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Do you overthink everything? Do you want to know how to calm your mind from overthinking?
Overthinking can become a harmful cycle if you don’t do anything to stop it. Eventually, your anxiety will negatively affect your mental and physical well-being if not treated.
If you want to stop dwelling and start living, check out how to calm your mind from overthinking below.
What Is Overthinking and What Causes It?
The Mountain Is You by Brianna Wiest argues that overthinking stems from self-sabotaging behaviors that your brain develops in an attempt to protect you from your fears. For example, if you fear being alone, you may avoid this fear with the self-sabotaging tactic of staying in abusive relationships. If you fear failure, you may avoid this fear with the self-sabotaging tactic of never applying for the jobs you truly want. If you fear being disliked, you may avoid this fear with the self-sabotaging tactic of pretending to be someone you’re not.
You tend to develop unhealthy fears when you lack the mental or emotional skills (ME skills) necessary to handle difficult situations—Wiest refers to ME skills as emotional intelligence and mental strength. For example, you may fear being alone if you lack the ME skills to independently satisfy your emotional needs. You may fear failure if you lack the ME skill of self-confidence. You may fear being disliked if you lack the ME skill of self-love and consequently desire external validation.
Wiest argues that these tactics you use to avoid your fears are self-sabotaging and cause you to overthink because they’re holding you back in life. You use them as a crutch to avoid difficult situations rather than developing the ME skills required to face them, which you must do to grow and achieve your life purpose.
Anxiety Causes Overthinking
Additionally, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman explains how overthinking is rooted in anxiety. Anxiety is a form of worrying, a kind of rehearsal of what could go wrong and potential ways we might deal with it.
The goal of worrying is to come up with solutions by anticipating danger before it occurs. Too often it turns into a chronic, repetitive thought process that goes on and on but never actually gets to a positive solution because it keeps picking up new worries.
Chronic anxiety is an emotional hijacking beyond our control: worries seem to come from nowhere or be inspired by nothing, they’re impervious to reason and cause the worrier to fixate on one or many anxiety-inducing topics.
There are generally two forms of anxiety:
- Cognitive anxiety is worrisome thoughts, usually triggered by language.
- Somatic anxiety is physiological symptoms of anxiety, triggered by images.
For example, insomniacs usually suffer from cognitive anxiety and not somatic anxiety, whereas those who have panic attacks usually suffer from somatic anxiety.
There are three different types of chronic anxiety:
- Fear-based anxiety fixates on a triggering situation.
- Obsession-based anxiety fixates on preventing a specific situation.
- Panic attacks usually fixate on a fear of dying or on the panic attack itself.
How to Stop Overthinking and Live in the Moment
Now that you know what overthinking is and where it comes from, it’s time to put it to an end. It will take time to get rid of the stubborn habit of worrying, but you’ll eventually overcome this anxiety.
Below, we’ve put together a list of six tactics that will help you calm your mind from overthinking.
The first step to stop overthinking is to take ownership of your self-sabotaging behavior. In The Mountain Is You, Wiest explains that you can determine whether you’re self-sabotaging by identifying everything in your life that you’re unhappy about and want to change. Then, create a list of the behaviors that are preventing you from making those changes—these behaviors are self-sabotage.
This exercise may not uncover all of the self-sabotaging behaviors that cause you to overthink, so Wiest suggests that you also consider whether any of the following situations are recurring themes in your life. If so, the behaviors that perpetuate them are probably forms of self-sabotage.
- You lack the commitment necessary to achieve goals or nurture relationships.
- You rely on others or society to guide your actions and goals because you worry you’ll fail.
Add the self-sabotaging behaviors that contribute to these themes to your list. Then, take accountability for your self-sabotage by acknowledging that you have the power to change your situation—even if that means leaving relationships, jobs, or security, or changing the way you think or act.
Focus on Solutions
By now you should have an idea of what’s causing you to overthink everything. It’s time to find the solution to your problems. Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living argues that you can lessen your worry by focusing on solutions rather than the problem itself. Analyzing your situation neutralizes negative emotions created by worry—such as fear, panic, or dread—by breaking worrisome situations down to their basic facts. This helps you to view your situation objectively and come up with solutions to resolve your concerns.
