It’s pretty much human nature to worry about things that might bother you, especially when it’s about something important. But what happens when that extended period of time becomes part of everyday life? Hours filled with unwanted thoughts and ruminations, only to find that none of the scenarios that you’ve played in your head justifies the amount of effort you’ve spent mulling something over.
And that’s exactly when overthinking occurs — when you think about something too much for a long period of time. Often, it feels like you just can’t quite switch your brain off even if you want to. It can be energy-draining, cause analysis paralysis (where you analyse something so much you find it hard to make a decision), and even affect your mental health.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), we have experienced just this: the tiresome, relentless racing of words in our minds for hours at a time, the never-ending need to obsess over an issue till it’s completely out of our systems, and the exhaustion that comes with over-analysing all the time. And we’re here to help! While we may not be professionals (remember to take our advice with a pinch of salt), we are awfully familiar with the experience and have found our own little ways to cope, and we hope that these tips will help you, too.
- Ayeeshah’s Advice: Set a Worry Time
Often, my thoughts override every single activity I try accomplishing. Every activity ends up just being secondary to the unnecessary or unhelpful thoughts I might have. And even if the thoughts were worthy, it just becomes plain distracting because I can’t control my thoughts, or stop them from appearing in my mind. And when I can’t control it, I become sick with emotion and have difficulty focusing on anything else.
To counter this, I’ve set a worry time for myself. The purpose of this worry time is to ensure that I promise the thoughts in my head that I will attend to them. However, the worry time also lets me set boundaries between me and the uncontrollable thoughts, stopping me from overthinking and over-worrying when I need to.
I usually set my worry time for a time I know I’ll be free every day. The worry time lasts one hour. Often though, once I’ve gotten to the worry time, I’ve forgotten all about what I was supposed to worry about — that’s how I know it isn’t too pressing, and soon I forget about the worry at all! And if I don’t forget about the worry, then at least I always know that I will address it, just at a later time.
This has worked for me for quite a while. The habit of putting off unnecessary worries till I am able to give it my full attention has been incredibly helpful.
- Ayeeshah’s Advice: Talk to a Trusted, Sane Friend
When I overthink, my mind often becomes an echo chamber for maliciously unhelpful thoughts. Especially when I start having tunnel-vision for a particular problem I’m facing. This creates an environment in my mind that’s not conducive to solve a problem, because I get emotional, confused, and panicked.
What I’ve learned to do instead is to confide in a trusted friend who I know is sane enough to ground themselves and hear my frantic mind out, while still helping me calm down and rationalise things. This has been incredibly useful, since I get to have someone slowly dismantle the irrational thoughts that I might harbour and believe, helping me calm down and properly fix the issues that triggered this in the first place. Often after the conversation with said friend, I end up realising that there’s nothing much to worry about and that most of my problems can be solved rather quickly.
It is also important to remember to check in with your friend’s mental health at that point of time. Support is only productive when everyone feels safe and heard.
- Bernice’s Advice: Let the Thought Pass
When I overthink, I zoom in on one thought and ruminate over it and the numerous negative outcomes that stem from that one thought. This negative thought spiral would propagate and I end up worrying about other things that are tangentially related to my initial unfounded worry. The endless spiral of never-ending worries would consume all of my focus and energy, making it difficult to focus on the day-to-day.
One way I learnt to get myself out of this rut is to imagine the thought passing like a paper boat floating on a river. When I catch myself descending into a thought spiral, I ask myself, “Can I take any actions to solve this worry now?” If the answer is “Yes”, I make a plan based on that actionable outcome. However, if the answer is “No”, then I acknowledge that it is no longer within my control and let it pass. This will be difficult on the first try, as I found myself slipping back into my patterns of overthinking rather frequently.
This conscious choice required a lot of practice and mindfulness before it became a habit for me to realise that I have the choice to simply notice the thought, and let it pass.
- Bernice’s Advice: Having Less Idle Time
I realised that stress from overthinking is linked to long periods of idle time. When my mind has the time to be idle, unwanted thoughts are more likely to form, sparking the process of overthinking. Thus, I took up new hobbies to reduce the amount of idle time my mind had to wander and latch onto an unhelpful thought.
By focusing on the task at hand or learning something new, I don’t give myself the time to ponder and ruminate over the unhealthy thoughts. But remember, it is still important to give yourself ample time for rest! Don’t overwork and experience burnout because you keep piling things onto your plate.
Our tips came from our personal experiences with overthinking and they are not the only ways to help overcome unhealthy thought patterns. While thinking a lot will usually help you crack the code to a particularly difficult problem, overthinking usually has no concrete goal or feasible solutions to what you’re thinking about, and only adds on to your pile of stressors. Ultimately, being aware that you’re overthinking is an important step before you figure out which strategy to get out of the rut is best for you.