You’re on the heated massage table while lavender and new age music loft through the air. You’re set up for peak relaxation, but all you can think about is the email you left sitting in drafts. Enter the dreaded overthinking pattern you just can’t seem to kick.

Worrying from time to time is to be expected, but routine overthinking can disrupt daily life.

So how can you stop overthinking from interrupting your zen? Here’s the deal with overthinking and tips to make it stop.

Overthinking is more than zoning out when your partner is rambling on about fantasy football. A 2013 study defines overthinking, aka rumination, as “repetitive and passive focus.”

Some major signs that you’re overthinking include:

  • trouble focusing
  • racing thoughts (and can’t seem to slow them down)
  • can’t “turn off” your mind
  • fixating on a particular situation or event
  • turning every situation into a catastrophe (and attempting to prepare yourself for the worst case scenario)

The exact cause of overthinking really isn’t known, but it’s thought to be a response to stress.

When the pressure in on, overthinking may develop as a coping mechanism in an attempt to analyze the causes and consequences of your feelings (oof). For example, if your reality doesn’t meet your expectations, this may cue the flood of thoughts of what you could have done differently.

Stigma related stressors such as race or sexual orientation are also likely to result in rumination.

Is overthinking a mental health disorder?

Overthinking is also not a mental health disorder in itself, but it can be a symptom linked to depression and anxiety.

Overthinking along with generally overdoing it (where all the Type A peeps at?) can be symptoms of high functioning anxiety, too.

Was this helpful?

Instead of coping, rumination might actually be increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety. When rumination was introduced to distressed patients in a study, it was found to prolong anxiety and depressive symptoms rather than resolve them.

In reality, overthinking gives you a false sense of control. Rather than dealing with the situation directly, overthinking acts as a passive distraction.

Your brain thinks all this worrying is preparation for a war when the worrying actually misdirects your energy. Fighting the urge to overthink is the real battle. While you’re waiting for worst case scenarios, your life is playing out without you.

Because rumination is a passive behavior, it doesn’t actively lead to any tangible coping or conflict resolution. Basically, rumination gets you stuck in a “Groundhog Day” feedback loop with your own thoughts. Here are some tips to make the overthinking stop.

1. Name it

Self-awareness can be the strongest tool to stop overthinking and change your mindset. Recognizing when you’re ruminating can be the jolt you need to get out of your head and back into reality.

2. Distract yourself

Overthinking involves a fixation on a specific thought. To get yourself out of that feedback loop, distract yourself with something else. This can be something tangible that engages your senses for a short-term fix.

Long term distractions that channel your thoughts elsewhere can be trying a new recipe, taking an art class or working out.

3. Focus on your breathing

When you’re overthinking, shifting your focus to your breathing can be a powerful tool.

Sit down in a quiet place. Close your eyes and put your hand over your chest. Take deep breaths in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. If this doesn’t work, try the box breathing technique, which focuses your concentration and acts as a stress reliever.

4. Try meditation

Meditation has been shown to be a self-care and behavioral regulation practice. A 2017 study found that 92 percent of those who meditate use it for stress regulation.

Mantra meditation involves the repeated use of a word or phrase. This can be helpful for overthinking as it redirects energy and attention to a specific thought.

5. Be present

While meditation may not be your thing, there are other ways to get yourself out of your head and back into the present. Setting timers on your phone for certain activities may help you to focus on the given task. Try limiting your screen time and spending some time outdoors.

6. Zoom out

Overthinking involves a narrow focus on a singular issue. Zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture. When you do this, you may be able to get in touch with the reality that this issue doesn’t hold as much weight in the grand scheme as it feels like it does.

7. Smash the ANTs

Automated negative thoughts (ANTs) are beliefs that enter into your mind instantly. For people with anxiety, these automatically held beliefs are a reflex. While these thoughts are not based in logic, they are easier and more natural to hang onto.

One way to challenge your ANTs is to keep a record of your thoughts. When you write down a negative thought, challenge yourself to write a more positive alternative outlook. Instead of saying “I am the worst,” try to say, “I am growing and I am doing my best.”

8. Give yourself a medal

When you’re an overthinker, you rarely get stuck in a thought loop of positivity. You get stuck on everything you did wrong or should have done differently.

It can be helpful to break that thought pattern by writing out a list of your accomplishments to prove to your anxiety that it is, in fact, a big liar. You’re not a failure at all!

9. Ditch the word “should”

Leading your thoughts with “I should…” puts a lot of pressure and expectations onto yourself and can be a setup for failure, fixation, and you guessed it, overthinking.

Instead of saying, “I should be less anxious,” challenge yourself to say, “I will give myself the space to work through my thoughts and speak to myself with kindness.”

10. Be your own best friend

When your friend tells you about her Tinder date ghosting her, your first reaction is probably to let her know how awesome she is and that her date missed out on someone amazing, right?

You would likely not tell your friend, ‘Well that’s what you deserve, how could you think it would work out?” 😬

If you’re stuck in that feedback loop, pretend you’re talking to your best friend. Give yourself the same kindness you would give a loved one. You deserve love too!

11. Turn thoughts into action

Overthinking can get you stuck in your thoughts. Instead of obsessing in your head, write down your goals. Create a plan of action. Ask yourself what manageable steps you need to take to achieve those goals.

12. Give a hand

When you’re able to help others, it can fill you up inside, too. Helping someone else may remind you of how capable you are of making a difference.

Whether it’s writing a handwritten note to a friend or bringing a meal to someone in need, focusing your energy on helping others can bring you a sense of purpose.

13. Lean into fear

Overthinking can be a coping mechanism designed to prevent actions you’re afraid of. These fears are not always based in reality. Facing these situations head-on will show you that you’re capable of handling whatever comes your way.

14. Release judgement

You were not born hating yourself. That voice in your head? It became that way over time. It’s time to unlearn the judgement.

Tell your biggest critic that they’re out of a job and bring in your biggest cheerleader. Stop focusing on mistakes and look at what you learned from the experience.

15. Seek help

You’ve tried steps 1 to 14 and you still can’t stop overthinking. That’s OK! You just don’t have all the tools you need.

A therapist may be your best bet to develop the practices. When a negative thought pops up, you’ll have what you need to stop yourself from purchasing an unlimited pass to the ferris wheel of overthinking.

Your thoughts are powerful. Get stuck in a loop of doom and it will impact your mood in a major way. Overthinking doesn’t give you the control you think it does. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t take back the reins of your thoughts.

Focus on action, speak kindly to yourself, and don’t be afraid to get help to build your overthinking toolkit.