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How to Stop Overthinking and How Online Therapy Can Help

Angela Paoli
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A young woman dealing with overthinking that's causing her stress and anxiety.
Do you fret over a casual comment you made in a meeting days ago? Or maybe you're endlessly planning and re-planning an upcoming event? Chances are, you're caught in the cycle of overthinking.

Studies show that over 73% of adults aged 25-35 frequently experience overthinking, which can lead to increased stress and anxiety, impacting their overall well-being.

Online therapy, among other strategies, has become vital in combating overthinking. As a licensed online therapist for over a decade, I'll use my experience to walk you through overthinking and its triggers and share ways to overcome it. We'll explore therapy techniques and practical approaches to tackle this challenge.

» Check out our top picks for the best online therapy chat services.

Overthinking vs. Social Anxiety: What’s the Difference?

You may be experiencing overthinking if you find yourself caught in a loop of excessive and repetitive thoughts, leading to stress and making it hard to decide on things. It often involves going over past events or worrying about the future, creating thinking traps that affect your mental health.

On the other hand, social anxiety disorder is a specific type of anxiety focused on social situations. It comes from the fear of being judged or scrutinized by others, often leading to the avoidance of social gatherings.

While overthinking can relate to any topic, social anxiety is specifically about those social interactions and the perceived threat they pose.

Common Causes and Triggers of Overthinking

Common causes of overthinking include unresolved past trauma, fear of the unknown, low self-esteem, and self-doubt. For instance, you may overthink stressful situations such as making new friends or past traumatic experiences like a car accident.

This tendency to dwell excessively on challenging events or experiences often leads to a cycle of overthinking in other areas of life. Even striving for perfection or a strong desire for control can trigger it.

External pressures, like societal expectations or work demands, also play a role. Falling into negative thinking traps or patterns and not being mindful could further fuel overthinking. Often, a mix of these internal and external factors creates a cycle of repetitive, distressing thoughts.

How to Stop Overthinking

Accept Your Thoughts

Instead of getting stuck or fighting against thoughts, you should accept them without judgment. This means recognizing your thoughts and understanding they come and go. It's about letting them pass and focusing on the present moment with kindness towards yourself.

To put this into motion, when a thought comes to your mind, just observe it instead of reacting to it or trying to change it. Don’t label it as good or bad. Understand that it’s just a thought, and it doesn't define reality. Practicing this can help reduce stress and improve mental well-being.

Remember, thoughts don’t have to control you. You control them. Acceptance reduces the emotional impact of overthinking, making it easier to handle and promoting a healthier mindset.

Try Therapy

If you want to manage your thoughts, consider platforms like BetterHelp and Cerebral, where you can speak with a therapist.

A counselor can provide a safe space to express your thoughts and feelings. They're there to help you understand the root causes of your overthinking, such as stress, anxiety, or past traumatic experiences. They can also guide you in recognizing thought patterns that lead to overthinking and teach you strategies to break these patterns.

For instance, online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common approach therapists use to help individuals manage overthinking. It involves identifying and challenging negative thought patterns with rational, positive thoughts.

Additionally, using online therapists like Talkspace and similar alternatives can help treat overthinking by providing flexible access to professional guidance. You can schedule sessions at your convenience, ensuring regular support in handling and understanding your thought patterns.

In these sessions, therapists may teach you techniques like:

  • Mindfulness meditation to help you stay in the present.
  • Cognitive restructuring to change negative thoughts.
  • Deep breathing exercises to calm your mind.
  • Journaling to clear your mind from repetitive worries.
  • Problem-solving strategies to redirect your thinking from worrying to solving.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation to ease physical tension.
  • Setting times for worry to limit overthinking to specific times, reducing its impact on your day.
  • Gratitude drills to shift your attention away from negative, repetitive thoughts.

These methods help you reduce overthinking by changing how you process and respond to your thoughts.

» Check out the pros and cons of online vs. face-to-face therapy.

Brain Retraining Techniques

You can stop or limit overthinking by using brain retraining techniques like mindfulness and CBT. Cognitive restructuring is an integral part of CBT and a way to retrain your brain by helping you recognize and change negative thoughts.

For example, if every time you cook, you think, "I'm probably going to mess up this recipe and ruin dinner," brain retraining suggests changing it to, "Let's see how it tastes. Everyone appreciates the effort." By consistently making these changes, you can reduce negative thoughts and avoid unhealthy emotions and behaviors.

This approach encourages you to treat each experience as a unique event rather than pre-judging the outcome based on past incidents. It’s about shifting your mindset to a more positive and open one.

Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

There are many ways to handle stress. For instance, meditation apps for mindfulness can be beneficial for dealing with overthinking. Meditation is a set of mental techniques that help train attention and awareness. It often involves focusing on your breathing or a specific object, phrase, or idea to create a calm, focused, and relaxed mental state. 

Techniques can vary, but they all aim to quiet the mind and bring about states of clarity and compassion. These practices teach you to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them or judging yourself. The goal is to let thoughts come and go without getting stuck on them.

By practicing meditation and mindfulness, you can break the cycle. Regular practice will improve your ability to manage your emotions and bounce back from negative thoughts.

Stay Physically Active

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that reduce stress and anxiety. Training is also an excellent way to release built-up energy, improve your sleep, and help you stay in the present moment.

When you're working out, you focus on what you're doing, which takes your mind off your usual worries. Even 30 minutes to an hour of exercise can give you a break, lift your mood, and contribute to your overall well-being.

Track Your Thinking Patterns

Track your progress and stay consistent to manage overthinking effectively in the long term. Accountability plays a crucial role in achieving your goals; tracking strategies provide that. These methods help you record your thoughts and feelings, spot patterns, and discuss triggers with a therapist.

They can be as simple as jotting down your thoughts in a journal or using specific features in mental health apps like Online-Therapy.com. You can also use mood tracking diaries, voice memos, and CBT worksheets to understand your thinking patterns.

Other Strategies to Manage Overthinking

  • Create a routine: You can establish a morning routine that includes making your bed, having a healthy breakfast, and taking a short walk. This ritual gives you a sense of control and structure without causing anxiety.
  • Set realistic goals: If you're working on a project, break it into smaller tasks with achievable deadlines. This approach eases the fear of failing or becoming overwhelmed.
  • Reduce information overload: Try turning off notifications on your phone and designate specific times for checking emails and social media.
  • Find moments of relaxation: Take a few minutes to sit quietly and focus on your breath or go for a leisurely walk in the park.
  • Engage in hobbies: Try your favorite sports, make art, or listen to calming music.

How Overthinking Impacts Your Life

Overthinking can have a profound impact on various aspects of your life. Here are some examples:

Overall Mental Health

Overthinking becomes a problem when it affects your daily life. Ashley Carroll, a psychologist at Parkland Memorial Hospital, notes that repeatedly thinking about specific thoughts could lead to more extreme harmful thinking.

Persistent overthinking can negatively affect your well-being, mental health, and resilience. Addressing and managing your thoughts is essential to boost your mental health.

» Try these free online resources for depression.

Physical Health

Your mental health can directly affect your physical health and could lead to symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue. Prolonged stress, often caused by overthinking, can even contribute to serious health issues like cardiovascular problems.

When you feel stressed, your body triggers the fight or flight response, which increases adrenaline levels, affecting your heart and immune function.

Social Life and Relationships

If you're an overthinker, you might be holding back from social interactions because you're afraid of being judged or excessively worried about how you'll come across.

This tendency to overthink can lead to social isolation, strain your friendships, and cause you to miss out on valuable opportunities for connection.

Job and Career Opportunities

A study by the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that overthinking can interfere with performance. The research showed that when participants were asked to remember images, those not focusing too hard on the task (i.e., not overthinking) functioned better.

This suggests that overthinking could be detrimental to job performance, as it may hinder your ability to complete tasks effectively. It could also induce hesitation and self-doubt when making decisions.

Additionally, constant mental chatter from overthinking can drain your focus and energy, making tasks more challenging. It can lead to fear of failure and perfectionism, which may demotivate you and hurt your confidence, ultimately impacting your work life.

Prioritize Your Mental Well-Being

Overthinking affects us all, but learning to manage it can bring significant positive changes. Whether through online therapy techniques or brain retraining methods like mindfulness and meditation, there are practical steps to ease the burden of constant worry.

Find ways to make time for yourself and techniques to nurture mental fitness, especially amid the hustle and bustle of daily life. By seeking help and practicing effective strategies, you can enjoy a more balanced and peaceful mind.

» Make daily life more manageable with our best online therapy services for anxiety.

Angela Paoli
Angela Paoli writes for Top10.com and is currently works as a tele-health Therapist Associate providing evidence-based treatments to diverse individuals who are experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, insomnia, ADHD, etc. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work and has over a decade of experience working as a licensed social worker and online therapist. She specializes in providing mental health services to US military members and their families.

The author of this article has been paid by Natural Intelligence to write this article. Neither the author nor Natural Intelligence provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or your local emergency number immediately.