Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” – Opening lines of “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, Poet and writer (1872-1945)
In our busy and stressful lives, many people dwell on past mistakes and imperfections and worry about how these earlier events might frustrate the present and complicate the future. When these behaviors persist, a person must learn how to stop overthinking and relax. The act of overthinking is when a person replays and deconstructs past events, constantly second guesses themselves, and anticipates that only the worst scenario will play out in the future.
15 Steps on How to Stop Overthinking and Relax
1. Gain Awareness of Your Actions
The first step in learning how to stop overthinking and negative thoughts involves gaining an awareness of your actions. If you do not believe you are obsessing or overthinking about an issue, you will not see the value of the remainder of the steps in this healing process.
If you notice that you have pondered an issue for what seems to be a long period of time, consider if these thoughts are constructive and analytical or unproductive ruminations. Have you noticed any physical tensions or stress that accompanies these thoughts? If so, carefully review the remaining steps.
2. Separate Thoughts from Facts
An effective way for how to stop overthinking and relax requires you to separate subjective thoughts from objective facts. If you spend many hours thinking of yourself as a “terrible worker” or “poor parent,” your mind will repeatedly take the original subjective thought and place or reinforce it in other areas of your life.
Reframe these issues with the facts, data, or information you have at your disposal. Ruminating that you are an “awful boss” solves nothing; taking a step back, examining evidence that both supports and challenges this contention, and remembering that emotions often make it difficult to evaluate situations in an objective manner will help you separate clouded perceptions from clear reality.
3. Solve Problems that You Can Solve
When you notice yourself overthinking some situation, try to evaluate why you have started to worry about this matter. Is the issue something you have the ability to solve, or are your efforts alone not enough to address the problem? Many of us care about those suffering from abuse, pain, and hunger, but worrying endlessly about thousands of people thousands of miles away will not improve their situation.
Act in constructive ways by solving problems that you can address. For larger or distant situations, such as catastrophes or natural disasters, think about small steps you can take to help bring an end to this larger problem.
4. Set Aside Time to Worry, then Move Forward
If you experience difficulty trying to break the habit of overthinking, put strict time boundaries in place. Refrain from defining these limits as some sort of punishment. Instead, allocate a period of maybe 15 to 20 minutes in your daily schedule as “worry time” or “thinking time” when you permit yourself to ruminate.
Similar to a diet, exercise program, or any other behavioral change, you need to adhere to this schedule. Consider the brief reflections and ruminations as a time when you can worry or mull over things. When the time period ends, move onto other aspects of your life.
5. Find Enjoyable Distractions
Whenever possible, seek enjoyable distractions to keep yourself occupied when ruminations appear on the horizon. Sing a song, play some music, or find a creative outlet that allows you to express yourself without pondering deep questions.
In some circumstances, you may be unable to tap into these enjoyable distractions because overthinking happens while on the clock. In those situations, if possible, try to have an ongoing project or task that focuses on more creative endeavors. If nothing else, quietly sing a favorite song under your breath to change focus.
6. Revisit and Repeat the Thoughts
One example of how to stop overthinking your life and start living is to reschedule issues that come to mind during a moment of overthinking into your next scheduled “worry time.” By doing this, you tell yourself that you are not dismissing the thought, just addressing it during the appropriate time.
When you revisit the thought, try to summarize the issue in a few significant words. Repeat them over and over again until the concept begins to bore you. Repeatedly ask yourself why this rumination is significant and soon it should fade.
7. Get Active to Refocus
If the desire to ruminate persists, put your body and senses to work. Get up, stretch, and take a short walk. Do a few jumping jacks. Smell an onion. Make some popcorn. Do things that engage your body or senses.
By moving around or focusing on activities that get your senses in high gear, you move your mind away from the deep thought of the moment. Hobbies offer another excellent form of distraction.
8. Change Your Scenery
If the thoughts persist and the weather is nice, step outside and enjoy a little fresh air and nature. The combination of physical activity with different scenery should help to lower your anxiety.
When poor weather or other conditions (such as being in your office cubicle) make a short visit outdoors impossible, try to enjoy a few moments thinking about a favorite trip or place that you visited. Sing to yourself as you do.
9. Change the Channel or Turn It Off
Noise surrounding you can increase stress and frustration. Whether gossip, unhappy news on television, or the drama of online social media, too much time listening may get you overthinking yourself into a trench.
An excellent approach for how to stop overthinking and relax involves limiting your time on social media. If a news event upsets you, change the channel or turn off the radio or television and do something different.
10. Abandon the Imperfect Concept of Perfectionism
Join the rest of the world in celebrating your perfectly unique self and all of its imperfections. Striving for the ideal is unreal and will make you reel in anguish and frustration.
Rather than seeking a perfect solution, accept that mistakes are part of life. Regret them, learn from them, and move forward rather than wait for a perfect situation that will never appear.
11. Take Care of What You Can at This Time
Spending too much time ruminating over past memories or worrying about what might happen in the future takes you away from the world presently around you. If you can learn mistakes from past misfortunes or experiences, do so and let them go.
Address those things in the present you can control. For other things, consider the best way to cope with them.
12. Tap into Your Support Network
When incidents of overthinking persist and regularly creep beyond your scheduled “worry time” look to your support network. Talk with family and friends. If they cannot offer support, consider a mental health counselor or professional who can address feelings of anxiety that seem to consume you.
Managing anxiety requires persistent effort. Do not tackle overwhelming problems single-handedly.
13. Acknowledge and Reflect upon Your Thoughts
Another strategy for how to stop overthinking and relax has you jotting down your recurring thoughts and what seemed to trigger them. Document the thought, record the circumstances surrounding it, and how you feel at that moment.
Review these notes to see if you can identify painful points that trigger them. Give them perspective: What is the most likely scenario if these thoughts come to fruition?
14. Compose and Organize Your Thoughts in a Journal
When ruminations persist, transfer the thoughts from your brain to paper or a digital document. Journaling allows you to record your thoughts and get them from your mind to a place you can refer to them, if the need arises.
Journals may remain personal and confidential. Set aside some of your “worry time” to review your journal, if necessary.
15. Consider the Value of Mindfulness and Meditation
Focus on the present moment through mindfulness and meditation. Although the skills of deep belly breathing and imbibing in the present moment take practice, the mental and physical benefits make this an alternative worth considering.
Meditating and devoting your attention to the here and now lets you get away from thinking of the past and future. Similar to the “worry time” you may have scheduled, consider adding these practices to your daily routine.
Something to Think About, but Not Overthink About
“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Closing lines of “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, Poet and writer (1872-1945)
There is a difference between thinking about earlier events and endlessly ruminating over them. When a person overthinks a situation, they focus on negative events from the past and prophesize an uncomfortable future. To break this pattern, one must learn how to stop overthinking and relax.
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