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Healthy Ways to Stop Overthinking & Worrying

Do you often find yourself lost in thought, worrying too much about too many things? Same. 

If you’re anything like me you have probably spent way too many nights staring at the wall obsessing over the smallest mistake you made that day or that awkward moment from a year ago that suddenly and randomly came to you as you were finally drifting into sleep. You probably spent hours wondering what that weird look a coworker gave you meant or worrying about the future and everything that could go wrong during that big event that’s coming up in a few weeks.

Sounds familiar? Most people will experience some degree of overthinking and worry at some point in their life. This can come and go as the result of simply living your life and facing difficulties or it can be a bit more pervasive and linked to poor mental health. 

The good news is that there are a few healthy ways you can try to help reduce the impact that overthinking and worrying have on your life. Some tips may sound obvious or too simple to be effective but sometimes the simplest solution can be the most helpful. This is especially true if you can turn them into long-term habits, so you might want to try them a few times before discarding them completely.

Before we go on…

Let’s make something clear. I can’t cure your overthinking or get rid of all the problems that worry you. 

I am also not an expert and although I hope that the resources and information I provide can support those with little to no access to proper mental healthcare, you should not see these tips as a replacement for any professional or medical advice you may have already received.

What I can do is offer you some tips on how you can try to cope better based on my own experience and research. They may help, they may not. I’ve tried to cover as many options as possible and will continue to update as I find more information, but if these suggestions don’t work for you, don’t give up. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. We are all a little different and so are our problems. 

With that out of the way, here are some things you can try if you’re prone to overthinking:

1. Write It Down

I know, I know. I told you some suggestions would sound way too obvious but you’d be surprised how many people walk around with an endless to-do list in their head, constantly worrying they’ll forget something. If that’s you and you’re struggling to keep track of your thoughts and everything you have to do, write it down. Really, it helps. Make a note on your phone, get a diary, a calendar, a to-do list, a shopping list, or all of the above. Whatever will help you keep track of things.

Ideally, if it’s a recurring problem try to create a system and make it easy for you to take notes so that you can make a habit of it. For instance, I keep a dedicated notepad on the wall of the kitchen for my grocery shopping list and a waterproof pad in the shower since that’s where I usually get some of my best ideas. I also check my to-do list and my calendar every day to make sure I don’t forget anything but also so that I don’t have to remember anything and can keep my mind free for other things.

It might also be worth keeping notes of when you tend to overthink and if there are commonalities. Your mood and your thought processes could be impacted by many things, like your menstrual cycle, if that applies to you, a particular person coming in and out of your life or a situation that is triggering for you. Next time you find yourself overthinking make a note of the circumstances and after a few times, you might notice that they had some things in common, which might help you address the problem.

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2. Get a Journal

I am a HUGE fan of journaling. I know it doesn’t sound like a very advanced solution but journaling can be incredibly beneficial. 

Sometimes what’s bothering you isn’t as clear as remembering what you need to do. Maybe you had an argument with a friend, or you’re dealing with family issues, or you’re overwhelmed by something going on in your life, or you have big plans that you can’t fully make sense of, or maybe you don’t even really know why you’re upset. In that case, try letting it out on paper, venting without worrying that someone will judge you for it. It may not solve the problem but at the very least it will allow you to release your emotions and process them a little better.

Journaling can take many forms and that’s part of what makes it great. It can adapt to you and to what you need. From free writing to bullet and creative journaling. You can try different ways to let your thoughts come out unfiltered on the page, or look for journaling prompts and inspiration to get you started. Your journal can be for you or it can be a piece of art you choose to share with the world. It’s entirely up to you. Either way, it can be a great tool for self-discovery, expressing yourself, encouraging you to live more intentionally, planning out your life or helping you identify why you feel the way you do.

You can check out this article on the benefits of journaling and how to get started to find out more.

flat lane photo of book and highlighters

3. Make A Plan

If you already know what the problem is, whether it’s because you’ve been journaling to figure it out ( 😉 ) or because you already knew what it was, why not take some time to make a plan to try to find some kind of solution or to help you deal with the situation?

