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5 min read

How To Get Out of Your Head: Tips for Overthinkers

I think that my work presentation went pretty well. It's time to head home.

Hopefully, traffic isn't too bad.

Sarah was complaining about traffic this morning.

She seemed distracted during my presentation, too. I hope she's okay.

Maybe she just didn't like the presentation.

I guess I could have done a little better on some of the charts.

Maybe it looked really unprofessional.

I thought they were good; maybe I was wrong and she hated them.

Maybe I do that a lot: think I do things well when, in reality, I don't.

Is that what I'm known for?

Am I the over-confident-but-under-competent person at the office?

Oh man, that's probably all they talk about when my name comes up.

They might fire me if I keep this up. I know I would if I were in their position.

Maybe I should just quit while I still have my dignity.

How could I let this happen?

...

Take a breath. If that train of thought sounds familiar, you're probably an overthinker.

You're certainly not alone. The human brain is simultaneously the most amazing calculatory tool in the known universe and our own worst nightmare. Overthinking is a very common occurrence, especially for those prone to worry, anxiety, or just plain stress.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to reduce the intensity and frequency of your overthinking and, over time, learn to use your deepest thoughts to your own advantage.

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Why do we overthink?

How To Stop Overthinking: 4 Methods

Therapy for Overthinking in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Why do we overthink?

Overthinking comes from a number of potential underlying causes. Some of the most common are:

  • Anxiety
  • Trauma
  • Stress

Anxiety

Anxiety is perhaps the most common reason for overthinking. Anxiety is a disorder wherein the brain exists in a consistent state of stress.

When your brain is stressed, it's in a certain kind of "defense mode". It's constantly searching for threats that need to be either eliminated or avoided.

If there is no physical threat, as there so often isn't in a world as developed and free from human-seeking apex predators as ours, the brain will look inward to create a threat.

Instead of simply relaxing, the brains of those with anxiety will start to consider unlikely worst case scenarios and overanalyze past experiences. It might even make personal flaws seem more severe than they realistically are.

Trauma

Trauma often has long lasting effects on the brain.

Those who have had severely traumatic experiences undergo a number of physiological and psychological changes that can be difficult to surmount.

After experiencing trauma, the brain goes into a chronic state of fight-or-flight. Similar to anxiety, a person who has experienced trauma will often search internally for worst-case scenarios.

Many of those who have experienced trauma will also have psychological damage that forces them to consider the almost unignorable possibility of future trauma.

If you have never experienced trauma, you can often put the risk of, for example, being robbed, to the side. It feels like an ethereal, almost immaterial thing that can’t affect you. For those who have undergone serious trauma, however, the threat feels far more tangible. It can even seem like the threat of new trauma is always near.

Stress

Even if you don't have anxiety and haven't experienced any recent or untreated trauma, stress can cause overthinking.

When you're under heavy stress or have a lot going on, your brain needs to plan. It will cycle through everything that is an active task - work, family issues, problems with health - and start to file away all of the subtasks it needs to keep track of: that current expense tracking project, your mom's birthday, and watching your cholesterol.

Once you start this process, it's hard to stop. Being an extremely powerful computer, your brain will continue to analyze and plan until you're overthinking about something that is only very loosely related to your current situation (like, for example, your mom's reaction when you forgot her birthday 13 years ago).

How To Stop Overthinking: 4 Methods

The human brain is like a supercomputer. It's perfect when it's under our control: hyper-intelligent, insanely fast, and capable of analyzing and solving virtually any problem.

But when it goes into overdrive, it can also become a sort of prison. We can find ourselves under the control of our brain, rather than the other way around. And for overthinkers, the off-switch breaks off when they try to press it.

This means the brain is flawed. Luckily, having flaws means it can be tricked into turning off - or at least slowing down.

Grounding: The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

One way to stop overthinking is grounding.

Grounding comes with hundreds of techniques, but all of them seek to accomplish the same goal: get your mind on tangible external sensations rather than internal stress and worry.

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is incredibly simple.

5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique definiton

First, in your surrounding area, pick out five things you can see. Easy: wall, carpet, desk, laptop, phone.

Then, four things you can touch. Computer mouse, water bottle, notebook, mousepad.

Now, three things you can hear. This is where it can get tricky (but, spoiler alert, that's the point). Air conditioning, typing, and a Taylor Swift song playing in the break room down the hall.

Next, find two things you can smell. In many cases, one scent dominates all others. If you can only find one thing (or nothing) to smell, your job is to create smells. If someone's making Bagel Bites down the hall, that's one. Now crack open your notebook and sniff deeply as you flick through the pages. Notice the smell of the paper. That's two.

Finally, find one thing you can taste. Grab a soda, some tea, or a piece of gum.

You're now grounded in your imminent external environment, and your brain should start to ease off the gas. You can repeat this strategy as many times as necessary.

Exercise

The mind and body are intimately and permanently connected. Engage the body in strenuous exercise, and the mind has no choice but to stop what it's doing and focus on getting your body through it.

Exercise also releases endorphins, which ease anxiety and stress.

Here's a simple at-home exercise that's sure to get your blood pumping:

  1. Jog in place for 3 minutes, as hard as you can
  2. Next, do pushups until failure. Once your muscle's fail, wait 30 seconds, and then do another set. Five sets should be enough to get your muscles screaming. By the way, if your sets consist of just half of one push-up before failure, that still counts.
  3. Do bodyweight squats until failure. Depending on your physical condition, you may be able to do only one, or you may be able to do dozens. Both count, as long as you go until your quads are burning.
  4. Jog in place for another 3 minutes, and you're done. If you're an average American adult, you'll probably be red in the face and sweating by now, and your brain should be much quieter.

Socializing

Sometimes, our brains overthink out of sheer boredom. Sometimes, it's because we don't have anywhere to put our thoughts. Socializing with friends or family solves both of these problems.

It might be difficult to make plans - overthinking can make it seem overwhelming to see others.

Don't force yourself into a situation that will make you more anxious, but if you can, visit a friend. Tell them what's on your mind. A conversation can often be the best way to get your thoughts out of your head and into a place where they can be processed and addressed.

Therapy

If you're a chronic and frequent overthinker, talk therapy with a licensed professional is a great option. As we learned above, overthinking can be caused by underlying mental health issues.

Talking to a therapist may be able to help you process past trauma or unpack your anxiety in a more detailed way, giving you the tools needed to combat your overactive brain.

Therapy for Overthinking in Brooklyn: Williamsburg Therapy Group

If you find yourself always considering the worst-case scenario or finding faults in yourself, talk therapy can help.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, we pride ourselves on our team. Consisting exclusively of doctoral-level psychologists, our Brooklyn anxiety therapists are some of the best in the field.

Give us a call to get matched with the right therapist for you. Feeling better may be closer than you think.

Book a Therapy Session in NYC Today

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