Some practical advice on how to avoid overthinking

Last month I attended a conference and one of the speakers asked the audience to raise their hands if they were overthinkers. Most people – around 90% of the room, including me – raised their hands. I was amazed by this and didn’t realise that overthinking was such a common problem.

An article on says that “the process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark, is called rumination. A habit of rumination can be dangerous to your mental health, as it can prolong or intensify depression as well as impair your ability to think and process emotions.”

If we consider the coronavirus pandemic, the 24/7 news cycle can add to this negativity. It is important to be informed but not, I think, to overly dwell on all the could, might or maybe.

So, here are some practical things that have helped me manage my overthinking;

  1. Be kinder to yourself – Stop criticising yourself and others so much. We can often be kind to others but so cruel to ourselves. Give yourself space and time to learn, to develop and grow.
  2. Distract yourself and change from a thinking activity to a physical activity – For many years we have taught juggling techniques to people and teams as a way of helping distract them from overthinking. Due to the mechanical process of juggling three balls, it actually seems to give your brain a ‘thinking holiday’ as you are so focussed on the mechanics and motor skills.
  3. Have a notepad by your bed – Good ideas often come at night and if you have a notepad handy, you can quickly jot them down and then return to sleep.
  4. Change behaviours or situations – Do this if you can or need to but recognise that there are some things you don’t have control over. Stop worrying about these things.
  5. Lower your expectations – So much tension comes from having unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. I was involved in a new task recently that, for us, was a first. I spent most of the time ruminating afterwards on what hadn’t gone well, rather than focussing on what had worked well. We need to celebrate our achievements much more.
  6. Talk to people – Instead of mentally obsessing over things, talk your situations and thinking out with other people that you trust. Often this can give us a fresh perspective.
  7. Ask yourself: “Will this be important in a week, a month, 6 months?” – This is something I do regularly. If the answer is no, then I try and let it go and move on to other things.
Jeff Burns, Presenter at Fifth Dimension

Jeff Burns, Presenter at Fifth Dimension