Now, before you come at me, yes, I know, it’s easier said than done. Yes, I know, some problems are not easily fixed, or fixable at all. This suggestion won’t necessarily apply to everything and everyone. Plus, even if you made the most amazing plan in the world, that doesn’t guarantee it will work.

BUT, there will be cases where it will apply, even if it’s a very, very long-term plan. Maybe you’re worried about your upcoming exams, or a job interview, or a big project you’ve been putting off, or you’ve been feeling guilty because you didn’t spend enough time practising how to play the piano or because you feel you haven’t been taking proper care of yourself in a while. In cases like those, you could take a few minutes to sit down so that you can look at what you have and haven’t been doing and make a plan where you prioritise what’s most important to you and try to find ways to put that first. 

Keep in mind that, contrary to what many self-help gurus will tell you, not everyone has the same free time or responsibilities so if you feel like you just can’t find the time, don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong. This may take a few attempts and would need to adapt to you and your situation, and that’s okay.

Alternatively, if it’s not a “fixable” problem or something that is out of your individual control you could either try one of the other suggestions on this list or make a plan that helps you cope with the problem emotionally. Maybe you’re facing discrimination, struggling with climate anxiety or mourning the loss of a loved one. In those types of circumstances, you may want to make a different kind of plan, like deciding to join a support group, trying different things to help you process your feelings or joining an activist organisation with similar ideas as yours. Not only would you find people who feel as you do and can relate to you, but it may also feel empowering to take action towards making things a little less grim, even if it’s in a small way.

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4. Deal with the thing that’s bothering you

I am generally suspicious of hustle culture and everything and everyone that will have you believe that your worth as a human comes primarily from your productivity and accomplishments. There is so much more to life than how impressive your CV or your academic records are.

That said, in some cases, the best way to stop thinking about a problem is to get rid of the problem. Sometimes, self-care looks like putting on your grown-up hat and doing the work, whatever that work may be. That assignment you’ve been procrastinating on, that friend you said you would call, that difficult conversation you’ve been putting off, that personal project you’ve been neglecting for months now. If it’s something you can tackle and get out of the way, do it. If it’s too big to take care of it in one day, make a plan. You will feel so much better once it’s dealt with and, if you don’t, at least you would have dealt with it already and can start to get it out of your head.

You may be thinking that if it was that easy you would have already done it. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying you have to do it. I’m saying that if you don’t, it will bother you until you do, so you can consider this your sign to go do that thing.

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5. Talk it out

I have a friend I call whenever I’m trying to figure something out or feel overwhelmed to the point where I feel like nothing else will work. I think that she has figured out by now that if she just lets me rant, I will eventually tire myself out and once I’m done, I will either have found the solution to my problem or feel a little bit better. So she lets me vent, and it helps. Depending on what the problem is, it can help to be able to think out loud and share your thoughts with someone else who may make you approach things a little differently. If it’s not something that can be easily fixed, then it helps to have someone who will listen. If you have pets or people you can hug, that’s even better. Both are great mood boosters. 

If you do have someone you can count on and share your problems with, you can count yourself lucky. If you don’t, or if you feel like you don’t want to bother them every single time, you can always vent in your journal.

However, there is a different take on this suggestion. It could refer to sharing your burden with someone you feel safe with and you think will understand you, but it could also refer to the opposite situation; talking things out with someone you had an argument or a misunderstanding with. 

If this is someone you’re close to and would like to keep in your life but you feel there’s something you need to say or a situation that needs to be addressed so that you can move forward, it can help to talk things out. It’s important to keep in mind here that this is HIGHLY dependent on the circumstances and the people involved. Some things are best left unsaid and some people are best left alone, so use your judgement carefully.

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6. Take a break, do something for you

If your problem is that you’ve been overwhelmed by everything you’ve been doing and still have left to do, stop. I know you don’t want to. I know you feel like you can’t. But stop. Now.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that we must be doing stuff all the time, that our value is tied to our productivity. This makes us remove everything that feels unproductive out of our lives and feel guilty whenever we stop working. It’s unhealthy.

