Overthinking: Identifying Triggers and Proven Ways to Stop

Overthinking isn’t a particularly pleasant experience. It is a sleep thief with it’s 3am wake up calls. It steals presence during the day, as you cannot possibly focus on what is in front of you because you’re trying to control the head scribble. It’s uncomfortable to run through multiple scenarios, past or future, on a loop. Especially when you are aware that continually thinking about whatever it is that is bothering you isn’t going to be solved in this process. 

Furthermore, maybe by this point, you actually have no idea what is even bothering you anymore. It’s just too much and that overthinking has turned to more of a white noise, a constant din to remind you to remain worried. 

It’s easy to feel negatively towards an overthinking mind, to berate yourself for losing control and becoming exhausted again. I write to share a different way of approaching your overthinking. This blog aims to help you consider why overthinking is showing up so loudly and ways to quieten it. 

Why do we overthink?

There are lots of reasons we could be overthinking for, but ultimately, it’s that something is bothering you. Maybe you’ve said or done something you regret or you are anxious about a change happening in your life. Perhaps you can’t put your finger on what is bothering you because everything has gotten on top of you. 

Overthinking is a behaviour, a symptom if you will, of an uncomfortable feeling. Instead of feeling the feeling, our brains kick in and try to solve the problem for us. Why? So many of us have no clue of how to start feeling what we are actually feeling. So, whilst overthinking isn’t pleasant, it’s the best tool many people have got. Despite the fact it’s going to take you no further forward, it does provide a sense of control.

Overthinking is your brain trying to keep you safe. As strange as it sounds, it’s a coping mechanism, allowing you to avoid uncomfortable emotions and navigating your inner world. By overthinking, your brain is doing what your brain does best, it is working to protect you. It is doing what it things is best given the circumstances. 

Common triggers include:

  • Work Stress: Worrying about upcoming deadlines or presentations.
  • Relationship Issues: Analyzing every word from a recent argument with a loved one.
  • Self-Doubt: Replaying past mistakes or fearing future failures.

Understanding these triggers can help you identify patterns in your overthinking and address the root causes more effectively.

For example, if you have an upcoming work commitment you feel worried about, I can bet your bottom dollar, you’re far more likely to sit and overthink it, rather than to sit with the emotion beneath it. Because let’s be honest, it is probably easier for your brain to overthink than for you to feel whatever you’re feeling; perhaps the shame of feeling like you have overcommitted yourself, the fear of not knowing what you have to do and having unanswered questions and the sadness of noticing yourself still in the role of people pleaser.

Overthinking enables you to dissociate from your feelings and make it a matter of the mind. Rumination without finding an answer, whilst wildly uncomfortable, is what your brain knows best. It is better the devil you know. 

How to stop overthinking?

Two of my favourite quotes answer this question in a sentence:

“All discomfort comes from suppressing our true identity”Bryant H. McGill 

“Only the truth of who you are, if realised, will set you free”Eckhart Tolle

If overthinking is a chronic issue for you, I hope the below points support you in realising what your overthinking is all about, how to manage it and come back home to yourself – out of your mind and into your body.

Coming back to the middle:

  1. Remember what thoughts are; thoughts are stories which impact your feelings and behaviours. For example, if I keep thinking I’ve made a mistake, I’m going to start feeling pretty bad about myself and I’m going to behave in a withdrawn way. The alternative is to think that things are okay, so I feel okay about myself and act like myself. That’s a simple example but I am trying to demonstrate that our thoughts impact how we feel, and how we behave in a cyclical way. We have ultimate choice over our thoughts. We get to decide the stories we tell ourselves, notice yourself as the author and creator here.  
  2. Get curious about your overthinking; notice how it is making you feel. Commit to yourself to do the work to change it. If it’s making you feel anxious, overwhelmed, out of control and stuck, then there’s not much to lose when it comes to taking a different approach. So instead of being fed up by it, get interested in it instead.
  3. Get to know your overthinking; Acknowledge the purpose of it, what is it trying to stop you from feeling. How can you begin to listen to it and observe it (not the content of it, but the behaviour of it). It’s time to start seeing your overthinking as a ‘part’ or a worried inner child. Journaling and meditation techniques will support you in this.
  4. Double down on your mindfulness and self-compassion practices; Finding ways to find presence, self-sooth and offer yourself reassurance is key to stopping overthinking. 

Taking control of overthinking

Overthinking can be a relentless and exhausting experience, affecting your sleep, daily presence, and overall well-being. It’s crucial to understand that overthinking often stems from deeper, uncomfortable emotions and serves as a coping mechanism your brain employs to protect you. By identifying common triggers such as work stress, relationship issues, and self-doubt, you can begin to recognize patterns in your overthinking and address the root causes more effectively.

To break free from the cycle of overthinking, remember that you have control over your thoughts. Embrace curiosity about your overthinking habits, get to know the underlying emotions, and view your overthinking as a part of yourself that needs understanding and compassion. Incorporating mindfulness and self-compassion practices can help you find presence and self-soothe, ultimately reducing the grip of overthinking on your life.

By following these strategies and understanding the nature of your overthinking, you can start to quiet the mental noise and reclaim your peace of mind. Remember, the journey to overcoming overthinking is a process, but with patience and self-awareness, you can move towards a calmer, more centered existence.

If you would like to start the journey of reducing your mind chatter and overthinking, get in touch.