Five ways to cope with overthinking

Make some everyday changes to break away from the cycle of overthinking.

Sarah Chan

Likes museum trips and is sometimes artsy. Can be found in pattern prints.

Published: 2 March 2021, 1:48 PM

The feeling of overthinking can be overwhelming at times. As the name suggests, it happens when you think or worry about something that you might not necessarily have control over.

Analysing a situation can be helpful in problem-solving especially if it is a significant life decision that requires some thought. However, it is easy to over-analyse which can lead to negative effects such as procrastination, reduced productivity and indecision.

If you find yourself dwelling on a problem a little more than you should, here are five things you can do to cope with overthinking.

1. Engage in a different activity

Overthinking often involves ruminating on the same thoughts or problems endlessly. Unknowingly, a simple task might end up taking hours because of the trap of overthinking that leaves us stuck in indecision.


While it may be difficult to put a hard stop on overthinking, you can disrupt the cycle of thoughts by engaging in a different activity instead. PHOTO CREDIT: COTTONBRO VIA PEXELS


Author and associate professor of psychology Stephan S. Illardi recommends engaging in a physical activity that “combines mental engagement and social contact” to help cope with overthinking.

The activity must be absorbing enough to hold one’s attention fully until the cycle of overthinking is derailed. This can be in the form of exercise, volunteering or a round of board games with friends.

Not only will you burn off the extra energy fuelling your overthinking tendencies, but you can come back refreshed and in a different state of mind to face the issue.

2. Setting shorter deadlines

The deadlines can be fictional as long as it can push you towards taking action in your work. PHOTO CREDIT: JESHOOTS.COM VIA PEXELS


It is easy to spend most of our time overthinking when given the luxury of time. Instead of taking immediate action, we might scrutinise over the small details and feel overwhelmed by the various possibilities during this duration.

In contrast, setting a shorter deadline for a task – be it simple or complex – is one way to work faster and more efficiently.

A shorter deadline pushes you towards completing a task rather than worrying about the worst case scenario or even the future that has yet to happen. This can help to steer you away from indecision and towards productivity instead.

3. Freewriting

Freewriting is a writing technique that encourages you to write anything that comes to mind for 15 to 20 minutes non-stop. It is used to generate ideas and is usually written in actual sentences and paragraph forms.


Freewriting is one way of gradually getting into the productivity “zone” and taking charge of your work. PHOTO CREDIT: VLADA KARPOVICH VIA PEXELS


If you find yourself lacking the motivation to work, freewriting is one way to go against the resistance and get a head start on your task at hand.

It can also be applied to journaling as setting some time exclusively to freewrite creates an outlet to channel your feelings rather than keeping them bottled up for too long.

Freewriting is especially helpful as we become too entangled in our own thoughts. It is a simple activity that can not only spark inspiration but also help you to break away from the chain of thoughts surrounding your overthinking tendencies.

4. Setting daily reminders

When it comes to the objectives of coping with overthinking, one of them includes becoming a more proactive action taker.


It can be easy to lose track of our goals when our worries overshadow them and setting daily reminders can help us stay focused. PHOTO CREDIT: BICH TRAN VIA PEXELS


Whether it is a simple quote or a diary entry, setting daily reminders can be a motivation towards practising decisiveness and breaking the cycle of overthinking more effectively.

The reminder must be visible and hard to avoid – like a whiteboard or computer screen. It can include inspirational quotes or a daily affirmation on what you can do in the moment of overthinking.

5. Understand your thought patterns

One way to cope with overthinking is to start from the source and this includes paying attention to your triggers, emotions and responses in situations that cause overthinking.


Being mindfully aware helps us to understand and address our habits both good or bad. PHOTO CREDIT: PRASANTH INTURI VIA PEXELS


Self-awareness can be in the form of identifying your fears, understanding what you can or cannot control and knowing when to acknowledge your thoughts in the heat of overthinking.

Identifying these factors are an important step towards changing your mindset and dealing with the critical inner voice that often perpetuates the cycle of overthinking.

You can also practise mindfulness through reflective activities like meditation or journaling which can help us to stay present in the moment and focus on what is important to us.

With various thoughts spinning around our head when we overthink, mindfulness creates a space for us to look at a situation from a bigger perspective before we allow them to spiral out of our control.

The habit of overthinking might not necessarily change overnight but we can learn to take control of how we feel by practising these simple changes to our everyday life.

If you are looking for more mental well-being resources, check out Youthopia’s resource page with everything from mental health self-assessments to tips for coping with challenging seasons in life.

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