All those things deemed unproductive and, therefore, pointless are essential to our well-being. You were not born so that you could work every minute of every day of your life. You deserve to have fun and do things that have no other purpose other than your enjoyment.

We are not machines. We need nurturing and time to breathe. If you don’t, you will eventually burn out. If nothing else, think about your time off as time spent ensuring that you can remain productive when you get back to work.

It’s not just about what you do either. Our brains are filled with information from the moment we open our eyes and check our phones in the morning. Endless to-do lists, responsibilities, information, ambitions, news, memes… It’s all too much. Our brains and bodies need rest in order to function. We need time to process information, relax, savour our meals, enjoy nature and socialise without a purpose other than connection or fun. 

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7. Sleep, eat well, drink water

We don’t like to accept it, but we are all just grown-up children. When we become adults most of us start to behave like all the needs we had as children suddenly vanished. We think we are no longer allowed to take naps or sleep in or look after our most basic needs properly without feeling guilty or selfish. 

In some cases, you may have so many responsibilities that you just don’t have the time to sleep as much as you should in order to stay sane and healthy or to sit down and have a full meal and make sure you drank enough water. Whether we like it or not, the truth is, just like babies and toddlers, when we get tired, hungry or dehydrated our mood drops. 

When parents send their crying babies to sleep because they’re tired, they’re not wrong. Our ability to process our emotions and deal with our thoughts and concerns is simply not the same when you’re sleep-deprived. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed after a long week and don’t know why or feel like the reasons shouldn’t really be affecting you as much as they do, go to bed. Take a nap, or better yet, have a full night of sleep, and then deal with the problem in the morning, after you’ve had a glass of water and nutritious breakfast. The problem may not go away but at least you’ll be able to deal with it from a healthier place and, hopefully, with some mental clarity.

white cat sleeps under white comforter

8. Try Mindfulness & Meditation

There will be times when there won’t be much you can do about the problem. Maybe there’s no real or clear problem. If that’s the case, try mindfulness and meditation. 

Meditation is a great way way to take some time off for yourself, disconnect from the rest of the world and prioritise your well-being. The simple act of setting time aside to meditate can be beneficial in itself by making you feel more in control of yourself and your situation. 

Once you start meditating, especially if you do it regularly, you’ll give your mind a break and learn to distance yourself from your thoughts. This can help you detach your value as a person from those thoughts and gain control over what you focus your attention on.

The same happens when you begin practising mindfulness. You learn to become aware of your thoughts as you think them and observe your actions as you do them. You learn to be more present, living intentionally and in the moment.

Of course, all of this takes practice and even if you practice every day for a long time, mindfulness and meditation aren’t a quick fix that will solve everything. They are practices you incorporate into your life and turn into habits. Some days you will see the impact, some maybe you won’t. It’s also worth exploring different kinds of meditation as they can differ significantly from one another.

man in black shirt sitting on brown grass during daytime

9. Schedule worry time

One technique recommended to people who struggle to control their thoughts is to set aside “worry time”. This is linked to mindfulness in that it requires you to become aware of your own thoughts and the fact that you are now thinking and worrying more than you would like. When that happens, the idea is to schedule worry time and tell yourself that now is not the time to worry, that you’ll make a note of it and worry about it during your scheduled worry time.

It may sound a bit strange but it is definitely worth a try. The mere act of noticing that you are worrying and deciding to worry during a specific time can feel quite empowering. It means that you give yourself permission to clear your head during the rest of the day and think about the problem in a more focused and intentional way when the scheduled time comes. You may even find that when that time arrives, you don’t feel the need to worry anymore.

You can learn more about worry time in this article and some extra tips here.

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10. Challenge your thoughts

This is another helpful technique for those struggling with their negative thoughts which you could try during your scheduled worrying time.

When a negative thought comes to you, question it. Thoughts are not facts so, how truthful is that negative thought you just had? Is it 100% true? Is it true all of the time? Is it as bad as it seems?

When you start to question the veracity of your negative thoughts, they start to lose some of their power over you. After some practice you might even be able to turn that negative thought into a positive one.

