30 Tips to Help Quieten an Overthinking Mind
When you’re in a negative headspace, it can be easy to forget how to get out of it. That’s why I’ve created this list of 30 ideas to help you quieten an overthinking mind. I suggest that you try all thirty to see what works for you. So, let’s get straight into it!
Read anxiety-specific affirmations
Reading affirmations is my number one go-to when my mind is spiraling. It is essentially a tool to make you visualise your ideal life, because it’s difficult to do that on your own when the only thing you can currently visualise are the “what if”s on repeat in your brain. When I was at university, I struggled big time with stress and worrying about the future - especially when I was writing my dissertation. I began reading affirmations that I occasionally found from spirituality bloggers online but they were often quite vague and didn’t help me with what I was specifically struggling with. So, I wrote my own. I spent months writing a total of 555 affirmations for specific negative emotions, anxiety being one of them. I shared some of them on this blog and a few of you began asking where I got my affirmations from. That’s when it turned into a book, and it makes me smile knowing that something I wrote to help myself is now helping many of you, all over the world. So if you’re in need of some anxiety-specific affirmations, you can either download You Are In Control Of Your Own Universe or write a list of your own. Either way, get affirming that focused positivity!
Ground yourself in the present moment
Think about what is currently around you, focusing on one of your senses at a time. What can you see? What can you hear? What can you feel? What can you taste? What can you smell? Remember where you are actually are rather than the place that you are imagining.
Admit when you are powerless
Repeat after me: “I admit that I am powerless over others. I admit that I am powerless over some of my thoughts. I admit that I am powerless over the past”. If any part of you tries to fight those statements or feels frightened by them, read it all again. And more if needed. Keep on reading those statements until they sink in and you feel that some weight has been lifted. If this isn’t working for you today, then this is why you have a list of not just one top tip but thirty!
Replace the thought with something else
Although feeling and letting out your emotions is important, going round and round in circles is something that needs to be helped - especially so if it’s stopping you from living in some way. This is where working to change your thoughts might help. If you’re overthinking, then you’re most likely stressing about something. Some people find it helpful in these cases to replace that stressful thought with a thought about something they were stressed about in the past but have now got through or solved. Or perhaps if the thoughts you’re struggling with involve people, think about different people instead who you aren’t stressed about. Maybe arrange to meet up with them or have a phone call catch up. Either way, replacing your thoughts with something similar but more positive is the key here.
Do some breathing exercises and stretching
Breathe in for four seconds, gently hold it for seven seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds. Repeat as many times as needed. Then, reach up as high as you can. Slightly bend backwards, and then return to straight standing. Reach up high again, and then slowly reach all the way down to your toes if you can. Let your arms, head and neck hang loose for a few seconds or a minute. Come back up very slowly, ‘stacking’ one part of your body on top of another until you are standing - lift your head up last and take it slow. Reach up again and stretch to one side and then to the other. Lower your arms and repeat the breathing exercise again.
Consider: in this moment, what percentage of you is living in your head and what percentage is living in the physical world?
If the numbers are unbalanced, work to change that! As mentioned before focus on your senses and ground yourself in the present moment. Alternatively, physically go and do something - sing, play an instrument, cook a meal, workout, go for a walk, have a bath, have a shower and so on. If you need some more ideas, have a read of this blog post here.
Call a friend for a catch up
Ever heard the phrase ‘surround yourself with positive people’? Well, although it may not be totally true (because no one on this planet can truly be happy and feel positive 100% of the time), just having an upbeat conversation with someone else can have a huge impact on your mood and mindset. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, and whether that means a week or a year to you it doesn’t matter. Ask them how they’ve been. Ask them what they’ve been up to. Small distractions and genuine conversations can be a huge help when your mind is fixated on one thing that’s getting you down!
Learn about why we overthink and how it was naturally meant to be helpful rather than destructive
This one just puts it all into perspective, and brings you back to the present moment a little more. Overthinking usually happens when we worry, no matter if it’s about the past, present or future. A very (very) long time ago - and I mean think cave man times - worry and fear is what would make us act in times of danger in order to live. Maybe food was running out and we needed to find somewhere else to get it from or needed to develop a new way of finding food. That worry - “we’re running out of food, this is bad” - is what forced us to come up with a solution so that we wouldn’t die. Our brains had the tool of thinking to get us out of bad situations. It forced us to act and it forced us to try our best to survive. But today we often worry about things that won’t kill us and that are out of our control, like wondering whether someone likes you or not for example. And then our brains get stuck in a loop. “What if they don’t like me? There’s nothing I can do. I’m stuck. They don’t like me. I must be a bad person. And there’s nothing I can do.” When there is no active solution (like moving to a new place to find more food, in other words ‘plan B’), our brain gets stuck. This is just something that was meant to help us survive - and hey, despite all of this worrying and overthinking, you are alive right? Go you! So technically speaking, your instinctual reaction to think is happening just the way it is supposed to, but has gotten a little jammed up with modern life. Keep on reading and get out of that cycle!
