This Psychologist Tip Can Help You Stop Yourself When You're Wayyy Overthinking

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Do you ever find yourself going over (and over and over) a conversation you had with a friend? How about worrying—to the point of obsessing—about that work presentation you have to give next week? You may be "thinking too much," an idiom of distress that is exceedingly common.

In fact, nearly 75% of people between the ages of 25 and 35 experience overthinking on various levels of severity, says Angeleena Francis, LMHC, a therapist and executive director for AMFM Healthcare, pointing to research from 2003 that still rings true. She adds that older adults are not immune to overthinking, either.

Meet the expert: Angeleena Francis, LMHC, is a therapist and executive director for AMFM Healthcare.

What Causes Overthinking

Overthinking is a response and attempt to understand and control areas that may be out of our control, providing a false sense of security.

And often, Francis says, it stems from anxiety and/or depression. It could be that what you're overthinking causes you to be anxious (like in the work presentation example). On the flip side, she says, if you struggle with generalized anxiety, that could lead you to overthink in multiple areas of your life. When it comes to depression, feeling disempowered to make changes in your life could result in overthinking, per Francis.

Unresolved trauma may also manifest itself through overthinking, Francis adds, explaining that one could become hypervigilant, thinking through every scenario in an attempt to keep themselves or loved ones safe. People who have experienced trauma, a loss, or an unstable environment, particularly as a child, are more likely to experience overthinking as an adult, Francis says.

Always talk to your doctor or see a mental health professional if you're experiencing anxiety, depression, or have other mental health concerns.

The Upside Of Overthinking

Overthinking isn’t necessarily always bad, though, notes Francis. “A minimal amount of overthinking could be redirected as motivation to change a situation that is causing distress,” she says. “It becomes problematic when actions within your control have been exhausted and you are unable to focus on other areas of your life.”

Read on for seven tips from Francis on how to avoid overthinking.

7 Simple Ways To Avoid Overthinking

Build healthy relationships.

Surrounding yourself with people who keep you in a healthy environment is key for maintaining a good headspace. “Recognize who in your life creates anxiety or reinforces negative cognitions and [instead] seek out support systems,” Francis says.

Consider the worst-case scenario.

At first glance, this might sound like self-sabotage, but it can help you plan for how you’d handle it. “Rather than perseverating on the ‘what-ifs,’ follow that thought through to identify if there [actually] is a catastrophic outcome,” Francis says.

Control the controllable.

Identify what is in your control and shift to solution-focused thinking. “For example, if you are overthinking an upcoming social function and your thought process is ruminating on every potential negative interaction you may experience, accept the part you can not control, which may be attending the event," Francis says. Then, focus on the areas you can control such as preparing for conversation. "Shifting to preparing and planning will allow you to feel more confident and in control.”

Use positive affirmations.

Positive affirmations are often the ticket for putting yourself in a more relaxed mindset. “[They] can remind you of the stability and safety in your life,” Francis says, adding that grounding mantras can be particularly useful when it comes to overthinking. Some examples: ‘I am safe,’ ‘I am only responsible for myself,” and ‘Be kind to myself and to others.’ "These guiding mantras can reinforce a sense of control when feeling overwhelmed or even feeling a sense of despair due to overthinking,” Francis says.

Identify triggers.

“Hold yourself accountable when you identify areas that trigger overthinking," Francis says, and work to avoid them. That might be scrolling through social media or spending time with certain people or in particular places.

Plan an alternate activity.

“Use distractions as a way to interfere with your thought process if you ‘catch’ yourself overthinking," Francis says. Some ideas: Go for a walk, call a friend, read a book, or even just take a shower.

Have the tough conversations.

“If you are overthinking conversations or actions of others, use direct communication to clarify and resolve,” Francis says. “For example, overthinking following an interaction is often a result of misinterpretation of others' behaviors and/or intention. Before engaging in overthinking based on assumptions, be curious about the intentions of others and ask for clarification.”

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