How to stop overthinking from taking over

Nov 22, 2021

Catch and control overthinking


One of the most common requests I get is tips for overthinkers.

A bit of reflective thinking or planning is a good thing. It helps us learn from events, solve complex issues or problems, and can save us time and effort in the future.  

Overthinking however is different and can be both a cause and symptom of stress.  It is also often called rumination (overthinking the past) or worry (overthinking the future) … but fundamentally it is repetitive, unproductive thinking which doesn’t get us anywhere.

It can also be hard to spot when we are actually “in” it because overthinking gives us an illusion of control… our brain will try to convince us that all this thinking is helpful or necessary.


Examples of overthinking

  • Dwelling on an event or interaction - e.g. replaying embarrassing moments in your head or constantly revisiting regrets over a past life choice 

  • Reading into what people say, feeling there is a double meaning 

  • Feeling a need for extra reassurance to feel calm about something e.g. questioning the quality of a relationship, your purpose, a decision

  • Needing to be prepared / know what to expect in EVERY situation regardless of how likely/unlikely they are – e.g. planning a presentation to cover EVERY possible aspect of the subject or ALL possible questions

  • Spending hours (or days) researching the BEST way to do something 

Life seems more and more complicated, and the progress seems painfully slow or non-existent. If anything, when we are overthinking we create more problems than we solve.


Why does it matter? 

Overthinking is exhausting. It can leave us paralyzed by doubt, fear, insecurity, unease.… 

It also tends to leave us ineffective and inactive … analysis paralysis … completely stuck or frozen in that place or thinking with problems that don’t exist (at least not in all the forms we imagine).

Life can feel like all the joy has been drained from the present moment with stories and “what-ifs” around every future scenario. 

Research shows that it also affects our decision-making and, ironically, leaves us less confident in the choices or decisions we have made (despite significantly more time and effort taken to make them!)

Overthinking can also play havoc with our sleep … how often do you lie awake overthinking things despite being exhausted?


Overthinking takes us into 2 stress loops

1. the worst-case scenarios or seemingly endless processes to get things done that we manage to create in our head, and 

2. our seeming inability to do anything about it. 

Unsurprisingly overthinkers describe feeling helpless or at the mercy of their thoughts like their brain won’t switch off.  Without tools to address it, overthinking can impact our enjoyment of life, productivity & effectiveness at work, and spiral into physical anxiety.

How to plan for and calm an overthinking mind

While some of us have a greater tendency to overthink, and it is designed as a bit of a protection mechanism for the things we care about, ultimately overthinking can become a habit our brain slips into causing us unnecessary stress. 

But good news! Firstly, we have a much greater ability to control our minds than we think. Secondly, it is a habit we can work to reduce.  Thirdly, most of us know if we have a tendency to overthink things.   


This combination means we can build some very effective strategies for when we do start to overthink. … and gain real confidence that they work by practicing them even when we aren’t overthinking. 

1)   Practice noticing your thoughts and thinking patterns  … when you notice them starting to loop or head off down a rabbit hole, try saying “STOP, am I overthinking this?” (yes, it can be that easy!)

2) Learn to distract yourself on purpose/train your attention. You can develop this with the following exercise every day (regardless of whether you are overthinking or not!).  Write down an intrusive thought or worry (what if they think this blog is rubbish), then deliberately look out of the window/around the room, focus on what you see (trees, people, furniture, noises, colours,…). This not only trains our ability to focus our attention away from our thoughts but gives us evidence and confidence that we can do this whenever we choose. Start short and build up time if you find it hard. (and yes, this is a bit like mindfulness)

3) Have solution-focused questions ready to go.  Questions are a great way to change a thinking pattern but they can be hard to come up with on the spot.  We can get stuck in “why” and “what if”. Instead, focus on “how” or “what can” (What can I do to resolve this? How would I like this to end?)

4) Get it out of your head … either onto paper or talking to a friend or therapist.  Don’t overlook the value in writing things down. It is a great way to spot patterns but also to reorganize thoughts (what I can / can’t control, what is important / just a thought)

5) Take the first step and focus on what you can do now, no matter how small … rather than creating a long list of things you might have to do in the future. Once in motion, the next actions will come more easily. 

Try some of the steps above and let me know if they work for you.



The STOP Technique is a mindfulness-based practice designed to help you defuse stress in the moment but its also really helpful for catching any intrusive thoughts or overthinking

Interrupt your thoughts with the command ‘stop!’ and pause whatever you’re thinking.


Take a Breath


Become the observer of your thoughts, emotions and physical reactions.

What thoughts do you notice? What emotions are present?.

Consider how you’d like to respond. What’s one thing you can focus on right now? What’s your most important and urgent priority?


Let me know how it makes you feel, or if it reduces your stress in the moment or overthinking ... I love hearing feedback!


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