How to Stop Overthinking and Relieve Anxiety?

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Are you suffering from anxiety and overthinking everything?

Perhaps you're also wondering:

  • Is overthinking part of anxiety?
  • Does anxiety make you overthink?
  • Is overthinking a sign of anxiety?

The answer is "YES" to all of these. There is a strong link between anxiety and overthinking.

Excessive worrying is a major symptom of anxiety disorders and it's common for people struggling with anxiety to incessantly worry, over-analyze and have irrational thoughts. 

To make things worse, overthinking triggers more anxiety, stress, or dread, heightening anxiety symptoms even more.

So, it’s a vicious cycle – overthinking can be both a cause and a symptom of anxiety.

In most cases, when we overthink, we are either worrying about why something happened in the past or what might happen in the future, which means that we are not in the present moment.

To stop overthinking and relieve anxiety we have to become aware of our thoughts, questions our thoughts, look for possible solutions solutions, regularly express our emotions and practice being in the moment.

I struggled with chronic anxiety for 20 years and overthinking everything was one of my biggest issues, I felt debilitated by my thoughts. So, I completely understand that it is not easy.

But even though I didn't stop overthinking overnight, with practice I managed to successfully overcome chronic anxiety and overthinking.

In this article I share the techniques that have worked for me because I am confident these will help you too. 

Most people overthink from time to time.

If it is controllable and happens sometimes, then it’s not a problem.

But overthinking is an issue if it’s uncontrollable or happens often.

There are people who have levels of overthinking that are just pathological,” says clinical psychologist Catherine Pittman, an associate professor in the psychology department at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.

What is Overthinking?

Overthinking involves two negative thought patterns – constantly ruminating about the past or incessantly worrying about the future.

“So often people confuse overthinking with problem-solving,” says clinical psychologist Helen Odessky, Psy. D. the author of “Stop Anxiety from Stopping You”.

But overthinking and problem-solving involve two completely different mindsets.

Problem-solving is about finding a solution while overthinking involves dwelling on the problem. “We just sort of go in a loop… We’re not really solving a problem” says Odessky.

Overthinking is unproductive and can stop you from getting anything done.

What’s more, overthinking everything can be destructive and mentally draining.

It can leave you feeling restless, irritable, and jumpy, and overthinkers are more susceptible to anxiety and depression.

What are Signs of Anxiety and Overthinking?

Overthinking signs and symptoms include a lot of common anxiety signs. 
  • Dwelling on what happened in the past
  • Obsessing over what you should say or do/should have said or done/did say or do/didn’t say or do
  • Rehashing conversations in your mind that you had with other people
  • Reliving embarrassing moments in your mind
    Incessantly worrying what other people think of you and whether you look bad
  • Comparing yourself to others, and worrying about how you measure up to them
  • Asking “what-if” questions in your mind and considering what could happen in a variety of circumstances
  • Running negative thoughts and worries at night
  • Excessive worrying about the future
  • Irrational fears – expecting the worst to happen and dreading future events
  • Deliberating when making a decision and then second-guessing every decision you make
  • Reading into the smallest of details
  • Looking for hidden meanings in the things people say or do
  • Attempting to read minds
  • Wanting to control everything and spending a lot of time worrying about things you cannot control
  • Nervousness, restlessness, and feeling agitated
  • Fatigue
  • Tension headaches and migraines
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping and insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Talking yourself out of social situations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Stomach problems
  • Why is it Hard to Stop Overthinking Everything?

    Overthinking is a mental habit and like all habits, they are challenging to break.

    Think about common addictions such as alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, painkillers, cocaine, heroin, gambling, and sex – it’s challenging to give up any of these once you are hooked.

    Mental habits work in the same way.

    Once we get into the habit of overthinking, we have to retrain the brain to think differently.

    This is unlikely to happen overnight, but habits don’t have to be permanent.

    You can successfully change the way you think with practice.

    As a former chronic overthinker, I know this from experience.

    How to Stop Overthinking and Relieve Anxiety?

    The following 7 ways are how I retrained my mind to stop overthinking, which helped me tremendously with my anxiety.

    Start slowly, introduce one or two techniques at a time, and observe how you progress.

    1. Schedule an “Overthinking Time”

    At the peak of my overthinking, I spent hours, evenings, and weekends thinking too much, leaving very little time for anything else!

    The first step I made to stop overthinking was to manage the amount of time I spend doing it.

    For example, schedule 20-30 minutes of “overthinking time” in your daily calendar.

    This will help you postpone your worrying and also limits the amount of time you do it.

    If you can, choose the same time every day.

    I preferred to have my ‘overthinking time’ early in the morning because I would have a less anxious rest of the day but see what works for you.

    During this set time allow yourself to think about whatever you want.

    Let yourself,

    • Worry
    • Ruminate
    • Read into the smallest detail
    • and so, on.

    But when the time is up, move on.

    The easiest way to move on is to focus on something else.

    For example, go for a walk, exercise, play some music – anything that helps you shift your attention in a positive way.

    2. Catch Yourself

    For years, I thought thinking too much was part of my personality and something that I’m always going to do.

    It took me years before I understood that it is in fact a habit that can be broken.

    The thing is until we realize we are doing something and when we are doing it, it is very hard to stop.

