How to Stop Overthinking

How to Stop Overthinking
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Written and verified by the psychologist Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 26 December, 2022

During the day, countless thoughts pass through your mind. This is completely normal as your mind is constantly working. However, you might have a tendency to overthink and have difficulty stopping these thoughts. Consequently, you enter into a mental loop that drains your energy. So, how do you stop overthinking?

It’s not easy because the more you try to stop thinking the more you think. For this reason, the first step we recommend is to silence your inner voice that’s telling you to stop thinking. Don’t try to fight your thoughts. Be aware of them, understand their reason for being, and try and put into practice some of the following ideas.

Overthinking: the thoughts that won’t leave you alone

Overthinking is known as ruminative thinking. It’s a habit that, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, 73 percent of adults between the ages of 23 and 35 suffer from and 52 percent of people between 45 and 55.

Another study led by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema of Yale University (USA) claims that many people who overthink believe they’re doing themselves a favor by ruminating. However, this isn’t the case because overthinking implies thinking about our own thoughts. It doesn’t lead us to solutions or conclusions (like logical thinking), but it means entering a ‘loop’ that causes us discomfort, anguish, and mental fatigue.

“Thinking too much leads to analysis paralysis. Thinking is important, but many use thinking as a means of avoiding action.”

-Robert Herjavek-

man thinking
Ruminating can be a form of avoidance.

How to stop overthinking

Overthinking can be an indication of high levels of anxiety. It’s a symptom you must address so that it doesn’t become a mental-emotional health problem over time.

There are some situations, mainly those in which you’re under a high level of stress, when overthinking is expected. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with it if it only occurs in specific situations. The problem occurs when you overthink all the time.

So, how do you stop overthinking? There are some exercises that you can put into practice that’ll be really helpful. Best of all, they’re extremely simple. That said, to achieve good results, you must be consistent in putting them into practice.

1. Pay attention to your thoughts

It isn’t easy to stop overthinking. Firstly, we suggest you identify the thoughts that send you into a loop of overthinking. You must stop paying attention to these thoughts and the way in which you tell yourself the stories of what’s happening. In this way, you can identify those that are causing you stress and anxiety.

It doesn’t mean you should avoid having them (that’s impossible), but that you let them flow. When you have recurring thoughts, give yourself time to pay attention to them and then let them go.

2. Focus on the here and now

The practice of meditation exercises has been shown to have excellent results in preventing overthinking. There’s a wide variety of these and you can choose the one that best suits your needs.

You don’t have to stop your day completely, or go to a distant mountain to meditate; you can do simple mindfulness exercises that are just as effective.

At some point during the day, try to pay conscious attention to everything you’re doing. Don’t think, but pay attention. For example, if you’re walking, focus on your steps, the noises in the environment, the smells, and the experience itself (defocus your mind).

3. The formula 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This mindfulness exercise will help you connect with the present moment and break out of your looping thoughts. Situate yourself in the present moment and try to think of five things you can see around you, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

Once you’ve identified each thing, feel it and focus solely on it. The objective of this strategy is to concentrate on the details of your environment and move away from your worries.

4. Thought stopping

Another strategy to stop overthinking, typical of cognitive behavioral therapy, is thought-stopping. It involves identifying the thought that leads you to the vicious circle of overthinking and finding a word, phrase, a small mantra, or a gesture that allows you to stop.

It can be a word like “stop” or an action like yanking a hair tie on your wrist. Everyone must find their own strategy. Once you say that word or carry out that action, you must start doing something to divert you from those thoughts. For example, cleaning, walking, calling someone, etc.

5. Saying thank you

Gratitude is one of the most valuable resources and it’s always at your fingertips. With gratitude, you focus on the positive, on what’s gone well for you, and on what you have.

This helps you to lower the pressure on yourself and helps your brain to rest a little and stop pushing itself to think about everything all the time.

6. Nature helps

Never underestimate the power that nature has to help you restore balance and move away from negativity. Indeed, taking a nature walk can help you focus on the present and put aside the constant thoughts of each situation.

Whenever you can, try to get away from the noise of the city for a while and get in contact with nature. You don’t need to go on long journeys. For example, a walk to a nearby park can be more than enough to make you feel good and help you focus on living, without having to overthink everything.

Woman enjoying nature
Nature walks help us connect with the present and reduce rumination.

How to stop overthinking in today’s world

Life today is hectic. According to the WHO, in 2019, up to 301 million people were suffering from an anxiety disorder and 280 million people had depression. Hardly surprising then that we all have a tendency to overthink. It’s worth bearing in mind that, in both of these disorders, ruminative and obsessive thoughts are common symptoms. That said, of course, you don’t have to suffer from one of these conditions to overthink.

Finally, overthinking is a really common problem in the stressful lives we lead today and it isn’t easy to tolerate. However, it’s possible to do so with some of the above-mentioned strategies. On the other hand, if you feel you can’t deal with your problems alone and they’re causing you significant discomfort, make sure you ask for professional help.

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Reduce Rumination and Worry
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  • Goldstein, E., & Stahl, B. (2016). El manual del mindfulness: prácticas diarias del programa de reducción del estrés basado en el mindfulness (MBSR). Editorial Kairós.
  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S. et al. (2008). Rethinking Rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.