How to Stop Overthinking/Worrying About the Future

how to stop overthinkingWhat are your best tips to stop yourselves from overthinking, readers? How can you work through anxiety and excessive worrying about the future? We’ve talked about how to focus at work as well as how to deal with anxiety, but not in a long time — so let’s discuss how to stop overthinking. Reader C wonders…

I really enjoyed your article on how to prevent/stop tears at work. I have a similar issue that I’d like addressed: How to stop overthinking an upcoming “mystery” meeting. For example, this morning, we got an all-hands meeting put on our calendar for later in the day. And now my mind can’t stop racing thinking about what is going to be discussed at this “emergency” meeting! Last time we had a similar meeting, we found out my boss got fired. Any tips to stop that Type A mind from speculating?

Oooh, good question, C; I can’t wait to hear what the readers say, particularly since I am definitely occasionally guilty of worrying about the future — and sometimes have to tell myself to stop overthinking things. Some advice I’ve read over the years:

How to Stop Overthinking in the Short Term

  • Laugh it up. Laughter can be a great remedy for anxiety — it helps to put things in perspective. A gratitude list (or the newer trend of ingratitude lists) may also be helpful — some of our tips on how to turn a bad day around may also be helpful.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes and choose one task to focus on — and possibly work somewhere away from distractions like email and social media.  This may be as simple as saying, “I’m going to focus for 25 minutes on DOCUMENT X,” and just going to sit on the other side of your desk, instead of directly in front of your computer. (We’ve talked about other ways to manage your time if this is an issue!)
  • Cardio. I always say I do cardio to “control my crazies” — so if you tend to be prone to overthinking things, make sure you’re scheduling your cardio! This may not help when you have a last minute meeting scheduled for work that’s making you anxious, but in the long-term I find that I’m more prone to anxiety and overthinking when I have not gotten my cardio in. When you’ve got hours between whatever event you’re overthinking, even a few cycles of a seven-minute Tabata cycle can be helpful (we JUST rounded up a few of these super short exercise options in a recent CorporetteMoms post on how to find time to work out).
  • Clear your mind with meditation. Full disclosure: I stink at meditation and haven’t had the time to learn it — but even I get benefit (sometimes great benefit) from using this 60-second meditation exercise at Pixel Thoughts; I’ve also heard good things about the Headspace app. (Kate mentioned a few good options in her post on professional women and insomnia.)
  • Admit defeat. If something major is about to go down and you’ll have the answer imminently, then just admit defeat. Try to think of something you can do that’s mindless but will still be productive: Clean your office. Catch up on CLEs and other typical things you may do if it’s a quiet office because of holidays or whatnot.

How to Stop Overthinking in the Long Term

If you’re prone to overthinking things in general (you know who you are), there are some other things to consider…

  • Consider therapy (and yes, medication).  I haven’t taken Xanax in years, but when I went through a period of my life where I seemed to be going down a lot of anxiety loops, the occasional Xanax really helped — at the time I said it was like blowing the foam off the cappuccino. (I was warned at the time that Xanax is very addictive — and that you don’t want to get pregnant within six months of taking it — so make sure you discuss that kind of stuff with your doctor when you go; you may also want to consider a more daily sort of medication.) We’ve also shared tips for making time for therapy even when you work a lot.

Readers, what are your best tips to stop overthinking? In general, have you ever struggled with anxiety, excessive worrying about the future, or more? 

Picture via Stencil.how to stop overthinking tips and tricks

Looking for tips on how to stop yourself from overthinking everything? Like a lot of Type A women I've found myself with anxiety and overthinking problems -- so today we're sharing our best tips on how to stop overthinking!

Comments

  1. Gah. I am the worst at this. Here are my tips:

    + Exercise or a long walk — fresh air and movement always help me clear my head.

    + Lengthy to-do lists with big tasks broken down into smaller bites — I am better able to focus on small/easy tasks when my mind is preoccupied, and once I get on a roll and accomplish a few I’m better able to stop thinking about The Big Thing That’s Stressing Me Out.

    + Lunch or coffee with a friend who’s in no way related to the issue that’s consuming you.

    I’m interested to hear others’ tips on this, too.

  2. Anonymous :

    As someone who has dealt with anxiety since I was a tiny child: hahaha. There is literally no way to stop overthinking, it’s coded in my DNA. I deal via medication and accepting it’s just my default personality.

    Like Reader C, upcoming things like mystery meetings are really hard for me. My constant fear is that I’m going to be fired.

    On the other hand, when it comes to big things like the threat of nuclear war, I’m very meh.

    • Anonymous :

      Me too, and I wonder how tiny children develop this. I’ve never known otherwise which sucks.

      • Part of it is my mother’s influence for sure. She’s borderline OCD about some things, and I’ve picked up some of her habits unfortunately. But otherwise I’ve always been this way.

      • Anonymous :

        Me too. I remember as a very small child (maybe 3 years old, which I can figure out based on the house we lived it) I was so worried about the lights being left on once we left the room or left the house. I was worried both about wasting energy and about my parents having to pay a big electric bill. And that anxiety continued about all kind of things.