Write a gratitude list
I don’t just men write a gratitude list when you’re struggling, I mean write one every single day. Or even multiple times a day. We often focus on the things that aren’t going so well and blame a higher power of some kind for it. But when was the last time you ‘blamed’ your higher power or the universe for the good things that have happened? A gratitude list doesn’t always have to be things like ‘having a roof over my head’, as valid and great as that is, because there is far more goodness to your day that makes that day unique and different to other days. If you’re lucky enough to wake up with a roof over your head every morning, then think about what else you can be grateful for that might not necessarily happen every day. Maybe someone complimented you. Maybe a stranger smiled at you. Maybe it’s a particularly sunny day. Maybe you have a new outfit on. Maybe you had a good night’s sleep. Maybe you had a safe journey somewhere. Maybe you haven’t had a headache when you usually do. Maybe you took a nice photo of something. Maybe you got something finished in time. Maybe someone offered to give you a hand with something or accepted your request for help. The list goes on! Now here’s a challenge for you: every time you notice something good, however tiny it might seem, thank your higher power and/or write it down in a gratitude journal.
Dedicate a certain time in the day to thinking or worrying
You may have heard of this one before. It can sometimes seem scary to proactively stop overthinking and distract yourself with something else, as you may feel like you’re giving up control. However, by saying “I will not think about this now; I will think about it between 4-4.30pm later today” you don’t feel out of control because you know you’ll be coming back to it. This works for some people and not for others, and in my personal experience I’ve found that the success of this tip very much depends on what you’re worrying about. Give it a try nonetheless and see if it works for you!
Think of what can go right instead of what can go wrong
It’s easy to focus on the ‘what if’s in a negative sense. But how often do you think of all of the millions of things that could go right? Let’s take an example of a school exam. You might be thinking “I’m going to fail. I don’t know anything. I should have prepared more”. Instead, swap those thoughts with “I might pass. I might pass with flying colours. I might just scrape through, but that’s still a pass. I might finish early. I might be in a great, motivated mood on the day. Some of the content might suddenly click with me a week beforehand, if I put in the work and ask for help. I might get full marks on some of the questions. I will probably do better than I have done in the practice papers.” Don’t let those negative thoughts in - there’s a lot more to life than that in reality!
Speak to the voice in your head as if it’s another person, with a different personality and different life story to you. Maybe even give it a name!
Thinking of the voice in your head as a person can help it to seem less in control of you. After all, if someone in real life was saying horrible things to you, you can quite easily walk away, or tell them their words don’t affect you because you’re pretty damn great and will not go down to their level. Next time the voice in your head tries to shrink you down to nothing, stand up to it. Maybe even speak to it as a friend; welcome it, say hi, ask it how it’s doing, and let it get on with its day whilst you get on with yours. You are worthy of setting boundaries with the people around you, and you’re worthy of setting boundaries with the voice in your head, too.
Consider: what is, genuinely, the worst that could happen?
Let’s say you’re worrying about a bad outcome. So, if that is genuinely likely to happen (and really consider how likely it is!), would your life be over? Or would it just be a bit difficult for a while? Would the people around you be surprisingly understanding? Would they actually be more bothered and focused on their own lives than they would be about yours? Will you not quite get what you wanted? Or will you perhaps be taken down a path that was always meant to be better? Think about the good things that would come out of this potentially ‘bad’ outcome. What would you learn? What would you do differently next time? How would you then be better off? What new opportunities would you have? How would you be stronger? If you’re reading this, then you’re here because you’re on a personal journey of self-growth; and nothing but a better life can come out of that.
This is a tip that I’d recommend you grab a piece of paper and a pen for. We often overthink because we’re worrying about the past and/or future, right? So it’s time to find the solution to your worries. We’re going to make two lists. One list for things to do for self-care, and another list of things to do that could help whatever it is that you’re overthinking. A quick Google or scroll through my blog can give you lots of answers for your self-care list - be sure to do at least ten of those. Now for your second list. If you’re worrying about something that’s out of your control, then chances are anything you come up with to ‘fix’ the situation will most likely make it worse or make you worry more. Remember: you are powerless over all people apart from yourself. And you are powerless over the past but not over your future. Let’s take the exam example again; if you’re reading this, you’ve either done the exam and are worrying about it or it’s coming up soon. If it’s in the past, celebrating what you did well, what you have learnt and how you can enjoy yourself now are great things to put on that list. If the exam is coming up then you still have time to ask for help, revise, take regular breaks, test your friends and more. Now apply these concepts to your personal worries. What can you do for self-care? How can you enjoy yourself in the present moment? Do you need to apologise to anyone? Do you need to forgive anyone? Write a list of good things you can do, from a loving place. Keep that focus on acceptance and self-care.
Dance to new music!
I absolutely love this one. If you have Spotify, pick your favourite upbeat song and go to the song’s radio. Have a flick through and listen to the songs you haven’t heard before. Maybe play one of Spotify’s playlists. Ask your friends for song recommendations. And then dance to them!
