Overthinking Everything Can Actually Hurt Your Brain
If you’re prone to overthinking everything, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with an inability to switch off their brain on command — and it can have significant long-lasting effects.
When you replay mistakes or unpleasant conversations over and over again, this puts you at a greater risk of developing mental illness, according to a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
What’s more, overthinking everything doesn’t actually help solve any problems. It just makes situations worse, in fact.
When you relive conversations or missteps in your head, you might encounter something called over-analysis paralysis, according to research on the topic. This means you mull over a situation to the point that you can’t come to any conclusion or course of action because you’re so fearful of the consequences.
This information begs the question: Is it possible to stop overthinking everything, and if so, how? Here are a few tips to try the next time you feel yourself spiraling.
1. Gain Perspective
When you get stuck analyzing a single situation over and over again, this is usually a clue you’ve lost perspective. The world exists outside of your own brain, which is something that’s important to remember. Recenter by asking yourself this: Will this matter in a year? If the answer is no, it’s time to step away from the situation and regroup.
2. Read More
Reading is a passive activity that occupies your brain. When you can’t find the off switch, pick up a good book. The act of reading will distract your brain from whatever situation or issue you can’t shake, and if you pick writings by a great leader, it’ll also help you gain perspective.
3. Don’t Rehearse
You might think that practicing a presentation or a conversation a few times in advance is a helpful practice, but it can actually make things worse. Experts say that this type of rehearsal may increase the stress factor. Instead, spend a few minutes thinking about what you’d like to say, then let the rest flow organically on the spot.
4. Consider Best-Case Scenarios
Chronic overthinkers tend to dwell on the worst-case scenarios. They think of all the things that could possibly go wrong, and then they run through them over and over again in their head. Try to rework this instinctual process so you consider the best-case scenarios first, and ruminate on these.
5. Choose Friends Carefully
The people around you can really make or break you, in terms of how you cope with stressful situations. Try to surround yourself with optimistic people who tend to look on the bright side and always support you. Their confidence in your abilities may eventually be contagious.
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6. Don’t Compare/Contrast
Overanalyzers tend to look at other people in their age group and see how they match up. This is a big no-no. It sets you up to feel like a failure when you don’t perceive yourself as being as successful as your peers. If you start to do this, step away from Facebook and remind yourself that everyone is an individual with his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and there’s no formulaic definition of success.
7. Set Deadlines
Relieve some of the stress of decision-making by setting parameters for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to agonize over small decisions for more than a few minutes, and mull over bigger decisions for several days, tops. When you set a hard deadline, you won’t be able to agonize endlessly.
While reading helps distract your mind, exercise will keep your body busy. The physical effects of exercise —the rush of feel-good endorphin hormones — will make your brain calmer and happier, too. The combination might be just what you need to breathe a little easier and make a decision with a clear head.
Sleeping soundly is easier said than done when you tend to overthink things, but it’s important. You need to give your frazzled brain a break after a stressful day. If you have trouble falling asleep on your own, try a natural boost. Sip on calming chamomile tea before bedtime or try melatonin, a natural supplement.
10. Let Go
At the end of the day, the only way you’re really going to stop overthinking is when you learn to let go. Practice brushing off awkward encounters or unpleasant situations by immediately moving on to the next task at hand. It’ll get easier and easier each time.
The next time you feel yourself starting to overthink a decision or rehash an old mistake, stop and employ one of these techniques. You might be surprised by how quickly you learn to power down your brain when you begin to spiral.
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