Are you someone who overthinks everything and rehashes situations and outcomes in their head? I do and for a longtime, I struggled to stop overthinking. Fortunately, I’ve been successful in controlling it and as it turns out, some form of overthinking is actually okay.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an “overthinker.” If a friend didn’t call me back or invite me to go someplace, I tended to dwell on it — Had I offended this friend in some way? Had this friend found a new best friend? Was I boring and no longer interesting enough to be around? If I made a mistake at work, would they fire me? Was I going to get demoted? This habit of playing various scenarios and outcomes over and over in our mind is a form of obsessing.
That can’t be healthy, can it?
I knew that if I continued to obsess over things, it would lead to anxiety – actually, in a way, that was already happening. Why was I obsessing over things? Why was I playing out various scenarios/outcomes/reasons in my head over and over again? Well, what I found out was, most people do this. However, many people are able to keep it in check and they eventually accept the fact that they can’t control every situation or end result; these people, after running the various possibilities through their mind, come to the conclusion that they might just have to move on and put it out of their head altogether.
For me, my over-thinking stemmed more from the fact that I tend to be a problem solver. I like to resolve things and move on, so my over-thinking was really coming from my desire to have harmony. So if a friend was ignoring me or I made a mistake at work, my “obsessing” over it was because I wanted to resolve it — going over possible reasons and outcomes was my way of figuring it out and trying to get a head start on a resolution. According to Psychologists, this is fairly normal.
When it becomes rumination
However, for people who can’t let go of something and who continue to dwell on it, something dangerous starts to happen — we start to ruminate over it. The problem with rumination is clear — it becomes negative and usually leads to stress and anxiety. But, rumination also poses another problem — it also becomes a logger jam. If we don’t resolve one thought/situation, others quickly start to back-up on us and before we know it, we’re constantly obsessing and ruminating over every little thing.
Thinking too much is exhausting. Normally we think about our worries by trying to find solutions to our problems. That’s how we see new perspectives that help us to handle what’s going on. But this natural process of internal reflection doesn’t always happen as we expect. Instead of providing us with greater clarity, it clouds our judgment, pulling us into a spiral of negative thoughts.
These thoughts become intruders in our mind. If we ignore them, they can end up becoming obsessions that take over our lives. This need to ruminate about our worries can happen in any situation. It could happen when we’re at work, out shopping, or brushing our teeth. Without even realizing it, they can occupy our whole mind, also affecting our mood. – Exploring Your Mind
Hash it out, move on
In my case, I was lucky that my overthinking never turned into actual rumination. But what I learned about my need to problem solve is that at some point early on, I need to either get an actual resolution, or I need to move on. In other words, while going over various scenarios and possible outcomes in my mind is normal, allowing them to fester and darken is not. For me, what works best is to to come right out and ask that friend “are we okay?” or, when it comes to work, I remind myself that “I’m a good employee. I work hard, get along and I’m trustworthy. I’m sure my boss is not as angry at my mistake as I’m convincing myself he is.” This does take a leap of faith and a good degree of self-confidence, but its better than dwelling and obsessing over something that may not even be a problem.
Rumination is comprised of two separate variables — reflection and brooding. The reflection part of rumination can actually be somewhat helpful — reflecting on a problem can lead you to a solution. Also, reflecting on certain events can help you process strong emotions associated with the issue. However, rumination in general, and brooding in particular, are associated with less proactive behavior and more of a negative mood. Co-rumination, where you rehash a situation with friends until you’ve talked it to death, also brings more stress to both parties once it passes the point of being constructive. In short, if you find yourself constantly replaying something in your mind and dwelling on the injustice of it all, thinking about what you should have said or done, without taking any corresponding action, you’re making yourself feel more stressed. (You can read this article if you’re not sure if you’re engaging in rumination or healthy emotional processing.) And you are also likely experiencing some of the negative effects of rumination. – Very Well Mind
Tips on how to stop ruminating
To stop the effects of ruminative thinking, try these strategies:
- Distract yourself. Engaging, pleasant activities, such as exercise or hanging out with friends, are best. Once you are feeling more positive, you will be better able to solve problems.
- Stop that train of thought. Think or even tell yourself “Stop!” or “No!” when you start to ruminate.
- Schedule rumination. If you plan a 30-minute rumination session, chances are you may not even feel like ruminating when the time arrives.
- Share. Talking through your concerns can help, but make sure you pick someone who won’t simply ruminate along with you.
- Write it down. Tracking your ruminative thoughts in a journal can help you overcome depression by organizing those thoughts and relieving yourself of their burden.
- Solve a problem. Even taking a small step toward solving one problem that is weighing you down will help with overcoming depression.
- Identify triggers. Figure out which places, times, situations, or people are most likely to cause a bout of rumination, and find ways to avoid those triggers or manage them better. Mornings and evenings are the times when ruminative thinking is most likely.
- Meditate. Mindfulness techniques can help you get some distance from the thoughts that trouble you, while at the same time reducing stress.
- Get therapy. Seek cognitive therapy techniques to help you question your thoughts and find alternative ways of viewing your situation.
I also firmly believe that positivity is a key to overcoming obsession/ruminating. When we have positive influences and feelings in our life, we generally feel more secure and at ease. Four easy steps to become more positive include:
Identify the negative influence/attitude: Notice it, analyze it and take control of it. Once you drag it into the light, it loses power and you can replace it with the correct positive antidote.
Have an open mind: Negative people are closed-off and put up walls. Positive people are open to feedback and learning new things. Open your mind and be receptive to new ideas/thoughts/influences.
Actively seeking out the positives: Don’t assume there are no positives, but rather, that they’re always there and we just need to identify them. Look for the good with purpose and it will soon start to show itself without any effort.
Embrace those positive affirmations: Often, mantras are a good thing for people who are just starting to turn their life around because they give hope and encouragement — they’re reminders of the good in our life. Once the positivity takes over, most people just need a few to use now and then. But, they do work!