Ask yourself: will this genuinely matter in a year’s time?
This puts things into perspective. If you answered yes, was that an honest answer? I find that most of the time, the answer is no. Can you remember something that you were worrying about this time last year? Has it drastically changed your life? Probably not. Has it made you stronger, and taken you further into your journey of self-discovery and growth? Quite possibly, which is always a good thing!
Start and end your day right
I will always stand by the idea that having a solid routine impacts your life in the best of ways. I personally like to start my day by stretching, washing my face and reading positive affirmations. I have a big glass of water and later take my time eating breakfast. My days always end with meditation and/or a bath. I light a candle and listen to peaceful music that resonates with me. What one or two things can you do in the mornings and evenings?
Figure out if you are stuck in fight, flight or freeze
If you feel angry and full of energy, it needs to go somewhere. You’re probably in ‘fight’ - try punching a pillow, scribbling on paper, going for a run or lifting some weights. If you’re in ‘flight’ you probably want to run away from whatever is troubling you, so it’s time to get honest with yourself, apologise or forgive where necessary and maybe get in some exercise. If you’re in ‘freeze’, you probably want to curl up in a ball (or have done already) and hide, or are stuck in a public place (like work, for example) and don’t know what to do. If this is the case for you, then try stretching and going for a walk. You need to move!
Consider: am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired, too hot or cold?
Many people will have heard of H.A.L.T. (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) but for me, temperature can really mess with my mood too so I always add those on to the list of things to consider. If you’re any one of those things, do something to counteract them. Eat when you’re hungry, exercise, journal or punch a pillow when you’re angry, call a friend when you’re lonely, sleep or take life slowly when you’re tired, open a window or take off a layer when you’re too hot, and find a hot water bottle or add some layers on when you’re cold.
Read a self-help or spirituality book
I personally love reading Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, because it gives you small tasks to do to make your life better, that are super easy to start straight away. Whatever self-help books you like to read, have a flick through a few pages now.
Ask for help and advice from someone you trust and know well
Asking for help can make you feel scared and vulnerable, but it’s often only good that comes out of it. If the first person you ask can’t help you, try someone else. Remember, you are never going to be the only person who’s ever struggled with whatever it is you’re going through.
Read the serenity prayer
‘God [/higher power/universe], grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage the change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Grant me patience with the changes that take time, appreciation for all that I have, tolerance of those with different struggles, and the strength to get up and try again, one day at a time.’
An overthinker will often be angry at themselves, or wish that they were different. But when you really think about it, everything that you are and that you’ve been through makes you absolutely incredible! You are worthy of forgiveness. Accept all that has been and gone, and get excited for all that is to come with an open mind and heart.
Change your lock screen or wallpaper to something that reminds you of positivity and calm
Have a flick through Pinterest and save anything that makes you feel positive and full of hope. Make it your lock screen, or even print it out on a small piece of paper and keep it in your purse/wallet.
Help someone else with something
If you’re struggling to help yourself, help someone else. Call them. Go for a walk with them. Make them a meal. Help them with a small task at work. Be there to listen. The list goes on, and chances are you’ll have an idea of what you can do to make a difference!
Remind yourself: thinking is not always needed, it is a tool that we are designed to only use when necessary
When I first heard this, it hit me like a tonne of bricks. It’s time to stop thinking and start enjoying. What do you enjoy doing? Is it something you can do right now, or plan for the future? Whatever the answer, go for it.
Write a list of your achievements from the past year or two
This one might take a while, but that’s half of the point. Physically write down things that you’ve done well, or that have gone for you. Whether they’re small or huge, it doesn’t matter! Celebrate every tiny victory.
I never thought this would help me, and heard about it so many times from others. As it turns out, journaling is pretty amazing. Write down your thoughts, worries, feelings, positive or negative. I often find that when I write down what I’m worrying about, I can really see just how much I’ve been overthinking and how crazy and unlikely to happen my fears actually are. Writing when you’re feeling positive can also really help to affirm those positive feelings. Acknowledge how you feel and let it all out!
Write an action plan
For me, I always find that I’m really productive with to-do lists. They tell me what to focus on and when. Writing an action plan when you’re overthinking can make a big difference to your mood - this can be a plan of how to better the situation you’re worrying about (think point 14 - ‘get problem-solving’), or it can just be a plan for your day. What will you have for breakfast? Who do you want to call for a chat? What exercise will you do? When will you get up and go to bed? Writing these kinds of to-do lists always help to keep me on a positive track and in a good mood.
Do something new and spontaneous
When was the last time you did something new? If it was a while ago, plan something now. What have you been wanting to do for a while? What does your body need? Something fun, or relaxing? Maybe you could learn an instrument. Maybe you could go sky diving. Maybe you could get a piercing or a tattoo. Maybe you could have a weekend away. Maybe you could redecorate your room or house. Maybe you could write a book. Whatever it is, jump right into it!
I’m sending you lots of love and all of the good vibes. Remember, whatever it is you’re struggling with: “this too shall pass”.
Love, Ally x