Do you need to give your brain a break from overthinking?
Overthinking, also known as rumination, is a negative thought pattern that causes you to become stuck in your thoughts. Negative ideas seem to grow, spiral, and you become paralyzed by trying to focus on all of them at once or attempting to follow them. You may even contribute to the cycle by adding even more negative thoughts to the mix!
Thinking like that all the time can be exhausting. Your brain needs a rest and can’t spend all of its time stuck in rumination, or you’ll lose the valuable cognitive and energy resources you need for the day! So how do you stop it? Here are four practical ways to give your brain a break from overthinking.
1. Postpone Negative Thoughts
Many people who overthink tend to believe that they can change or calm those beliefs immediately – or they may feel that they have to give those thoughts their immediate attention for any reason. But the secret to managing a lot of these ruminating thoughts can be to postpone thinking about them till later!
Many overthinkers benefit from setting a particular time daily specifically for overthinking, from 8 pm to 8.30 pm or from 1 pm to 1.10 pm. If these thoughts pop up at any other time during the day, they are not allowed to entertain them and must wait until their next scheduled overthinking time to address them. In other words, when you start to contemplate, you get to say, “I’ll think about this later,” and move on. Believe it or not, this is an excellent technique because:
Overthinkers tend to believe that the thoughts they have can’t be controlled. Actively postponing thoughts challenges and upends this belief and grants you control over your thoughts in a way that can feel empowering and help reduce rumination.
· It Gives You The Break You Need
If what you want is a break from overthinking, confining those kinds of thoughts to a short, specific time every day ensures that you have plenty of time free from rumination. You’ll get to enjoy most of your day free from these kinds of thoughts.
· It Makes Some Thoughts Disappear
By the time you get to your daily allotted overthinking time, you may find that a lot of the worries you’d been postponing aren’t ones you care about anymore. Thoughts can change, come, and go, and many negative ones are triggered by temporary or emotional circumstances. As such, not only will your worrying time be confined, it’ll also be shorter, and you’ll realize that a lot of your thoughts weren’t ones you ever truly needed to entertain at all!
2. Be Aware Of Your Thoughts
Did you know that the human brain constantly processes memories, associations, and thoughts of all kinds? Research indicates it does this for thousands of separate thoughts daily, and many of these are ones you won’t even consciously notice. As such, it can be easy to ignore all your thoughts completely.
For some thoughts, you don’t need to pay them any attention, as they’re background processes that help daily life or happen without much consequence. But for others, they could be triggers for overthinking – and more confusingly, those trigger thoughts could be positive, too!
A trigger thought is anything that leads to your overthinking. For example, you may experience a negative idea about your capabilities and start ruminating over how you’ll manage an upcoming project. Or you may experience positive thinking about an upcoming vacation but then start ruminating over planning for it!
The only natural way to fight these trigger thoughts is to learn to be aware of them. You can do this in the following ways:
· Time Your Thoughts
If you catch yourself thinking about something non-urgent, ask how long you’ve been thinking about it. If the answer is “more than five minutes,” it might be time to chair those thoughts for later. Catching yourself in the middle of overthinking also gives you the chance to trace your thoughts back to your triggers.
· Question Your Thoughts
Now that you’ve caught yourself overthinking question the subject of your rumination. Is it a realistic concept of possibility, or are you nearing ridiculous levels of thought? Are you careful or downright pessimistic? Challenge your beliefs with positive thinking and ask if it’s grounded in reality or if these thoughts are helping you or harming you.
· Identify Your Fears
Many of the thoughts that pop up and lead to overthinking, basing these ideas on your fears. The things you’re afraid of can lead to you feeling indecisive, to an urge to over-plan everything to counteract the fear, or to simply becoming paralyzed with thought. You may be afraid that you’ll fail, or that you’re not good enough, or that people won’t like you, for example. Identifying your fears allows you to understand some of your rumination triggers on a deeper level.