Carnegie suggests a three-step process to analyze and constructively resolve your worries: gather objective information, analyze your information, and take action to calm your worry.
Step 1: Gather Objective Information
Carnegie suggests gathering all the information you can about the situation to clarify exactly what you’re worried about. Otherwise, you’ll end up focusing on vague possibilities that cause you to overthink, keep you stuck on “what-ifs,” and lead you to base decisions on false information.
He stresses the importance of gathering all the facts, not just those that confirm your thinking. It’s often tempting to only seek out and use information that validates your assumptions, but this prevents you from seeing the situation from all sides and leads to uninformed decisions. On the other hand, gathering all the information allows you to consider the situation objectively and helps you face your worries constructively. To encourage objectivity, Carnegie suggests pretending you’re gathering facts for a friend or arguing a case in court.
Step 2: Analyze Your Information
Carnegie suggests writing out all your information so you can easily review and sort through all of the facts. Use the information to pin down exactly what you’re worried about—that is, define the situation you want to resolve. Then, ask yourself what you can do to resolve the situation. List all the possible solutions you can think of and decide which will have the best possible outcome.
Step 3: Take Action to Calm Your Worry
Once you’ve decided on a solution, Carnegie recommends taking immediate action. Delaying prolongs your worries and may give you time to second-guess yourself. On the other hand, taking immediate action focuses your energy on the solution and strengthens your confidence to follow through with it.
It’s important to note that taking immediate action doesn’t mean solving the entire problem at once—Carnegie suggests you start on what you can do.
TITLE: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
AUTHOR: Dale Carnegie
Focus One Day at a Time
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne advises you to take one day at a time when calming your mind from overthinking. Just as you learned to set expectations for your day, set the same expectations for your life.
- When you are leaving for a vacation and think, “This trip is going to be awesome,” you are setting the frequency for an awesome vacation. The universe will conspire to bring you people, circumstances, and events that make your vacation awesome.
- If you think, “This vacation cost a fortune. It better not be a disaster,” you’re thinking of all the ways it could be a disaster instead of how it will be great. How do you think that trip is going to go?
- If you think, “I’ll never become what I want,” you won’t.
- If you always feel like there is never enough time, realize that by always thinking and feeling that way, you have made sure there will never be enough time.
Time is an illusion. Believing you don’t have enough time, whether in the future or today, creates the consequences of rushing and carelessness. This then causes a cluttered mindset that’s overwhelmed with negative thoughts.
Rushing stems from fear: fear of being late or disruptive or thought irresponsible. When you rush, you are focused on those fears. The universe will bring more into your life that makes you need to rush. Your thoughts center around fear of the “or else” at stake if you don’t get done what you want. You start to do things quickly, instead of intentionally.
When you are rushing, simply stop and adjust your frequency. If you are chasing time, pull yourself off that frequency by saying, “I have all the time in the world,” because you do.
Make it a habit to create every aspect of your life by intentionally setting your thoughts on what you can do. Know that you have plenty of time to accomplish your goals, and you will.
TITLE: The Secret
AUTHOR: Rhonda Byrne
Get Enough Sleep
In Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker says that getting good sleep improves your brain health in three ways:
- Sleep improves long-term factual recall by securing memories for the long term and clearing out short-term memory to make room for new information.
- Sleep prunes memories worth forgetting.
- Sleep increases “muscle memory” or motor task proficiency.
Getting enough sleep also gives you a fresh start when you wake up. If you’re not getting a sufficient amount of sleep, you might be up all night overthinking and worrying. Let’s look at other ways sleep deprivation is harmful to your health.
How Sleep Deprivation Harms You
Walker goes on to explain three ways that sleep deprivation is harmful to the brain:
1. Sleep deprivation worsens attention and concentration. Performance progressively worsens with greater sleep deficit, which is especially harmful to those who are performing high-risk activities like driving.
2. Sleep deprivation worsens emotional control. Walker says that when you’re sleep deprived, your amygdala (the part of your brain that controls emotion) can run amok, leading to 60% more emotional reactivity. Sleep disruption is a common symptom of all mood disorders. However, sleep deprivation actually makes one-third of depression patients feel better.
