Today’s Solutions: June 24, 2022

As human beings, we have an ability to predict, within reason, what might happen. And while that may give us a feeling of control, what often ends up happening is we latch onto this way of thinking and start overthinking. Because it can be difficult to determine when thinking is helpful and productive, and when it’s just too much, so here’s how to recognize it.

Recognize the signs: According to Carleton College psychologist Nate Page, overthinking usually falls into two categories: dwelling on the past, which is usually called rumination, or about the future, which is usually just referred to as worrying. One way to tell if you’re worrying or overthinking is if you feel more exhausted than usual and don’t have time to think about other important things. You might find you have trouble sleeping or focusing. If that’s the case, here are some steps you can try.

1. Set aside time to worry: Schedule time in your day to focus on your biggest concerns. Such a practice may offer relief from the effort of trying to quiet them. 

2. Examine your predictions: Giving yourself the time and space to identify your worries can also help you examine the predictions you’re making. When you define exactly what it is that’s bothering you, it’s possible to more easily look at the best- and worst-case scenarios and how you would handle them.

3. Get comfortable with discomfort: In many cases, people stuck in analysis or overthinking are trying to avoid unpleasant feelings. But that’s a false sense of control. Instead, Page encourages people to strengthen their ability to manage uncomfortable situations.

4. Redirect: If you find yourself stuck in worry, redirect your thoughts. What would be a helpful step for you to take to help calm your concerns? Can you find a way to calm the concerns you have?

5. Write: Freewriting and journaling can be powerful tools and create some “distance” from your thoughts. One 2017 study published in Psychophysiology found that expressive writing reduced error-related negativity in people with anxiety.

6. Phone a friend: Talking to someone you trust can help you identify when you’re stuck in a pattern of overthinking. Plus, their feedback can help calm you or redirect your thinking.

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