I recently asked my Facebook group tribe about their strategies to stop them from overthinking things. As a notorious ruminator myself, I sometimes struggle to keep my thoughts at bay, whether they are positive or negative. Creative, positive impulses such as musical ideas, ideas for new lyrics or sharp insights about ways to help a client get unstuck, seem to go hand in hand with excessive worrying and overthinking, which includes contemplating worst case scenarios and possibilities of utter failure.
There is a saying going around that overthinking is the art of creating problems that weren’t even there. While there is undoudtedly an element of truth there, most overthinkers will recognize that ruminating is not a conscious process. The issue does not present itself on a rational level, but rather on an emotional, unconscious one. We know that it’s bad for us and that it creates stress and anxiety, but sometimes we can’t help doing it.
Having said that, even the worst overthinker can develop strategies to control and tame their negative train of thoughts. Here are some of these strategies that people in the group, including me, have found helpful:
- Aligning self to purpose and values
This is one of the pillars of my Vision to Action group coaching program. When the big picture (your identity, vision and values) are aligned with your day-to-day actions and habits, then you act with purpose and confidence. When you act with purpose and confidence, clarity and freedom are present, while negative stress and overwhelm are far away.
2. Being organized
Having the right systems and/or personnel in place to automate your day-to-day actions, ensures that you don’t waste your precious time with activities that should be automated, or done by someone else. Stress and overthinking are often the result of feeling that you are wasting your time doing urgent yet unimportant things
3. Consuming a substance that helps you relax
Of course I am not going to argue here for the benefits of consuming illicit substances and alcohol. Many of us know however that a beer or a gin and tonic can temporarily relax our minds and take the edge of anxiety and overthinking. The key word here is ‘temporarily’. Using alcohol and drugs to tackle long-term problems is not a recommended strategy, as their long-term effects are often more detrimental than the problem they are trying to solve. So proceed with caution in this case, it’s all about the balance.
4. Exercise or Martial Arts training
Any form of exercise such as yoga, jogging or martial arts training, helps to focus our minds on our bodies, regulate our breath and give us a sense of control by creating purposeful movement. When focus and a sense of control are present, anxiety and overthinking are far away.
5. Public speaking
Many of us are familiar with the finding that fear of public speaking is more often present than the fear of death. So this strategy to cope with overthinking is not for everyone. Personally, I love talking to a group of people about topics I am passionate about. It helps me structure my thoughts and formulate my beliefs in a rational and coherent way. Being able to make an argument eloquently and rationally, is a great remedy against anxiety and overthinking, as you are in control of your thoughts, rather than these thoughts controlling you.
6. Walks in nature
If exercise is not your thing, you can still achieve the same effects with regular walks in nature. A walk in nature has many benefits. The natural hues calm the mind, relax the soul and keep negative thoughts at bay, as natural beauty draws you in being present at the moment.
7. Focusing on completing tasks and achieving your goals
Focusing on completing tasks and goals you want to achieve, is another way of creating a sense of control and acting purposefully. By now, it should be clear than a sense of control and purpose are the enemies of stress, overwhelm and overthinking!
8. Distracting yourself and Pattern Interrupt
Some people are good at focusing on a new distraction whenever they feel rumination is around the corner. In Neuro Linguistic Programming, we talk about Pattern Interrupt: an activity which interrupts an existing pattern, replacing it with another one. E.g. putting make-up on or taking a walk in nature, are both ways of interrupting existing patterns with completely new ones.
9. Changing your environment
Most of us, focus too often on things inside of us (e.g. our motivation and goals) rather than creating the right circumstances outside of us. Changing your environment to make it more compelling and inspiring, goes a long way towards helping you to take control of your actions and create a sense of purpose. E.g. I arranged my musical instruments and recording equipment in such a way that they are always in an inviting position. They are a visible reminder that my personal satisfaction and pleasure are only a click of a button away.
10. Guided meditation or hypnosis
Any form of guided meditation or hypnosis is another effective way to tackle overthinking. It helps us to focus on being present at the moment, and hearing another voice giving us commands mutes that negative inner voice.
11. Accepting the natural flow of things
Ultimately, what will be, will be. We seldom have full control of events unfolding around us, something which has been recently highlighted by the Covid 19 pandemic. All we can do is focus on our response to these events. Focusing on the things we can control and accepting that there are things we can’t, goes a long way towards stopping rumination and overthinking.
If you are a bit of an overthinker, it’s likely that you will have used some of the above strategies at some point. Which ones did you find most useful, and which ones didn’t help? Post your comments below.