· Ask If You Can Control It
Whenever you start thinking about something, ask if the subject of your thoughts is something you have active control over. For example, if you’re worried about the weather on an important day for you, well, you certainly can’t control the weather! If you find that the thing you’re worrying about is out of your hands, then you won’t find any answers by thinking about it – that will only sap your positive thinking and make you feel helpless. Shift your focus onto what you can control instead.
· Watch, Don’t Participate
When thoughts come to you and swirl towards rumination, stop participating in them. Watch them as if you’re an audience member and they’re putting on a play, and examine them as an outsider looking in. Allow your thoughts to come and go without ever jumping in. In other words, just because a train of thought has arrived at the station, that doesn’t mean you need to buy a ticket to ride it!
Many individuals who struggle with overthinking or rumination also have low self-esteem, according to studies. This is because many of these negative thought patterns are born from a belief that you aren’t capable of overcoming challenges or that you need to work extra hard and plan extra well to make up for your shortcomings.
Because of this, learning to build and manage self-esteem can help you tremendously when it comes to giving yourself a break from all of that overthinking. Here are some ways to do so:
· Build On Your Strengths
Everyone has weaknesses, but everyone also has strengths. What are yours? Finding your strengths and playing into them by building on them, practicing them, and sharpening them can improve your belief in yourself. Better yet, your renewed skill and mastery of your strength may allow you to solve the problems you would have worried about!
· Change The Story You Tell Yourself
Everyone tells themselves a story about who they are. “I’m just an average guy.” “I’m not much of a patient person.” “I’ve never been good at that.” But these stories become your reality in the way of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of repeatedly telling yourself stories that degrade you or remind you of perceived weaknesses, remind yourself about your capabilities. “I’ve overcome every problem I’ve ever faced.” “I’ve always been able to learn and grow from situations, lessons, and hurdles.” “I’m much stronger than I give myself credit for.”
· Stop Aiming For Perfection
Perfectionism is many things, but none of them are good. It’s an unrealistic expectation, an avoidance tactic, and an impossible goal for those who feel they can only provide value by being perfect. No human being is capable of perfection, and if you aim for it, you’re always doomed to fail, and your self-esteem will take a hit at every turn. So instead of trying to be perfect, strive to do your personal best and learn and grow from any mistakes you make.
4. Manage Stress
Stress is a common cause of overthinking. The more stressed out you are, the more muddled and anxious your thoughts can become, opening the door to some serious rumination. This is especially true in our bustling, modern world!
It’s no surprise, then, that stress management is such a valuable tool to learn. Managing your stress will help you stay calmer, preventing rumination and fighting the risk of overthinking. The next time you start to overthink, immediately distract yourself by utilizing stress management tips, such as the following:
Meditation encourages you to clear your mind, allowing your overthinking thoughts to make their way out. Just five minutes of meditation can help to quiet a noisy and ruminating mind. You can also couple this with mindfulness by tuning into your senses and learning to stay grounded in the present when you meditate – a practice that you can also put to work in your everyday life outside of meditation. Try a few guided meditation exercises and see how you like them!
Exercising allows you to expend a lot of stressed-out energy at once. Your brain can’t overthink when it’s focusing on getting your muscles oxygenated enough to handle whatever physical stress you’re putting on your body. When you’re done with your workout, you’ll find that you feel calmer thanks to positive hormone release and have worked off a lot of stress. Any moderate-to-intense exercise will do, even one that takes five minutes to complete.
· Spend Time In Nature
Just walking in a park for 5 minutes can be a relief to your central nervous system. Research has shown that the brain relaxes and becomes cognitively sharper after spending a little time getting back to basics with greenery. If you can’t quickly get to a place filled with nature, consider buying a plant (or a few) to decorate your space with, whether that’s your home space or working space. You can also play nature-themed ambient sounds to calm yourself down when the overthinking starts.
No one wants to find themself in a cycle of rumination and overthinking. By postponing negative thoughts, developing awareness of triggering thoughts, managing your self-esteem, and learning to handle stress, you’ll be able to better tackle rumination and finally give your brain a break from overthinking.