You can’t stop replaying that conversation with a coworker — or mulling over your impending presentation again and again, imagining everything that could go wrong. You’re officially overthinking. We’ve all been there, but we also know that it’s in our best interest to stop. Research has shown that overthinking actually makes it more difficult to solve problems, and has been linked to issues like anxiety. But how do you free yourself from an intense thought spiral?
We asked our Thrive contributor community for their best in-the-moment tips for reigning in churning thoughts. Their clever, inventive suggestions did not disappoint! Which of these will you try?
Swipe your thoughts away like they’re on Tinder
“When I am overthinking, I imagine my thoughts as being profiles on Tinder, the dating app. For each thought I do not wish to have, I swipe right, saying, ‘no, no, no way, Nooooo.’ I actually swipe my hand in front of my face too, as though I am physically doing the action.”
—Darren Horne, educator and consultant, Cumbria, UK
Send well-wishes to three people in your life
“I close my eyes and visualize three people: it can be a stranger in front of me, friends, or family, and I’ll send my prayers to them. Wishing that their days will be good, that their dreams will come true, and that they will be able to come home safe. Doing this makes me feel happier and lighter, and I know that I contribute to people’s lives in some way and forget my own problems.”
—Shabrina Koeswologito, writer, New York, NY
Do the next best thing
“When I catch myself overthinking, I stop what I’m doing and I take a deep breath in and out. I remind myself of a simple quote I’d read: ‘do the next best thing one step at a time.’ It helps me pause on the million and one things I’m doing and worrying about, so that I can channel my energy and focus on one thing at a time.”
—Aleks Slijepcevic, project coordinator, Newark, DE
Take an objective stance
“For me, objectivity is generally my approach of choice. I step back and try not to judge the situation from my perspective (or at all) by saying things like, ‘if I was hearing this from a friend, what would I say?’ or, ‘if I didn’t know anything about this situation, what would make sense to consider first?,’ or ‘what’s noise and what’s really connected to the facts of the issue?’ Noise in this sense is my emotions, feelings and beliefs. Looking at the situation as objectively as possible helps me tackle things in a more simple manne and free myself from old habits and behaviors.”
—Andrea Raggambi, leadership development trainer and coach, Washington, DC
Visualize a mental stop sign
“Imagine a stop sign. If you’re obsessively thinking about something, it’s just a habit. You can develop a new habit for when you start to fall down that overthinking well. Imagine a stop sign, which is telling you — with love — that you need to stop and make a turn to more productive, helpful thoughts. If your monkey mind won’t let it go, schedule five uninterrupted minutes for non-stop overthinking. Arrive on time for your ‘meeting’ with yourself. Set a timer for five minutes. Have at it! Outside of those five minutes, let that stop sign be your friend.”
—Bridget Fonger, author, Los Angeles, CA
Reach for your “mindful rock”
“I have a small rock that I found on the beach that I carry in my pocket. Every time I reach into my pocket for my keys or anything else, I’ll notice the mindful rock. I pull it out, and focus on it (like a meditation) for a few moments to reground myself in the moment. It’s strangely effective. It’s also a bit scary how tempting it is to lose focus for even a moment while looking at the little pebble.”
—Jonathan Maxim, creative agency founder, Los Angeles, CA
Ask yourself how long this will matter
“I stop and ask myself if this thing will matter in 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years. If the answer is no, I know that I am overthinking, and I refuse to let my mind do this to me. If the issue at hand will matter, I know that I need to journal, pray, and consult the important people in my life. It seems to take the pressure off me for little nagging issues that come up from time to time that if left unchecked can become bigger issues when they shouldn’t be.”
—Jo Ann Burkhalter, business owner and writer, Atlanta, GA
“I use The S.T.U.C.K. Method when I find myself stuck on overthinking.
S: Stop. Take a pause. Redirect your mind to your breath.
T: Tell. Tell yourself what emotion you are stuck on (anxiety, perhaps?) and allow yourself to actually feel that emotion.
U: Uncover. Make a list of the thoughts on your mind. Then, investigate the validity of them, one by one. Ask yourself: “Is this thought 100% true?”
