3 Easy Ways To Stop Overthinking

If overthinking is something you do, is silence as precious to you, as it is to me?

I can’t always get that long, uninterrupted and desired silence within the loud and often times overwhelming world.  And sometimes, it’s even harder to get any silence within my own unending, overthinking brain.

I’m guessing that you probably love to think and love to use your brain, too?  The problem I’ve faced is that if I can’t shut off or quiet my thoughts, it can lead me down a pretty bad path.  I cannot connect as easily with the best parts of myself – the internal, knowing, intuitive parts.

It’s not until recently that I started to recognize how much all that chatter gets in my way – at times, it can be downright abusive in its criticism and judgment of what I do and who I am.

How are you supposed to move forward in a healthy way if what goes through your head is so self-defeating and you can’t recognize mind chatter for what it is?  The simple answer is that you can’t.  That is, not until you can recognize it and can have a choice.

It turns out that overthinking (also called rumination) is associated with depression and worry.  No surprise, there, right?  So, it makes sense that slowing down your overthinking, and getting a bit more silence in your head might be a pretty good thing.

I’ve been a meditator for close to 20 years.  It works great to silence the chatter, but it’s so hard to have the discipline to sit for 20 minutes a day, twice a day.  I’m still working on it, but in the meantime I’m going for the smaller, more consistently doable ways to get little bits of silence worked into my everyday.

Here are a few things I do that seem to work in order to get the little moments of silence inside of me throughout the day when hours and days of silence around me may be out of reach:

3 Easy Ways To Get The Silence You Need From Overthinking

  1. Every morning when you wake up and you put your feet on the floor to stand up (and/or every evening after you sit down on your bed to lay down), think of three things for which you are grateful.

According to Robert Emmons, gratitude recognizes and reinforces our connections and healthy dependence on other people.  It also helps you cope with stress and adversity.

When, as highly sensitive introverts, it’s really easy to feel misunderstood and alone, this is a practice that helps grow a sense of connection in healthy ways.

I find that it acts more like a buffer to the anxiety of what to get done and how to get it done, and the feeling of overwhelm.  It reminds you to keep the good in mind.

Most importantly, it helps you recognize the good moments in what sometimes can feel like a sea of bad ones.  It helps develop a sense of trust that things are ok, or are going to be ok, and that can be enough to slow overthinking.

2.  Each time you get into your car (or onto public transport), take three breaths and imagine a sphere of light and warmth, that extends out from you and surrounds you, like a bubble, from every direction.

The power of the imagination can’t be underestimated.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped people remember and visualize places of safety and warmth and love, and how it immediately helps them relax.

I almost see it kind of like a blessing.  It’s not to keep other people out – it’s to know where you are in space and feel yourself out to your edges.  I know this sounds a bit woo-woo, so you’ll have to trust me on this one.  I’m pragmatic – if it works, I don’t much care how it works.

It only takes a few seconds (so it’s worth a shot), but it slows your thinking down for a moment – enough to reconnect with yourself.  Enough to bring you back into the present moment.

3.  Sit down and write out things like:

  • a list of all the to-do’s that run through your head
  • all the things that keep running through your mind that you “messed up,” “should’ve done better,” or that go round and round on what you “could’ve said” but didn’t
  • a list of all the things you’re worried about or that you’re afraid could be true, or might be true

Writing is one way I find that helps keep your mind from going around and around in circles.  It also helps you to get distance from the intensity of the emotion so you can make decisions about what you want to do.  Lists seem like they clarify things more easily than writing everything out journal style.

In mindfulness terms, writing down your thoughts exactly as they are helps you start to observe the chatter in your mind without judgment:  Ah, there goes my mind again telling me how stupid I am.  Wow. That’s the third time.  How fascinating.

You can start to witness your mind at work so that you can begin to question the truth of those statements (some are true, some aren’t) and begin to have a choice about how to move forward.

After you finish writing, you can ask questions like: is this really true?  If it is true, what would I need to do different to change it?  What’s one little step I can take right now, or in the next day to make that change?

These are three effective and simple ways to start slowing down your thinking.  Ultimately, they are do-able, little steps to help you keep the chatter in your mind from determining how you feel and keeping you from the quiet that’s so necessary to breathe as an HSP introvert.

Here are a few other helpful things to know about mind chatter or overthinking:

Mind chatter is so ever-present, we don’t even recognize it.  It’s familiar, but not helpful.  It’s noise.  And it is a plague.

For me, it’s the lists of what I have to, should, need to get done.  It’s replaying all those conversations when I could’ve and should’ve said something different, and it’s worrying about how I’m going to handle upcoming situations.  Sound familiar?

I call these “open loops” – they’re paths of overthinking that have no end.  They go on and on with no end, and drive you crazy because nothing ever comes to a conclusion.  Like getting on a hamster wheel, and not being able to get off.

Your mind is like a pen.  But you decide what to write – not the pen.

Left to its own devices, though, your mind can take over and write whatever it wants, leaving you to feel out of control.  The mind’s purpose is to solve problems.

If there are no problems to solve, it makes up problems based on your worries, judgments, criticisms, hurts and pains.  It just wants to stay busy – and if it isn’t busy, it thinks it might die.

You think you might die (not literally, of course) – but that’s why it’s so hard to stop thinking about a worry or fear, stop seeing all the things that “aren’t right,” or all the ways you “aren’t enough.”

It is alluring because you might figure out what to do if you keep thinking and gnawing on the problem, and if you stop thinking about it, you might not figure it out.  So your mind chatters on because the possibility you might not figure it out is too scary.

This is over-thinking.  Being like a dog with a bone.

The rub is that it’s fun to solve problems.  It feels good, satisfying, and productive.  But without actively working to slow your mind down, or stop it altogether, you get no real deep rest.  And, you’re hostage to worries, fears, and judgments.

This is the basis of why meditation, exercise and movement, and art can be so valuable – they are all ways to slow the mind or stop it altogether (among other things).

Thinking a lot about what happened or what’s going to happen is overthinking.  It also makes you really unhappy.

Does this mean  you shouldn’t review the past or plan for the future?  Of course not.

It just means that you learn to get out of the habit of going around and around on the “hamster wheel” of your mind.  You close the “open loops” of thinking that keep you frazzled, overwhelmed, and paralyzed.

Is it easy?  Heck no.  It means learning to be in your body.  Learning to be in the present moment of your life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You might be interested in a related article about silence and overthinking: May We Get A Moment of Silence?.

Image Credit: Patrik Theander

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Eva Rubin, MPH/LCSW

Hi! I'm Eva Rubin, LCSW. I study the psychology and the art of how to live well as an introvert and sensitive person so that I can learn and share it with you.
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