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Stop the overthinking!

by Janette Ward

This month we will explore overthinking – it is what psychologists call self-focused rumination. This means thinking too much, usually negatively – needlessly, passively, endlessly and excessively pondering the meanings, causes and consequences of your character, your feelings and your problems.

I find doing it uncomfortable and painful so when looked into how to stop doing it, I learnt about several strategies, that I use and the result is that I rarely ruminate now.

Research shows that overthinking sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation and interferes with concentration and initiative.

The combination of rumination and negative mood is toxic. If you are plagued by rumination, you are unlikely to become happier before you can break the habit. It is likely that we all do it from time to time, so to stop or reduce it significantly, here are some strategies you can adopt…

1. The first is simple but powerful, that is to distract yourself. The activity to distract yourself needs to be engrossing enough so that you don’t easily fall back into ruminations. The activities need to make you feel happy, curious, peaceful, amused or proud. Even a temporary lift in mood can make you feel energised, more motivated to interact with people and more creative in how you approach your problems. Things that help to distract me are reading, being with my granddaughters and cooking.

2. Use the STOP technique by telling yourself in a way that works for you i.e. SNUP – Serves No Useful Purpose; or imagine your hand held up as a reminder etc.

3. Another is to set aside thirty minutes every day to do nothing but ruminate, ideally at the same time each day. More often than not, when the appointed time arrives, you’ll find it difficult and unnatural to force yourself to overthink and the issues you had set aside to ruminate will seem less important than before.

4. You could talk to a sympathetic and trusted person about your thoughts and problems. Often sharing can help you feel that your problems aren’t as overwhelming as you thought they were and it can be useful to hear someone else’s perspective.

5. Writing out your ruminations can help you organise them, make sense of them and observe patterns you haven’t seen before. Writing is also a way to unburden yourself of your negative thoughts, allowing you to move past them. I have find this strategy particularly helpful especially writing at night as it enables me to sleep better.

6. Also taking action. If there is a particular situation you are overthinking about, decide on one small step you can take to improve the situation or help you feel a bit better i.e. making an appointment with a counsellor, write an email, get all your bills together, etc.

7. Another technique is to strengthen your identity and work towards building your sense of self-worth. This is a biggie, but you could begin by learning or undertaking something new. This can enhance your self-confidence. It also helps by making a list acknowledging your strengths and qualities, using positive affirmations, treating yourself like you would your best friend, being part of a self-development group, etc.

8. Learning to meditate can have a very calming and relaxing effect on your life, which can help you distance yourself from your worries and ruminations and leave you with a feeling of well-being. It can help you to be more mindful and the research states that being mindful – in the present moment, significantly reduces overthinking.

9. When you are busy ruminating about a particular situation, ask yourself ‘Will this matter in a year?’ Chances are in a month, six months or a year from now you won’t even remember it, let alone be upset about it. In 150 years from now, no one who is alive today will still be living, this brings home there are few things in life so significant that they are worth overthinking about.

10. Another suggestion is to visualize yourself as a tiny dot on the Earth, which is a tiny part of the Milky Way, which makes up an infinitesimal speck of the universe, it can give you a different perspective.

11. Finally, if you resolve that the trouble you’re enduring now is indeed significant and will matter in a year, then perhaps consider what the experience can teach you. Focusing on the lessons you can learn can help to soften the impact.

I hope that you find these strategies helpful. I deliver workshops on overthinking and if you are interested, I can be contacted at and


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