Overthinking, that insidious echo chamber of the self, might be likened to a tennis ball machine gone haywire – serving balls relentlessly, without pause, making the player perpetually off-balance. The mind, when overwrought, can be its own worst adversary.
How to stop overthinking is the practice of non-judgmental awareness. The act of being aware of the present moment, with no attachment to what’s happening. It’s about acknowledging your thoughts, then letting them go before an overthinking habit can take root. This is not easy. It’s a skill that takes practice.
Fortunately, more than a few techniques can help quiet the mind, manage analysis-paralysis, and avoid overthinking. Start small and slowly incorporate them into daily rituals.
Take a deep breath
There’s something fundamentally profound about the act of breathing. It’s both involuntary – a testament to our animal nature – and a tool we can consciously wield. When overthinking tries to cloud judgment, to distort reality with the noise of the abstract, a deep, deliberate breath can be a grounding force. Imagine it as a way of syncing the conscious with the unconscious, a bridge between the mind’s frenetic chatter and the body’s rhythmic constancy.
As soon as you feel that you’re losing control, please take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Try to let go of whatever is triggering you by merely concentrating on something as fundamental as breathing.
A 2013 study found rumination is a mechanism underlying the relationship between stress and mental health. If you’re stressed out, your mind will start to wander and overthink.
To avoid this downward spiral, take a moment to meditate to consciously breathe or find a way to deal with the noise through meditation.
Schedule time for meditation
Once you get into the habit of overthinking, it can be hard to break. But, there are a few things anyone can do to minimize its impact on destructive thought patterns.
This isn’t about reaching some sort of metaphysical nirvana but about acquainting oneself with the vast landscapes of the mind. By meditating, you’re not so much quieting the mind as acknowledging its noise without getting lost in it. It’s like sitting on the bank of a river, watching your thoughts flow past without jumping into the water. The currents are powerful, yes, but from the bank, they’re just ripples and waves – seen, acknowledged, but not overwhelming.
The best way to stop overthinking is a consistent practice of mindfulness. Start small and gradually build up your mindfulness practice to handle everyday life challenges.
Meditation gives permission to avoid negative self talk, but exercise actively quiets those negative emotions.
Exercise is a great way to get out of your head
One of the simplest ways to quiet the mind is to exercise and focus on physical health.
When you’re busy with aerobic exercise, you don’t have time to overthink. You’re also less likely to fall into the trap of making mental to-do lists. Instead, you can focus on the present moment and enjoy the sensation of being in your body.
Think of the body as a tangible entity often ignored in the cerebral shuffle. Exercise is not just the mind’s release valve but its tether to the tangible world. When you run, or swim, or engage in any deliberate physical act, you command the mind to recognize the pulse, the sweat, the rhythmic inhale-exhale that roots us to the present. It’s a dance between what’s ethereal and what’s physical. The body, in its perspiring reality, can pull the mind from its abstract spirals.
In the grand tapestry of existence, where complexities and abstract dilemmas abound, sometimes the most profound acts are also the simplest. Exercise. Meditate. Breathe. And maybe, just maybe, the tennis balls will slow down, allowing us to play the game on our own terms.