How to stop overthinking

Do you find yourself in a whirlwind of thoughts that never seems to stop? Are you running from one scenario to another and getting caught up in an endless loop of "what ifs"? If so, you may be overthinking.


What is overthinking?

Overthinking is having a never-ending cycle of repetitive thoughts that can have a negative impact on our lives. These thoughts can be related to past events, present situations or future possibilities.

When we overthink, we may excessively consider every aspect of a situation, which takes up a considerable amount of mental energy. This can prevent us from engaging with the here and now, causing us to disconnect from our relationships and even from ourselves.

Overthinking can take many forms from doubting all of our decisions, and fixating on past conversations to imagining the worst-case scenarios. Not surprisingly, overthinking is exhausting and has a negative effect on our mental and physical health. It is linked to depression, anxiety, stress, anger, poor sleep quality and chronic pain.

By overcoming your overthinking, you can free up a considerable amount of energy to make spontaneous choices and live the life you want to live.

4 ways to stop overthinking

Here are four steps you can take:

1. Bring yourself to the present moment

Overthinking tends to happen when there is a degree of uncertainty and a desire to control a situation. To cope with the difficult feelings evoked by uncertainty, we may go over every single detail associated with an event.

Research suggests that individuals with high ruminating tendencies could benefit from the practice of mindfulness, as mindfulness brings us to the present moment and creates well-being and resilience.

By bringing your attention to the present moment, with practice, it is possible to detach from the cycle of persistent thoughts. This can take the form of shifting your attention to your body and breathing or shifting your attention to your surroundings and spending time in nature, noticing trees, breeze, etc. Engaging in an activity that shifts your focus from repetitive thoughts is also an alternative way to mindfulness.

2. Identify your underlying beliefs

Our overthinking can be influenced by the underlying beliefs we hold about ourselves, others and the world in general, such as:

  • "I must always be perfect to be worthy."
  • "Mistakes cannot be forgiven."
  • "I am not allowed to change my mind."
  • "The world is a dangerous place."

The purpose of our overthinking then becomes to find a solution to minimise any risks that are linked to these limiting beliefs. For example, if we believe that we are not allowed to change our minds and that our decisions are final, then we will invest a lot of energy in ‘making the right choice’ to control an outcome.

Identifying our ingrained beliefs and their influences in our lives is a good start to gently challenge them. Working with a therapist will be helpful during this process.

3. Foster emotional awareness

Regulating our emotions is a skill we learn in our early relationships. When we have difficult emotions, as human beings we are wired to seek connection to calm our emotions [1]. When our emotions are validated, we gradually learn to do it for ourselves.

If we did not have the opportunity to co-regulate our difficult emotions, we might have learnt to suppress them. For example, if we were told to be brave every time we were scared, we might have learnt not to be in touch with our fears. Therefore, when we encounter a situation that evokes fear, instead of acknowledging our fear and vulnerability, we might jump into overthinking to create safety. Therefore, overthinking can be an unproductive way to deal with difficult emotions such as fear, anger and sadness.

By allowing ourselves to feel and validate all our emotions, we can gradually reduce our need for overthinking.

4. Take action

When we overthink, we take a passive stance on problem-solving. The more we think, the more doubtful and uncertain we become, and the cycle of inaction continues. To break free from this cycle, we need to take the first step, accepting that there is no perfect action. With small changes, step by step, we move away from overthinking to action, embracing the possibility of failing as well as growth.

If you would like to have support in this journey, speak with a counsellor and psychotherapist that you feel safe with and see where it takes you.


[1] The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Braintree CM7 & Colchester CO1
Written by Cigdem Berrett, Psychotherapist & Counsellor, MSc, CTA (P), UKCP registered.
Braintree CM7 & Colchester CO1

Cigdem is a BACP-registered psychotherapeutic counsellor working with both individuals and couples. Cigdem works in private practice and for a mental health charity in Essex. Cigdem is in the final stages of an MSc in Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy.

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