How to Get Better Sleep
Now that you know how sleep helps you calm your mind from overthinking, you can implement practices to help you improve your sleep. Walker suggests the following actions:
- Keep the same waking and sleeping time each day. Erratic sleep schedules disrupt sleep quality.
- Practice sleep hygiene—lower bedroom temperature, reduce noise, reduce light.
- No alcohol, caffeine, exercise, or long naps before sleep.
- Eat a normal diet (not severe caloric restriction of below 800 calories per day). Avoid very high-carb diets (>70% of calories) since this decreases NREM and increases awakenings.
TITLE: Why We Sleep
AUTHOR: Matthew Walker
Talk to Someone About Your Problems
Talking to someone about your problems, rather than letting them build up inside, contributes to a healthier and longer life. Crucial Conversations says that suppressing negative emotions can lead to further problems down the road. The negative feelings we hold in and the emotional pain from unhealthy conversations slowly erode our health. It can lead to both minor and major health problems.
Share Your Stories
Express your emotions and problems in such a way that others will be receptive, encourage feedback, and be willing to alter your views or story when additional facts warrant. When caught up in unproductive emotions and actions, retrace them to the facts to test their accuracy.
This process can be broken down as follows, remembering the acronym STATE:
- Share your facts: Start with the least controversial.
- Tell your story: Explain what you’re beginning to conclude.
- Ask for others’ paths: Encourage others to share both their facts and their stories.
- Talk tentatively. State your story as a story (your opinion), not a fact.
- Encourage testing: Proactively seek opposing views, so you can test your theory against additional information.
By talking about the issues that are causing you to overthink your life, you’ll be releasing negative energy that you shouldn’t have in the first place.
TITLE: Crucial Conversations
AUTHOR: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, et al.
Try Bullet Journaling
According to Ryder Carroll in his book The Bullet Journal Method, another way to calm your mind from overthinking is to create a Bullet Journal, an organizational tool that helps you be intentional about how you spend your time and energy. It’s a system that archives your life—past, present, and future—tracking not only the day-to-day details but also your choices, your actions, and how you’ve changed over time.
Carroll claims that Bullet Journaling promises a fresh start to each day and reminds you that life is full of possibility—every day is a blank slate, and it’s up to you to make something of it.
Journaling aids you in two ways: getting organized and living in the present moment. Let’s discuss each of these in more detail.
According to Carroll, one of the main benefits of the Bullet Journal Method is that it can help you get organized, therefore eliminating the risk of you overthinking about disorganization. This is especially useful because there are so many possibilities vying for our attention that we simply don’t have the mental capacity to keep track of everything. In an attempt to manage it all, we resort to multitasking, which often results in spreading our notes, ideas, and reminders across any number of phone apps, sticky notes, dry-erase boards, and notebooks.
Fortunately, Carroll says, the Bullet Journal Method solves this problem by providing a single outlet to declutter your mind—and your desk. Additionally, because the method utilizes a notebook, it offers flexibility that technology can’t. Whereas tech tools either have an excess of features or narrow functionality, a notebook is customizable to your specific organizational needs.
Live in the Present
Another primary benefit of the Bullet Journal Method, according to Carroll, is that it encourages you to slow down and focus on the present moment. This is important because our endless distractions and urgency to keep busy make us feel like life is passing us by. We’ve become so consumed by our day-to-day lives that we’re now largely unaware of our surroundings, and that makes us worry that we’re missing out on life.
So how can the Bullet Journal Method help you slow down? Carroll says it’s by requiring you to write by hand. Because handwriting is less efficient than typing or dictating, it forces you to pay closer attention to what you’re writing and therefore changes the way you engage with what you’re writing about, whether that’s your thoughts or the world around you.
Carroll argues that by focusing on the here and now, you can build not only stronger self-awareness but also awareness of what’s going on around you, which helps you increase your productivity and clear your head.
TITLE: The Bullet Journal Method
AUTHOR: Ryder Carroll
It’s important to manage worrying habits so they don’t result in anxiety disorders. That being said, these techniques are long-term solutions to help calm your mind from overthinking. Practicing these techniques will bring you one step closer to living the worry-free life you deserve.
Did we miss any ways to calm your mind from overthinking? Let us know in the comments below!
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