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November 11, 2019 Peggy Liu

8 strategies to help with overthinking

One might assume that thinking more about a problem or decision is a good way to cover all your bases, but that isn't necessarily true.

Most people have experienced overthinking when they are particularly stressed or nervous; some are chronic overthinkers. No doubt there are countless opportunities to lapse into hypervigilant thinking when you’re managing or just starting a business — it’s a lot of responsibility that requires action and engaged attention. 

Objectively, one might assume that thinking more about a problem or decision is a good way to cover all your bases, but that isn’t necessarily true. Scientific studies have revealed that overthinking negatively impacts mood and clouds judgement. (In some people, it’s also a symptom of anxiety and depression, for which professional help is recommended.)

So, what can you do when you catch yourself thinking in circles at work? To start, here are eight suggestions you can try to break the vicious cycle of overthinking.

  1. Learn your thinking patterns. If you’re a chronic overthinker, do you tend to overthink more during the day or late at night? It can help knowing which times throughout the day you are most prone to getting lost in your thoughts and shuffle your work schedule accordingly to make room for reflection. For some people, their brains are just online all the time no matter what they do — if that’s the case for you, why not use it to your advantage?
  2. Switch gears to a new activity. It’s not uncommon to think yourself into paralysis. You get too caught up in the chain of negative thoughts and the fear that comes with them, and give up altogether. Switch up your activity to spur your mind into action. Move on to another task. Go outside. Give your brain something different to focus on.
  3. Integrate your emotions with your thoughts. Sometimes when you overthink a problem at work, you’re actually trying to rationalize your way around an emotion you’re not letting yourself feel. Maybe it’s fear or self-doubt or an emotion just as unpleasant to experience — but you need to let yourself feel it. You’re only human.
  4. Journal. Keep a small notebook or journal on hand. When your thoughts get too many and too overwhelming, putting them down on paper may ease some of the stress. Moreover, journaling is often recommended by experts to help you organize your thoughts and help make sense of them.
  5. Put on your favourite jams and have a (private) dance party. Maybe this one seems ridiculous to you, but let’s be real, everyone’s rocked a solo dance party at some point in their life. Kudos to you if you do it when there are people around. Focus on physical movement to get out of your head. Dance is a fun way to loosen up any tension in your body, and we all know the rejuvenating qualities of good music. 
  6. Take your problems to the gym. Similar to dancing, going for a run or a gym workout is focusing on movement to break the cycle of negative overthinking. More importantly, exercise releases endorphins that will help lift your mood. 
  7. Accept that you can’t predict the future. You can let yourself obsessive over numerous possible outcomes and imagine the results until your brain turns to mush, but you can’t know the future. Otherwise, what’s the point of learning? Like it or not, ambiguity and uncertainty is the uncomfortable reality of life. Time is a valuable resource; it’s better spent acting (and learning from our failures) than stagnating in perpetual worry. 
  8. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. A lot of people overthink problems not because they don’t know the solution, but because they’re terrified of being wrong or looking foolish. There’s only one way out of this loop, and that is to learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Business can get messy and starting new ventures can be scary — but that’s the whole point. Those who are successful are the ones who see the reward behind the challenge.

These are just several methods that might help free you from the loop of overthinking. However, they won’t work if you beat yourself up for reasons like not controlling your thoughts or wasting time. Getting plagued by negative thoughts is already a hard time—there’s no reason you should give yourself a hard time, too.

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu is a freelance writer and content creator and editor. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English Literature, where she was also a mental health columnist for the student newspaper. When she isn't digging her way to the bottom of a peanut butter jar or petting friendly dogs around Vancouver, she can be found sitting in cafes with a notebook and a cup of coffee.