I’m a huge worrywart.
Sometimes, the little things I worry about are so ridiculous that I have to laugh at myself – but nonetheless, I continue to worry, stuck in a loop of anxiety.
Now that I’ve spent many years getting to know myself and figuring out what stops those thoughts and what just keeps them racing, I can finally say I know how to stop overanalyzing every single little thing.
Here are the 9 things I do to calm my mind and remind myself that it’s really not that big a deal.
1) Catch yourself when you’re overthinking
The first step is pretty simple. Well, it sounds simple, anyway – the reality is a tiny bit more challenging.
I used to overthink for hours, spiraling in circles of my own making. For years, I didn’t even notice I was doing it – sure, I might have lain in bed for two hours crying my eyes out because I’d taken one small thing and turned it into a massive disaster in my head, but surely, that was normal?
Once I realized it was not, in fact, normal, I decided to catch myself each time I began overthinking. It’s helped tremendously. Over the years, I’ve been overthinking less and less, partly because I learned to become aware of my thoughts and snap myself out of it.
But sometimes, a snap won’t do. Which is why the next step is to…
2) Zoom out
We can get so caught up in our worries that we completely forget there is a whole world outside of our heads. A universe full of places, people, and feelings you have yet to experience.
Look at the thing you’re overanalyzing and ask yourself, “Will I remember worrying about this a year from now?”
If your answer’s no, it most likely means your worry is too small to matter in the great scheme of things. This doesn’t mean it’s not valid by any means, but it helps to compare this speck of sand to the whole beach that is your life.
You’ve worried about thousands of things in the past. Do you remember every single one of them?
No. This one will be just like that, swallowed by the past before you blink an eye.
3) Realize you’re just not that important
This one sounds harsh, but once I realized most people didn’t actually care about me, I stopped overanalyzing all the little things I said or did.
That weird thing you said out of nowhere at your part-time job when you were sixteen? Lost and forgotten.
That super embarrassing thing you did at camp? Lost and forgotten.
That awkward interaction one hour ago? Also lost and forgotten.
Everyone is so submerged in the drama of their own life that they don’t have enough time to think about yours.
Their universe doesn’t revolve around you. That thing you’re worrying about? They barely even registered it. And if they did, they’ll stop thinking about it in a few days and move on with their life.
Of course, it’s all good and well to recognize that 1) this thing doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and 2) you’re not that big a deal.
But that all happens on the level of reasoning. And sometimes, using your reason to convince yourself of something is not enough.
Sometimes, you’ve got to take action.
4) Distract yourself through action
In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie says, “Crowd worry out of your mind by keeping busy. Plenty of action is one of the best therapies ever.”
It may sound counterproductive – aren’t you just avoiding the issue by distracting yourself? – but distraction is actually a great remedy for worrying.
You’ve just got to find the right one.
Scrolling on social media? Not great.
Mindlessly watching a YouTube video? Also not great.
Pushing yourself to do something really boring in the hope that you’ll at least “get something done”? A terrible idea. You’ll lose focus immediately.
To stop overthinking, your distraction must be active. It must completely overtake you, changing your state of mind in the process.
When I worry, I enjoy diving into a fictional story where the stakes are much higher than in my own life. Not only does it distract me but it also gives me a new perspective on things. This can be a book, a movie that requires your full attention, or even a video game.
You might also pick up a passion project of yours, hang out with friends, or research something you’re really interested in.
And yet another thing you can do is…
5) Move your body
You didn’t think you could go through this list without reading about the good old benefits of exercise, did you?
Well, if you’re someone who hates exercise, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but…the moment I started working out, my anxiety levels dropped.
It just works. If you’re anxiously obsessing over something, all that nervous energy is running through your body and beating against your rib cage, screaming for a release.
And moving your body is the easiest way to do just that.
You don’t have to hit the gym every day of the week. You don’t have to run ten miles. Moving your body can be as simple as dancing to a song you love, letting your body jump and shake in whatever way it wants.
Your mind’s not the only one experiencing anxiety. Your body needs an outlet, too. Once you give it the space to move, your mind is likely to calm down as a result.
6) Try out breathwork
After a stressful day, I decided to go to a breathwork workshop last week. The guide’s voice grounded me and helped me fully relax as I was focusing on my breath and my breath only.
Slowly but surely, all worries dissipated.
Breathwork is amazing because it allows you to completely refocus on being in the present moment with the help of an anchor (the breath itself).
During classic meditation, my thoughts drift quite easily, and I have to keep catching myself as I come back to a state of awareness. Breathwork is a bit easier because your breath plays a central role, not giving you as much space to return to your thoughts.
Some common breathing methods you can try include the 4-4-4-4 method (count to 4 as you inhale, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold again for 4; then repeat) or the 4-7-8 method (count to 4 as you inhale, hold for 7, exhale for 8, and then inhale for 4 again).
And if breathwork doesn’t help, you can always…
7) Change your environment
Our environment often reflects our mental state. If you’re full of worries and fear, you might lie in bed all day, letting the dishes pile up in the sink.
I don’t know how about you, but the messier my flat becomes, the worse I feel. It’s a vicious cycle.
If you don’t feel like cleaning or even if you just want a change of scenery, leave the space you’re currently in.
Go for a walk in nature. Go to the cinema. Visit the local library. Plan a trip to the mountains. Enjoy a weekend getaway in a city you’ve never been to before.
There will be so much sensory input during these excursions that you’ll find it easier to get out of your head and take a step back from your worries.
8) Write down the worst-case scenario
If you just can’t seem to get it out of your head no matter how hard you try, write it down.
Just yesterday, I was obsessing over a small work thing that really didn’t need that much of my attention.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I wrote down the very worst thing that could happen and how I would deal with it. I also added other possible outcomes of the situation and how I’d react to those.
I read through it a couple of times and accepted that if the very worst thing were to happen, I’d know what to do. I felt prepared for it.
And I no longer worried as much.
9) Don’t be mean to yourself
On a final note, don’t chastise yourself when you realize you’ve been overthinking again. It’s easy to groan out in frustration and think, “I’m so stupid, why do I keep doing this?”
But as my partner always likes to say, “You can’t hate yourself into a better place.”
Overthinking, overanalyzing, anxiety… those things are hard. It takes time to learn how to calm your mind and worry less.
But it’s absolutely possible. All you need is a little bit of love, a little bit of compassion, and a little bit of faith.
Oh, and maybe a little bit more exercise.