According to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, a professor of psychology, Overthinking is when you “go over your negative thoughts and feelings, examining them questioning them, kneading them like dough.” (page 9).

Overthinking begins with negative thoughts that we’ve let overpower our minds, these negative thoughts have the ability to influence and change our behaviors, thoughts and actions.

If you don’t manage your negative emotions, they amplify.

For instance, when you’re sad, worried or anxious, your brain tends to think about more sad events. You look through a distorted lens where you see every situation just more anxiety or worry. One thought leads to dozens of other thoughts that make you sadder or more anxious.

When you’re in this state of mind, where you’re overthinking everything and your negative thoughts are amplifying you tend to make poor decisions. Because you’re not thinking rationally. You’re thinking with your emotions.

Overthinking is different from basic worrying. Worriers worry about things that have NOT happened. They worry about hypothetical situations. While overthinkers ruminate about things that have already happened. Worriers worry about the future while overthinkers worry about the past. Overthinkers are like worriers on steroids because they spend ALL their time stuck in the past incapable of moving forward with life.

Overthinkers become paralyzed with their fears and doubts, because the only image they have of themselves is ones in which they’ve failed, made a mistake or let themselves down. They keep replaying this memory, this image of themselves until they’re utterly convinced they’re incapable of success.

When you overthink, you employ a negative lens to view your past. You see everything through a polluted, melodramatic and distorted lens. But, remember things are not what they appear.

The good news is you can stop this.


Police your thoughts: Recognize the triggers that get you into overthinking. Interrupt the negativity in your mind. (are your triggers certain people, certain environments?)

Distract yourself. Immediately change directions and distract your mind by doing something different. Get down on the ground and do 15 push ups!  Hold the plank position for 30 seconds. Go for a walk. Read something that gives you joy (my go to is always poetry). Watch something funny, laughter is so healing.

Give your pity party a time limit: Feel sorry for yourself, play the victim, & overthink everything, BUT only do so for a very limited amount of time. Give yourself no more than 15 minutes (a day!) to be lost in this abyss of negativity and discontent. Then MOVE ON.

Support Team: Do you have a person or support team you can go to? Lean on a friend, colleague, partner, spouse, or mentor that will listen to you but also motivate you to move through the negativity. Join a social club that inspires and motivates you to succeed.

Start a gratitude journal. This is a Oprah Winfrey lesson….every night or every week write down your thoughts (negative or positive), your experiences, successes and setbacks, and then write down 5 things you’re grateful for. Compare your lists. When you’re feeling especially blue, read over the things that you are grateful for.

Reference: Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan. (2003). Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. Henry Holt and Company: New York, NY.