      • As someone who’s also struggled with lifelong anxiety (I literally started taking Zoloft at age 10 when my anxiety manifested itself in such bad insomnia that even adult-strength sleeping pills weren’t helping), I firmly believe it’s a biological/chemical issue in the brain. It’s simply how we’re wired. Life events and your environment and upbringing can definitely influence your condition and cause it to flare up, but someone who’s truly anxious is most likely built that way.

    • I was reading (or listening to?) something that posited people who deal with chronic anxiety actually get less worked up about the “big things” (aka nuclear war, like you mentioned) than those who don’t, because they are used to living with a constant level of anxiety. The example given was something along the lines of anxious people are better able to cope with the Trump presidency, because they are used to worrying all. the. time., whereas most people find constant anxiety to be a new sensation.

      • This is a great article. But how can I actually implement this when all I get from my father is comments that Rosa is married because she has a cute tuchus, that my tuchus is way to big and that I will never get married with such a big tuchus! FOOEY!

  3. In addition to suggestions already listed…

    – I pick a point in the near future and remind myself that whatever happens, I will reach that point. (Like, in the example above, if I were nervous about a 4 PM meeting, I would think, “Whatever happens at that meeting, by 6 PM I will be home, where I will make dinner and have a glass of wine. However bad it is, it will be over by 6 PM.”) This works great for things like being nervous about a presentation or conversation – a reminder that however well or poorly it goes, my life will continue as normal after its over.)

    – Writing in a journal and articulating exactly what I’m worried about.

    – When my thoughts start to spiral into anxiety, focusing on a personal mantra along the lines of “I am a strong person and I can handle difficult things.” Basically interrupting my own thoughts with that mantra.

    – As ANP mentioned above, connecting with someone who isn’t connected to the situation in any way. Even a quick phone call or email exchange.

    • Anonymous :

      I find your first point very helpful as well (I’m Anon at 3:17 with anxiety). I tell myself it’ll be over soon or this too shall pass, nobody is going to die and it’s going to be fine. Sometimes I just need to tell myself to chill the heck out.

  4. My anxiety about the future tends to hit at night, when I’m in bed, and my husband is blissfully snoring away next to me (“how can he sleep!? I am so worried, and he’s over there sleeping! Doesn’t he care about me at all?!” spiral…). My few helpful strategies have been:
    1) deep yoga breathing
    2) out loud, asking myself “what can I do about this right now?” or alternatively, when I already know, “There is nothing you can do about this right now, Pompom.”
    3) It’s really bad, get up, leave the bedroom (like insomnia, where “they say” you don’t want to associateyour bed with sleeplessness, I don’t want to associate anxiety with that place), and deep breathe/self-talk out of the room with a glass of cold water and
    4) write down a list of what I *can* do right now, in bite sized pieces, and focus on that. Forcing myself to act on those things in waking, daylight hours helps to reduce the time I spend worrying at night.

    For me, getting to the root of the problem and trying to feel accomplished on those issues has helped tremendously. They were big things (last year this time, we weren’t making enough money to stay in our city the way we wanted to; 6 months ago it was being underemployed), but solutions were there if I needed to fix them.

    • To be clear: this is garden-variety anxiety, for which these things work. If they didn’t, I’d be running not walking to a professional for some help. Can’t do it on your own all the time. Can’t out-cardio all anxiety!

      (I didn’t want to come off sounding all “what, like it’s hard?” about this stuff, because I don’t feel that way.)

  5. I’ve struggled with anxiety for years. When I was a child, my nickname was ‘Telly’ (the Sesame Street Character who worried about EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME).
    A few things that help keep me present are:
    1. Write down a list of what I need to get done and how. With a plan written down, I find I can be less anxious about it.
    2. Deep, conscious breathing exercises.
    3. Exercise. I am far less anxious on days where I get a workout in.
    4. EMDR. This form of therapy has helped me immensely in determining what triggers my anxiety, and how to cope with it when it comes up. It helped me determine that much of my anxiety is rooted in my belief that I am not good enough (ie. I am not good enough for my husband, therefore I worry about letting him down. I am not doing a good enough job in my career, therefore my manager will notice and fire me). EMDR has helped target the root of those behaviours and my therapist has helped create solid foundation for me to worry less when these thoughts creep up. It has been so, so worth the effort.

    • I’d love to know more about Emdr therapy. I suffer from similar thinking that stems from “I don’t deserve this, etc”. Glad to hear it has worked so well for you!

  6. For me, I just read an escape book. Like a romance novel. Or Georgette Heyer. But mine is the usual anxiety, nothing that would require medication.

  7. I find a timer helpful to think about whatever is bothering me. Usually, if I give myself 10-15 minutes I run out of thoughts at minute 3.5. It’s when I try to not think about something that I start to obsess over it.

    Also, think through your worst case scenarios. In this example, let’s say worst thing ever is you get fired. Okay, so people get fired every day. What would you do? Register for unemployment benefits, start looking, etc… I think having a plan can help address the feeling of being overwhelmed.

