When an interaction or conversation doesn’t go your way, you’ll often walk away from the situation physically, but mentally, you continue to replay it. Holding onto those anxious thoughts can make you feel like you’re walking around with extra weight on your shoulders, and all of the overthinking you’re doing can take a real toll on your mental health.
We asked our Thrive community to share with us the small ways they avoid overthinking. Which of these strategies will you try?
Practice “thought stopping”
“I find that overthinking can make me anxious, and one way to begin to troubleshoot this form of anxiety is to engage in a technique called ‘thought stopping.’ When you realize your mind is about to play into several catastrophic scenarios, close your eyes and visualize a stop sign. Then begin to think of something that brings you peace. The goal is to distract your mind from focusing on the negative pattern, thus reframing your thinking.”
—Marjorie Cooper-Smith, MSW, LICSW, psychotherapist, Washington, D.C.
Take a mini nature break
“When I find myself caught in the overthinking trap, I know it’s time to get outside for fresh air. I take multiple outdoor walking breaks throughout the day to ease the inertia from working at home all day. When I get outside, I pay close attention and listen for the sounds of birds happily chirping their way through the day. I make the happy sound of birds the focus of my walk and time outside. Before I know it, my mind is no longer looping around worried thoughts. These mini breaks always help me reset and continue on my day feeling more hopeful and happier.”
—Emily Madill, author and certified professional coach, Nanaimo, B.C., Canada
Tap into a creative hobby
“I find that what works best for me is tapping into my creativity, either through writing, listening to music, or simply talking to a friend. I usually write poems about life and about hope, which helps me take control of my thoughts. Music has a way of putting me in a very peaceful state, especially songs that reflect a beautiful memory. And lastly, talking to a friend about my thoughts and receiving encouraging words can be healing and help shift my perspective.”
—Victor Dekom, guidance counselor, Jos Plateau State, Nigeria
Pause and look up
“When I start overthinking things, I look up. There’s a reason we look to the sky when we need to remember something, or when we need a little more time to think and respond. The simple act of looking up releases a chemical in our brain that helps us become more imaginative, more creative, and more open to possibilities. Most importantly, noticing something outside of ourselves gets us out of our heads and brings us back to the present moment to instantly intercept the cycle of rampant thoughts crowding our minds and causing stress.”
—Mandy Antoniacci, author and creator of The Daily Uplift™, New York, N.Y.
Give yourself a pep talk
“When I catch myself overthinking, I say out loud, ‘Stop it, Holly.’ This is a good cue to stop and pause. The body and mind listen. I then combat my overthinking with one question: ’Is there anything that can be done about this now?’ It takes me from rumination to action. It’s hard to think about two things at once so I switch from passive thinking to active thinking. Almost every time I ask myself this question, there is at least one small action I can take so I can release the need to overthink.”
—Holly Krivo, decision coach, Austin, TX
Identify your intention
“When I find myself overthinking a situation, I go back to my anchor word: intention. For something that’s occurred, it’s helpful to ask, ‘What was my intention? Is an apology or clarification in order?’ And for something in the future, it’s calming to start with, ‘How do I want to show up? What is the desired outcome I want out of this interaction?’ Either in reactive or proactive mode, I find it incredibly grounding to think about my intention. It’s a calming way to navigate away from overthinking.”
—Donna Peters, executive coach, former senior consulting partner, Atlanta, GA
Take a moment to ground yourself
“Overthinking usually happens when I can’t see the forest through the trees. Changing my state is key. First, I start with something to help ground me: deep breathing, meditating, brisk walking, or even showering. Next, I am kind to myself. ‘You are smart enough, savvy enough, determined enough’. Next, I’ll remind myself of the outcome I am looking for and outline the steps that will get me there. Finally, and this is most important, I act immediately. Once I take action, I feel confident that I will overcome the moment.”
—Erika MacMillan, VP sales, Boston, MA
Look at the ocean
“I have been going through a divorce, so I have a lot of experience with overthinking. I work from home and live five minutes from the beach. I will head there two or three times a day to simply stare at the ocean or do some beach combing. It changes my mindset instantly and helps me stop overthinking things.”
—Natalie Brobin, writer, Oceanside, CA
Consider the worst-case scenario
“My method to stop overthinking is to think of the worst-case scenario that I am worried about and come up with a solution for that. Sometimes we ruminate and overthink because we get caught in the cycle of ‘what ifs,’ unintentionally adding more problems. Because stress is our body’s response to the feeling that we don’t have enough resources to handle the problems at hand, ruminating always adds to our stress and compounds the feeling of overwhelm. By finding a solution to the worst-case scenario, not only do you cut the cycle of overthinking, but you’re also able to shift your perspective and take control.”
—Ellen Wong, founder of The Joy Avenue, Toronto, ON, Canada
Focus on a potential solution
“During the past few years, I realized that thinking about the same thing over and over with the same scenarios in my head only led to negative thoughts, so I decided to change my perspective. Instead of dwelling on my thoughts, I started to look for solutions. To be fair, I didn’t always find solutions to my problems; however, even just the idea of thinking about potential solutions made me get out of that endless cycle of overthinking. My one tip here is to understand that there is no good outcome from negative thoughts, so why waste your time with it when you can find solutions?”
—Murs Alison, influencer, New York, N.Y.
Stay up to date or catch up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.