Is it just me or have some of you found periods in your life where you’ve gotten into this habit of overthinking things? I find that this mostly happens to me at particularly stressful times. I find that I try to almost forensically pick apart a problem or a situation but get nowhere near a solution or a breakthrough. It’s gotten quite frustrating, so I’ve explored and tested a few strategies. Here are some that I’ve found most useful.
Realize how your ruminating thoughts aren’t actually contributing to problem-solving. Mostly, I find that it paralyzes me to a certain degree where I’m not actually doing any work but instead get literally stuck on thinking and re-thinking without getting anywhere. The first useful step is to identify that you are caught in overthinking.
Stop. Pause those thoughts by physically getting yourself unstuck, whether it’s getting up from your chair or sitting up in bed, change your current position to help break the flow of constant rumination.
ACT. Remember to be kind to yourself and realise that getting frustrated with yourself and repressing all thoughts might not be helpful either. This is in practice with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which encourages you to calmly observe and identify your thoughts and feelings and gently start to let them go. This is illustrated by the famous ‘white bear experiment’ where you’re asked to not think of a white bear, but of course, the opposite happens and you can’t help but think of a white bear.
Evaluate your thoughts. Are you just being too critical of yourself and replaying a minor mistake? Take a step back and see whether you are worrying too much and have set unrealistic expectations on yourself, given the circumstances. What would you say to a close friend of yours if they were in your position?
Reach out. If you’ve tried all of the above and feel like you’re still stuck, try reaching out to a couple of trusted friends. They may be able to provide a fresh perspective on the problem. They can also help in creating more positive feelings and distract you from your current thoughts. One note of caution, though: be careful that you both don’t get trapped in overthinking together!