  8. I am terrible about dealing with uncertainty, especially when it comes to situations in which I have no control over the outcome. Things like job interviews or public speaking don’t bother me, because I feel like I have some control over my performance. However, when it comes to family drama, health issues, or things that I cannot influence at all, I spiral.

    I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and have been known to see a professional and/or take medication when it gets really bad, which seems to happen every few years. “Really bad” for me means nonstop repetitive thinking/obsessing about the uncertain situation, a tightness in my chest/heart pounding feeling, and a general vague feeling of uneasiness or like something bad is about to happen.

    Exercise helps, writing down my thoughts and anxieties helps, and distracting myself with a good book or fun activity with a friend or DH helps. I also use some CBT techniques. For example, if I’m worried about a hypothetical situation that may or may not happen, I’ll ask myself, “Is this worry true?” or “Is this thought real?” (it helps break me out of the anxious thought cycle and put chance hypothetical events into perspective). If I’m dealing with a truly uncertain situation, like waiting for medical test results, I’ll simply acknowledge that I’m in a moment of uncertainty. It stops the thought pattern and allows me to hold the worry at arm’s length for a bit.

    When I’m struggling with anxiety and doing my best to manage it, I’ll also frequently remind myself that I am doing the best I can. This is simply how my brain is wired, for better or worse. I accept it and I try to take care of myself when it flares up. This mantra helps keep me from becoming even more anxious about the fact that I’m anxious.

  9. I’ve dealt with a lot of anxiety and upheaval, working in start-ups. I would recommend:

    – Always have an exit plan. Over the years, my over-thinking led to a lot of pretty irrational fears about losing my job and not being able to find another one. That’s kind of the core issue with anxiety: you think you won’t be able to cope if “the worst thing” happens. But ‘good people’ have professional hiccups and recover all the time. Even if you’re happy with your job, circumstances can change quickly. You’ll be in a much better position if you think “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing outside of work (Keeping up with my contacts, updating my resume, etc.); if stuff gets crazy, at least I’m a few steps ahead.”

    – If you’re experiencing physical symptoms or if worry is affecting your workday: Get professional help, preferably with a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders and can help you build an actionable plan. I was convinced that I could self-help book my way through my career-related anxiety and put it off for years. Eight sessions with a therapist were much more effective than anything else that I tried.

  10. This was just posted elsewhere, seems relevant:

    http://becauseimaddicted.net/2017/08/preventing-anxiety.html

  11. Citizen42 :

    In lieu of constructive, action based advice; i.e. for anyone looking for irrational options:

    I like imagining crazy, absurd worst case scenarios. Like a MadMax apocalyptic future or crushing feudal era poverty style situations. (I read a lot of science fiction and dystopian literature so I’ve got a good imagination for it.) I find that the change in perspective does a couple of things. First, it tends to cut my current source of anxiety down to size (I mean, what’s bad credit or a blown tire compared to an alien invasion). Second, it reminds me of how good my life is (500 years ago, even kings didn’t have indoor plumbing), etc…

    Sometimes I remind myself that even stupid people can deal with a particular thing (like cavities which are a particular irrational anxiety of mine) and then I reassure myself that I’m not stupid. There’s no quantitative basis for this particular mental exercise. I don’t imagine actual people of questionable intelligence and I have no idea if my own IQ merits as ‘not stupid’. It an extension of ‘fake it till you make it.’ A way of letting my ego do the heavy lifting.

    If something is really bothering me and I can’t shake the mental free fall, I’ll indulge in planning for the worst. I’ll assume that I am, in fact, going to loss my job or get a bad review etc… and imagine all of the ways that situation would actually be awesome. (Just watch me lounge on the couch in yoga pants, binge watching the Walking Dead, and eating a gallon of chocolate ice cream… That would rock! Or, my next job would be so much cooler than this one anyway!) As a side note, you really have to focus on the short term positives for this one to work.

    My last mental exercise for stubborn self doubt is to just give into nihilism completely. Remember that nothing we do actually matters anyway so it doesn’t matter if I fail, no one cares. You might think that this would be a de-motivator but I actually find the thought liberating and am generally encouraged to do the most entertaining choice of options available. I mean, if I’m just wasting time till I die… I might as well get my rocks off before I go.

  12. ASMR videos can be relaxing. I can’t meditate, but I can watch some old videos from the GentleWhispering channel on YouTube.

    • Yes! Asmr videos have been my savior many times and the best to fall asleep too (and prevents overthinking at night).

  13. Thistledown :

    We had a “mandatory lab meeting” at work once with no agenda. It completely freaked everyone out and we were all convinced our lab was shutting down and we were all going to be fired. (And made us wonder if all the other terrible meetings were *not* mandatory after all.) As it turns out, the meeting was to address rampant rumors about a safety incident in the building that none of us had heard about.

    I try to think back to incidents like these where I freaked myself out and it turned out to be nothing. (My mom called twice in the middle of the day??!?! Somebody in my family probably died . . . oh, she’s home sick and wanted to know the name of that Netflix show I thought she would like.)

    Going through all of these incidents where I was worked-up over nothing really helps me calm down.

  14. I try to do something that I enjoy for awhile to clear my mind. Then I come back to it with a more positive outlook.

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