3 Ways To Stop Overthinking

Cartoon depicting overthinking and anxietyWe have all heard the term “overthinking”, but what is it actually, and how can we get control over it?

Overthinking is when you dwell or worry about the same thought repeatedly. People who overthink can be paralyzed by their worries and may struggle to make decisions or take action. Overthinking can be caused by — and can contribute to — depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

Plus, it’s likely that overthinking causes mental health to decline … and as your mental health declines, the more likely you are to overthink. It’s a vicious downward spiral.

These three techniques provided by psychotherapist Jenny Maenpaa, LCSW, can help.

1. Positive reframing

This is often confused with “toxic positivity,” which asks people to think positively — no matter how difficult a situation is.

Positive reframing, on the other hand, allows you to acknowledge the negative aspects, then asks you to evaluate whether there’s another way to think about the situation. Perhaps there are benefits or things you can change about it.


You constantly find yourself complaining: “I hate being a boss. On top of all these deadlines and responsibilities, it’s hard to manage so many complex personalities. It’s emotionally and mentally exhausting. My job just sucks.”

Venting might feel good for a second, but it doesn’t solve anything. And you’ll likely continue to dwell on how much you hate your job or how bad you think you are at managing.

To practice positive reframing, replace the thought above with: “Things are challenging right now and I’m feeling disconnected from some things on my plate. I wonder if I can change anything about this situation or my expectations about it.”

This thought pattern gives you the power to change your situation. You could start small by examining what important tasks needs to get done first, then either delay or delegate the rest until you are feeling less anxious. The key is to take a step back and deal with things one at a time.


2. Write down your thoughts once, then distract yourself for 24 hours

When our brains think we are in conflict or danger, a built-in alarm system goes off internally to protect us.

One thing I have found success with is writing down my feelings and waiting at least 24 hours (or just a few hours if it’s an urgent matter) before replying or taking any sort of impulsive action.

Then, I put that draft away while I distract myself with another task.


You just received an email about something that went awry. You are upset, your heart starts to race, your breathing gets shallow, and you become hyper-focused on what’s going wrong and why it’s your fault.

If you respond to the email while your brain is in “alarm mode,” you might say things you’ll regret later on, which may then fuel the vicious cycle of overthinking.

Writing negative thoughts down takes the power out of them; I often don’t feel the need to take action based on my anxious thoughts once I’ve written them down. 


3. Practice ‘specific gratitude’

In psychology, we know that expressing gratitude can increase our happiness. It can help us contextualize our frustrations against what we love and help us connect to something larger than ourselves — whether that’s other people, animals, nature or a higher power.

But I find that repeating the same gratitude practice over and over again can become rote and diminish the returns. For me, it can start to feel like a meaningless chore instead of a mindful practice. So, I like to practice something that I call “specific gratitude.”


Instead of writing in my journal every day that “I am grateful for my health,” I’ll write something like, “I am grateful that I woke up today without any back pain and have the ability to do today’s workout.”

This helps me stay focused on the here and now, rather than overthinking on general abstractions. Tomorrow, I might still be grateful for my health, but I might specifically be grateful that I have enough energy for a long run.

Article adapted from this original piece.   

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