C: Consider. Recognize what other viewpoints to your situation can you consider? (This is where you get unstuck from overthinking!)
K: OK. Hold yourself in self-compassion for having had gotten stuck on overthinking in the first place.”
—Shira Gura, well-being coach and author, Israel
Heading to the beach bar in your mind
“Every time my mind starts going over the same things again and again, I automatically pause and go to my ‘safe place.’ It’s a beach bar placed in a small bay in Chalkidiki, Greece. I picture myself sitting in the bar, gazing at the sea. I can almost feel the breeze in my face. That does it!”
—Ioanna Lambrou, law and banking, Thessaloniki, Greece
Tap into your “nature neurons”
“When things are overwhelming, whether work or home, I realize the best thing for me is a breath of fresh air. Simply stepping out into nature for a moment helps clear my head. Spending more time outdoors nurtures our ‘nature neurons’ and our natural creativity. For example, at the University of Michigan, researchers demonstrated that after just an hour interacting with nature, memory, performance, and attention spans improved by 20 percent. I clear my head of technology and clutter to breathe in the great outdoors, watch a cloud float by, smell the fresh cut grass or even watch an ant carry a leaf. Just this little moment in nature, and the world seems clearer.”
—Vanessa Boshoff, film producer, Bozeman, MT
Take it back to the ‘80s
“When I’m overthinking and on the verge of a brain spiral, I reach for my playlist, travel back with 80s dance hits, and get on my trampoline! ‘99 Red Balloons’ and I’m in the zone. ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ give me an endorphin release. Every cell in my body is oxygenated and a new high replaces the uncertainty. This is my go-to remedy: five minutes of crazy to create the calm. My reset is complete.”
—Suzannah Galland, life advisor and relationship expert, Los Angeles, CA
Recite Your ABCs
“To stop myself from overthinking and getting overwhelmed, I use my ABCD process:
1) Ask ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ — When you answer this you realize that the worst thing is really not that bad.
2) Make a Plan B — After you’ve determined the worst thing you can counter it by coming up with Plan B (and even C if you want to feel more at ease).
3) Create a To-Do List — Write out all the things you need to do today then cross out the things you don’t actually need to do today. Of what’s left, prioritize your list.
4) Do it — Move down your priority list, focusing on ONE thing at a time (no multitasking).”
—Lydia Di Francesco, wellness consultant, Ottawa, CA
Imagine the Earth under your feet
“When life gets overwhelming and spirally, I like to visualize the lush earth grounding me as I imagine roots growing from my feet all the way to the core of the earth. Then I anchor into my heartspace by placing my hands in prayer position at the center of my chest, and pushing into my body gently with my hands. Finally, I reaffirm how deeply and completely I trust in life, in divine timing, and in my powerful and calm intuition.”
—Kris Franken, spiritual writer, Sydney, AU
Say “What if?”
“Rumination, anxiety, and negativity can find anyone. I’ve found the best remedy is to actually walk myself though the worst scenario in my head or with a friend. If I am nervous for a test or a serious conversation — I say, so what if I failed or it doesn’t go well? Each and every time, I find that I will be fine. Life goes on. This settles my thoughts and leads me to be more positive and find a solution to any problem.”
—Elizabeth Tsachres, health educator, San Carlos, CA
When in doubt, turn to Oprah
“Don’t worry about things you can’t control. I’ve known these seven words as long as I can remember, thanks to my dad. This single sentence — and probably genetics — are the reason I tend to let things go so easily. But, when negatives thoughts creep in (because they always do), I’ve been known to give myself a pep talk on my 30-minute commute to work. Listening to Oprah’s Master Class podcast, or a good cycling or yoga session can also do the trick. Most of the time I just settle a mental breakdown by saying, ‘I’m not an open-heart surgeon and no one’s life is at stake here.’ The idea that nothing is more important than mine or my loved ones’ health and happiness usually puts things in perspective. If all else fails, I look at the print hanging in my bathroom that says, ‘Don’t worry, don’t hurry. Just do your best and flush the rest.’”
—Ali Hernandez, public relations, Indianapolis, IN
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