Ben had a terrible anger problem. His rage stemmed from living with an abusive father who criticized and belittled him as a child. As an adult, Ben hates the way his anger seems to unleash itself at his wife. He sought therapy to help identify the hot buttons for his anger and learn strategies for […]
Let’s say you made a decision to end a bad relationship. Now, you keep going over and over your decision. “Should you have really ended it? Was he a better person than I realized? Did I give the relationship enough time?” Questions keep running through your head. Finally, your friend takes you to coffee and says, “Stop overthinking this! You made the right decision!”
You realize this is a pattern. While you friend tends to overthink things once in awhile, yours is a chronic pattern of ruminating on so many things. Your mind is perpetually running-did I make the right decision, how will this make me look, and will this ruin my future? Frankly, this overthinking is exhausting! It’s an endless cycle of “what if” and “should have.”
Not only is overthinking exhausting, but it also affects your sleep. Your mind doesn’t rest as you rehearse your mental moves and decisions over and over. It’s like your mind is stuck in an unending loop that can’t be stopped. But it can be stopped. Overthinking is draining your energy and focus.
So what is behind this tendency to ruminate? Usually it involves fear of the future and all that could go wrong. To deal with fear, you try to anticipate problems ahead of time. Then the brain gets trapped in a worry cycle. But this worry cycle can be broken. To do so, retrain your brain.
Here’s how it works. In order to stop worried thoughts, do not try to resist them. Instead, ask yourself, “Is this worrisome thought helping me in any positive way? Am I finding a solution to the problem by going over and over the issue? How many minutes/hours have I spent thinking about this? Is there evidence that this worried thought will come true?” The answer to these questions is, “No!” Overthinking is not helping your mental state or solving problems!
Next, replace the worried thought with something more positive. For example, “I will never find the right person to marry” can be changed to, “I am waiting for the right person to marry.” Or, “I don’t have any friends” becomes “What can I do to make a new friend?” Or, “This mistake will cost me” becomes, “It’s only a mistake, I can learn and recover.” This small but important shift in focus changes your brain from negative to positive.
In addition to replacing your worried thought with something more true and positive, use distraction. It is highly effective in stopping the loop of worried thoughts. Get out of your head and into your senses. Focus on something you can taste, feel, touch or see. This change in focus disrupts the brain and refocuses away from worried thoughts. Distraction is a powerful way to change the brain. This is why prayer, meditation and mindfulness calm you down. Your focus shifts from the worried thought to God and His goodness. This engages your brain in a different process which stops the overthinking. And thoughts of faith invoke hope and promise. They stop the loop running in your head.
Now, practice this shift in focus in order to break the habit of overthinking. Over time, you can retrain your brain to think in more positive ways.