Overthinking and negative thinking are two struggles that many people have difficulty combatting and overcoming. When we overthink, we get into the habit of developing negative thought patterns and evaluating past, present, and potential actions more than are necessary to move forward. This type of thinking becomes a vicious cycle that can affect our mental health and our ability to function properly by taking us out of the present moment. Overthinking and negative thinking could lead to the development of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Once you've become trapped in this cycle, it can feel difficult or near impossible to break out of it. Perhaps you’ve been overthinking your whole life and don’t even realize you are doing it. There are many methods available to help even those of us who feel most lost in our thoughts. Here are some simple methods that you can begin using to get more into your body and out of your head.
Meditation is the practice of discovering inner peace through quieting the mind. Meditation is often one of the first methods recommended to try breaking the cycle of overthinking. Before you begin practicing, however, it’s important to keep this in mind: meditation does not require you to clear your head of all thoughts. Coming into a meditation exercise with this misconception can prevent you from reaping the full benefits of meditation. It may make you feel like you can’t do it “right” or that it’s impossible. Meditation is meant to help you recognize your thoughts without reacting or building upon them. Avoid trying to fight your thoughts. All you “need” to do is let them come and let them go.
When you first begin to explore meditating, you will come across many different practices. A popular one to focus on is mindfulness meditation, which teaches you how to be aware of your internal feelings as well as your external senses. Starting your meditation journey with guided meditations can be very helpful and might take away some of the guesswork or feelings of discomfort. These audios will guide you through the process and build a foundation for you to continue with. Once you become more comfortable with meditating, you can begin to practice in silence or using relaxing instrumentals rather than guided meditations.
It may also help you to designate a specific time for meditation. Whether it is 5 minutes after waking up or 30 minutes before going to bed, stick to your routine. This will make it easier to quiet your mind and meditate. It may also eventually rewire your thinking behaviors.
People typically turn to mindfulness meditation when they are looking to cultivate a quieter, more peaceful mind. However, meditation is not the only path to acquiring this state of mind. Mindfulness can be cultivated in the most mundane activities, beyond a dedicated meditation time. When you are doing chores, focus on the small actions and the process of washing your dishes or sweeping the floor. When you are driving or walking around, pay attention to your surroundings and the quality of the space around you. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? How do you feel? When you concentrate on these external factors rather than what is going on in your life or your head, it can become easier to silence your noisy thoughts and find clarity.
Besides being present in these simple activities, there are also plenty of books and apps designed to help you become mindful. You can use these tools during breaks when you are not doing chores or working. Keep in mind, however, that these tools may not always work for you at every moment. If you find mindfulness tools like an app to not be helping you find peace and freedom from negative thinking, you don’t have to use them. Forcing yourself to use tools that don’t serve you may prevent you from breaking the cycle. Studies have found evidence that mindfulness exercises can rewire the brain to help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, so it may be worth a concerted effort to find a method that works for you.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of overthinking. After all, if we release ourselves from worrying over the past and present, we can enjoy the moment right now. And if we let ourselves enjoy this moment, then the need to think about anything else decreases. If possible, find activities that you love doing and try to carve out time for them daily. Here are a few hobbies that you may be interested in:
While these are some of the most popular hobbies, you don't have to feel limited to what is written here. There are plenty of other ideas that can be found online or on social media. Part of decreasing obsessive or negative thoughts is granting yourself the time and energy to look for things that interest you.
If you are someone who feels too restless for meditation but who is unable to engage in strenuous activity, tai chi might be the answer. Tai chi is a martial art that focuses on strengthening the life force and achieving a state of calmness and clarity. It requires you to focus on your breath as you practice slow, intentional movements designed to improve your health and longevity.
The best way to start practicing tai chi is to find an instructor near you. If you can't find an instructor in your area, there are many free courses online that will introduce you to tai chi and its benefits. This is one of the most disciplined methods mentioned on this list. Should you choose to pursue tai chi, be prepared to devote time to learning the practice to best achieve results.
Doing a physically demanding activity is great for those who find it challenging to get out of their heads. Why does it help? Well, when you're too busy focusing on catching your breath or attempting to ease the discomfort that is taking place throughout your body, or focusing on getting the movement correct, it becomes much harder to dwell on the thoughts inside your head. It's the perfect "breakthrough" method because it helps you to realize that mindfulness is possible. It can also allow you to cultivate mindfulness in those moments of inner peace as you catch your breath.
What are some exercises that may work for you?
This is only a short list of possible exercises that you can do. The important principle is that the exercise you choose gets you out of your head and back into the body's senses. Remember, however, that you do not have to nor should you do these exercises every day. This can cause great strain on your body and may cause injuries if you are not careful enough in your rest. Always substitute low-impact exercises on days when you need time to recover from previous workouts. In addition, if you have a chronic medical condition or physical limitation, please consult with your medical provider before engaging in intense physical activities.
Not all of the methods that prevent overthinking are exercises that you need to set time aside for. Something as simple as taking a cold shower will help you achieve similar results. Like strenuous exercise, taking a cold shower provides a shock to your system that takes you away from your thoughts and brings you back into your physical body. Try this out the next time that you have a shower and examine the results. Did it help you to get out of your head, even if it was momentarily?
You can produce the same shock in similar situations. Instead of a cold shower, you could throw your blankets off in the morning and welcome them in the cool air, or you could go for a morning walk in a cool environment. Whatever it is that jolts you back into your body, find it and pursue it.
Breaking out of the cycle of overthinking will take time. You will likely struggle at first, but by using the methods above, you will be able to overcome this thought cycle and move into a new stage of a stress-free, mindful life. Taking the first step and beginning to practice these methods can be a challenge on its own. If you’d benefit from a little bit of help when attempting to cleanse yourself of negative habits and create healthy behaviors.
If you are someone who may need a little help to do this, looking into online counseling services like BetterHelp can give you a boost. BetterHelp is the world's largest online e-counseling platform that provides people with affordable, convenient, high-quality counseling. For those who may be interested in receiving online counseling, you can visit BetterHelp to take a short questionnaire that will connect you with the right therapist.
While in-person therapy certainly has proven benefits, online therapy may be the right fit for you. Many studies show that online counseling can be an equally strong method for reducing negative symptoms. It may also be more cost effective for the benefits received. One study in 2014 found that 46% of online patients experienced a reduction in symptoms during their treatment. Those results were maintained at their one-year check too.
Online therapy can begin today, instead of pursuing finding a therapist near you and hoping they are taking new patients. You and your counselor can begin your work together and continue as often as you like. You’ll have many ways to contact your therapist, hopefully making getting help as easy as possible.
You can hear from fellow BetterHelp users who have found counselors to get back into their bodies and out of negative thinking.
“Candice is great. She provides perspectives in ways that are insightful and mindful of my current emotions and thinking patterns. I feel like I'm able to express myself devoid of judgment while gaining need perspective.”
“Michelle is great! She is very charismatic and an awesome listener. She was able to significantly help me with minimizing negative thinking and improving my self-esteem. I would for sure recommend her.”