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  • Writer's pictureFiona Oppenheimer

Breaking Free from Over Thinking: Live Your Life Free of Rumination

In the quiet corners of our minds, thoughts can sometimes become caught on replay, looping endlessly like a broken record. We all know how it feels to be stuck in our heads, replaying certain situations or interactions, wondering what we should do, and weighing all the options. This phenomenon, known as rumination, or overthinking can cast shadows on our mental well-being, affecting our clarity and peace of mind.

What is Overthinking?

Overthinking is the repetitive and intrusive focus on negative thoughts, often about the past or future. It involves dwelling on problems, and getting stuck in a cycle of unproductive contemplation, without ever coming to a conclusion. While reflecting on experiences is a normal part of processing, overthinking takes these reflections to an extreme, leading to heightened stress and anxiety.

Although there has been many researchers studying rumination and psychotherapists assisting clients in attempting to overcome this challenge, it continues to plague millions of people, because when we are in the midst of it, stopping seems impossible.

Cognitive behavioural therapists tend to agree that strategies such as distraction are only temporary solutions. We can try and focus our mind on another topic from which we are ruminating on but in time our mind reverts back to it later. Therefore this is not a long term solution for breaking the cycle of overthinking.

Identifying & Stopping Overthinking

Becoming aware of the persistent and repetitive nature of your thoughts is one of the first steps. It's helpful to notice when the same concerns or scenarios keep resurfacing. Practice mindfulness by observing your thoughts without judgment. Allow them to come and go, acknowledging their presence without getting entangled. Instead of getting caught in the loop of rumination, practice mindfulness on your thoughts. Observe them with detachment, allowing them to arise and dissipate without judgment and with curiosity instead.

For example, if we are thinking about a recent interaction we had and keep going over in our mind what we said and did and how we should have done it differently, or whether we did the right thing or what they thought about us etc. This thought pattern may lead to hours of deliberation over what we did wrong. The end result may be feelings of guilt, sadness, or frustration. The mindful way in contrast to responding to the thoughts about how we behaved would allow the critical or negative thoughts to exist rather than pushing them out with responses like 'I hate these thoughts.' or 'there's no way I can know for sure about this.' or 'don't worry about it, it was fine.' This type of resistance to thoughts or even reassurance often leads to needing more reassurance and more resistance, hence the cycle of overthinking is sent around again. The mindful approach would not directly respond to the thoughts themselves but just acknowledge they are there and recognize they are just thoughts.

Thoughts are not facts, they are not real, they can't be found, they have no power other than the power we give them by believing in them.

This is not a simple process, and it's not easy to shift from overthinking to mindful thinking. But it can be freeing to remind ourselves that thoughts have no power from their own side. We only give them power when we believe they could be true and we need to do something about them. That's why its helpful to ask is this thought true? Really true? Often when we are depressed or have low mood we are colouring the way we see the world, creating distorted projections onto ourselves, others and the world. We can be sure that in this negative state very few thoughts will be true. This can also happen when we are influenced by guilt, sadness or frustration, we just aren't seeing things as they actually are, so our thoughts are not true reflections of reality.

I often tell clients that the first step to break the cycle of overthinking is to think about what a thought is. A thought is a message from our mind giving us information about something. Some thoughts are wise while others are ill-conceived out of fear or other delusions, (I use this word here to describe all emotions that distort, that see an illusion, not reality). Spending too much time in our head, reviewing our thoughts and repeating them, ultimately makes us feel stuck. Our mind may shut down and be unable to solve problems or create more productive positive alternatives. Taking a break from thinking can be helpful, but remember that this is only a temporary solution. Ultimately it invloves a paradigm shift in the way that we engage our thoughts.

The next time that you catch yourself overthinking, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are these thoughts helpful?

  2. Will they change the outcome in some way?

  3. Do I need to respond to them right now?

  4. How am I feeling as I'm thinking about this?

  5. Is there something I can do to resolve this dilemma?

Breaking free from overthinking is not an overnight journey; it's a gradual process of mindful engagement with our thoughts. The mindful approach; embracing thoughts without giving them undue power, leads to a clear, bright mental landscape. So, the next time you catch yourself entangled in the mental spiral, envision the freedom that comes from mindful thinking—a mind untethered, able to navigate challenges with wisdom, insight, and spacious clarity.

Warmest wishes,

Fiona Oppenheimer

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