    Once I realized I had an overthinking problem but that I could also change this, I became more aware of my thoughts and made every effort to catch myself doing it.

    Going forward I highly recommend that you practice doing the same – pay attention to your thoughts to see when you start to overthink.

    You can set the following intention each morning:

    I set the intention to become aware of my thoughts.

    The moment you notice you’ve started overthinking, use one of the below techniques.

    3. Interrupt Overthinking

    As an ex-overthinking addict, I know that when you are struggling with overthinking you can’t seem to get enough of it!

    It is very likely that you are engaging in overthinking for most of the day.

    To change focus, you need to interrupt your overthinking.

    Think of this as changing the channel in your brain.

    This is best done by engaging in a completely different activity – to which your mind will have to focus on instead.

    • Play your favorite song, or your favorite funny video
    • call a friend
    • walk around your garden/ building
    • make a to-do list
    • anything that involves changing focus in your brain

    4. Look for a Solution

    Trying to come up with a solution, is a great way to shift the mind from an overthinking loop.

    During my heavy period of overthinking, I rarely looked for solutions. I guess I felt justified in all the things I was overthinking about.

    But when I started to engage in problem-solving, I was amazed at how many things were solvable.

    Some things are always going to be out of your control, but other things have potential solutions.

    The next time you catch yourself overthinking, think about whether this is a potentially solvable problem.

    If it is potentially solvable, challenge yourself to identify potential solutions.

    For example, convert, “I’ll never find a job” to “What can I do to apply for a job?”

    Or convert “Everyone hate’s me” to “How can I love myself more?”

    5. Express Your Thoughts

    I can’t begin to tell you how much journaling has helped over the years.

    As a highly sensitive person who constantly wants to express my emotions, journaling has been always one of my favorite and most effective anxiety relief techniques.

    I love expressing my thoughts in a journal so much that I still do it today!

    Some benefits of journaling include:

    • You can express your thoughts freely without worrying what someone else might say or think about you
    • Everything you say will be kept confidential
    • When you write things down, over time you’ll start to notice patterns in your thoughts, actions, and reactions. This will become invaluable information in helping you change your bad habits.

    Write down your thoughts in a journal every evening before bed or first thing in the morning. Don’t worry about writing them in any order. Simply write down everything that’s on your mind in that moment. Think of it as a ‘brain dump’.

    Set yourself some journaling time every day.

    If you don’t have much time, you can always combine your journaling time and overthinking time into one. In other words, use your those 20 minutes of overthinking time to write down your worries in your journal.

    6. Question Your Thoughts

    I learned to question all my thoughts after I attended one of Byron Katie’s workshops.

    Byron is such a wonderful teacher who shows us that questioning our negative thoughts and beliefs, can help us to turn them around.

    For example, consider the following thought/belief

    • I am not good at anything.

    To accept this statement as true, we need to look at the evidence.

    • What evidence do you have that your thought is true?
    • What evidence do you have that your thought isn’t true?

    Now for a moment, turn that thought around:

    • I am good at everything
    • I am good at something

    Consider if you have any evidence to help you believe these statements instead,

    • What evidence do you have that your thought is true?
    • What evidence do you have that your thought isn’t true?

    7. Return to the Present

    As mentioned above, when we’re overthinking, we are either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, which means that we are not in the present moment.

    Another technique to help you stop overthinking and relieve anxiety is to practice returning to the present moment.

    The easiest way to return to the present moment is to practice deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

    Here’s a simple meditation exercise to get you started.

    • Find a quiet place
    • Sit comfortably, either on a chair or cushion, with your back straight.
    • Rest your hands on the tops of your upper legs – with your palms facing upwards.
    • Close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose. Allow the air to flow into your lower belly. Expand your abdomen fully.
    • Breathe out through your mouth.
    • Focus on your breathing, as you inhale and exhale.
    • When your mind starts to wander, return your focus to your breathing with no judgment.
    • You can also count your breathing, in the beginning, to help you focus. Breathe in on 4 counts / breathe out on 4 counts. Repeat a few times and then breathe in and out at your own pace.
    • Try to meditate 3 or 4 times per week for 10-15 minutes per day.

    Final Thoughts on Anxiety and Overthinking Everything

    Although it's normal to feel anxious and overthink from time to time, if you are overthinking everything, worrying excessively or irrationally, and have been like this for a period of time then this is far normal and it is best to do something about it.

    Some of the most effective techniques to stop overthinking and relieve anxiety is to limit your daily "overthinking time", regularly express your emotions, question your worries, look for solutions and train the mind to stay focused on the present moment. 

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    I'm a Heart-Based Life Coach for Gentle Anxiety Sufferers. After two decades of chronic anxiety and self-hate, I managed to conquer both, and experience a huge spiritual transformation in the process. This incredible journey inspired me to pursue my dreams and help other gentle anxiety sufferers. I’m not a mental health professional, but I’m someone who has studied intensively about anxiety and achieved success with everything I learned. If you’re a gentle soul who is struggling with anxiety and would like my help, I’d love to coach you. Check out my free and paid coaching services.

    Latest posts by Sandra Glavan, Life Coach for Gentle Anxiety Sufferers (see all)

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