It is human to think. It human to even overthink sometimes. However, overthinking can have serious consequences on your wellbeing. Calming down your thoughts when they seem to be spiralling out of control is no easy task but you can do it! Keep on reading to find out all about the psychology of overthinking and how to stop thinking too much!
What is rumination? Rumination is the replaying memories in your head and letting negative thoughts take over interferes with your ability to solve present-time problems. It is also the number one depression booster. In addition, it's been suggested that constantly engaging in negative thinking leads to the loss of social support, which further fuels depression.
The difference between worry and rumination While worrying and rumination were found to be correlated to each other, there is a big difference between these two concepts. Worry is connected to the future, rumination on the hand takes into account past events. Rumination can often be masked behind problem-solving tendencies and motivation to gain insight. It is necessary to engage in self-reflexion if we want to gain insight in the first place, however taking it to an extreme can be dangerous.
Imagine you are about to deliver a presentation in front of a hundred people. You can worry about whether it will go well or you may worry about how the people will look at you when you forget your lines. You worry about something, which has not happened yet and perhaps will not even happen at all.
Now imagine, you did the presentation and it went pretty well but you did forget your line at one point. You ruminating about it will mean dissecting every single moment of the presentation and filling up your minds with thoughts such as “I am such an idiot… Why didn’t I prepare more?” or “Surely everyone thinks I am stupid now.”
Viewing mistakes as a learning experience The problem with worrying and rumination as coping strategies is that they are not constructive. Worrying about something, which may not even occur in the first place is wasted energy. Similarly to rumination, in which case negative thoughts about past events prevent you from moving forward. A better approach would be looking at the past as a learning experience. Rather than mentally beating yourself up for everything you’ve done or said wrong, ask yourself “What can I learn from it?” and move on.
How often do you engage in rumination? Think about how often you engage in the following activities. If a lot of these sound familiar to you, you might be on your way to becoming a master ruminator:
- I often think about how alone I feel
- I often think about my feelings of fatigue
- I often think "What am I doing to deserve this?"
- I often think about how unmotivated I feel
- I often analyse recent events and try to understand why I am depressed
- I often go away by myself and think about why I feel this way
- I often think about how sad I feel
- I often think about all my shortcomings, failings, faults and mistakes
- I often think about how angry I am with myself
How to stop overthinking?
Step 1 Notice that your engaging in negative thinking and give your state a name by telling yourself “I am overthinking right now”.
Step 2 A success guarantying strategy is using pleasant or neutral distractions to life your spirits and occupy your mind. Only when you feel like your mood is better, start with solving the actual problem. Going out of your house, meeting someone or working on an exciting project will surely do the trick. A constructive activity in keeping your mind off the negative track will also make it less likely for you too engage in self-destructive behaviour such as drinking alcohol, overeating or drug abuse.
Another great coping strategy when it comes to overthinking is mediation. Giving yourself a couple of minutes everyday to process everything that is going on with you is a real life hack! Turn on some relaxing music or simply sit in silence and let your thoughts pass through your mind. Accept them as they come and let them move on.
The ability to reflect upon ourselves helps us to improve and make decisions. Thinking is what helped us successfully evolve into the society we are today. There is, however, a fine line between thinking and overthinking. Learning how to cope with your own thoughts and emotions will enrich your life and make you a stronger person. Sometimes, it’s good to let go of all the thinking and simply accept to live life as it comes.