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11. Consider the worst-case scenario

Another way to challenge your thoughts is to take them to the very worst-case scenario.

This one can be a bit more distressing and may not be for everyone or every situation but, in some cases, facing the worst-case scenario of the thing that’s worrying you, and trying to come up with potential solutions should that happen, could lead you to realise that the problem is not as bad as your mind is making it out to be. If it is, it may make you feel safer to know that you have a back-up plan should the worst happen.

Or, if the worst-case scenario is truly unbearable, this may motivate you to find ways to avoid it if that’s at all possible. 

As I said, this second approach won’t work for everyone and there are some scenarios where it wouldn’t be helpful at all. Use your own judgement and if you feel that it could be triggering and unsafe for you, don’t try it. 

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12. Use Positive Thinking

Hear me out. Like some of the other tips on this list, this won’t apply to everything. There are some things that suck, no matter how hard you try to put a positive spin on them. I’m not saying you should pretend that everything is perfect and try to convince yourself that you’re happy about something when you are not. I’m not about to encourage toxic positivity here.

What I am saying, though, is that there are situations where positive thinking can be helpful. Let’s say you have to give a presentation but you hate public speaking. Now you can’t stop thinking about it and worrying that you’re going to mess it up and it’s going to be embarrassing. You’re allowed to feel that way. You’re even allowed to complain about it if you need to, but if you can’t get out of it, that’s not going to help you make the situation better. 

What might help, however, is focusing on the positives that could come from giving that presentation or about why you might actually be great at it. Instead of focusing on all the ways you might ruin it, try to think about the things you’re good at and how you might use those to your advantage. Ask yourself what you could improve instead of constantly beating yourself up about what you lack. 

This isn’t always easy to do and it takes practice but you can aid yourself with some of the previous tips such as journaling, mindfulness and challenging your thoughts.  

gray monkey in bokeh photography

13. Use the “F*ck It” Approach

So what if you mumbled your way through that presentation? So what if your neighbour saw that embarrassing parcel arrive yesterday? Or if your new partner just heard that accidentally massive fart you let out when you went to the bathroom? Big deal. No one cares. And if they do, it’s on them really. 

You are human. You are doing your best. You are going to mess up now and then. We all do. It’s okay. No one is perfect. All you can do is try, and if it doesn’t work out you can try again or figure out an alternative.

Like other suggestions on this list, this won’t work for everything. Some things you will still care deeply about, as you should. Nevertheless, approaching certain situations with this attitude can help take the pressure off a little before facing something you’re nervous about, or allow you to stop torturing yourself after if it didn’t go so well. 

The key here is remembering that if something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Most things aren’t. It might seem like the most important thing in the world right now but it probably isn’t. You will recover. In a few years, if you even remember it, at worst you might look back and cringe a little.

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14. Find a professional

If everything else fails, ask for help. Ideally from a trained professional and in a safe environment. 

I am of the belief that you do not need to wait until you’re in a really bad place to seek help. In fact, you shouldn’t. While overthinking itself isn’t a mental illness, it can be linked to different mental health conditions, so if it’s starting to feel like too much, reach out for help.

Sadly, I say that with the full awareness that although we now live in a time when mental health discussions have become more normalised, for most people around the world professional help is often inaccessible and leaves much to be desired.

However, if you do have a way to access professional support, whether it’s short or long-term, don’t let the stigma or stereotypes stop you from taking care of yourself if you feel like it’s something you might benefit from. Like everything else on this list, it might not be for everyone but it’s probably worth a try.

don't give up. You are not alone, you matter signage on metal fence

What’s next?

If you got to this point, whether you read the full article or just the parts that seemed relevant to you, you may be wondering where to go from here. 

While you don’t have to try all the tips or follow a particular order, you could always start from the beginning. I wrote the tips in an order that felt somewhat logical to me but you could start with the one that stands out to you the most or feels the most relevant. 

Whatever you choose, I’d recommend trying each suggestion a few times before you rule them out but, ultimately, the purpose of this article is to help you so you should adapt each option to yourself and your circumstances.