13 ways to stop overthinking and start living in the present moment

I’ve been an overthinker for as long as I can remember. There were countless times when I worried too much about the “what ifs” and “could be” that it sucked the joy out of me.

While I believe I’ve made much progress when it comes to calming my anxious mind, I can’t deny that I still catch myself going round and round over even the tiniest things.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this dilemma, it’s this: Your mind only has as much power over you as you give it.

Simply put, you can take back control and break out of this worry cycle

Here are some strategies to stop overthinking and start living in the moment.

Let’s start with this simple yet powerful technique. 

1) Pause and breathe

What can you do when your anxiety is at an all-time high? Breathe your way to relaxation.

Many studies have shown how breathing exercises, particularly deep breathing, can help you quiet your busy brain and feel relaxed and refreshed. 

And the best part? These breathing techniques are easy and free. They take a few minutes and can be done anytime, anywhere. 

Try it: Get comfortable and close your eyes. Begin focusing on your breath. 

Slow your breathing down and take deeper breaths to relax your muscles. Just keep breathing and relax more with every exhale. 

Give yourself a break and take time to refresh when your mind gets overwhelmed.

2) Identify your triggers

A crucial step to stop overthinking in its tracks is to notice when you’re thinking too much.

Learn to become more aware of when you start to overthink. Identify your thought patterns and what you’re feeling at that moment.

Are you anxious, sad, angry, frustrated, or embarrassed? Don’t beat yourself up for having these negative thoughts and emotions.

Acknowledge that your thoughts are unproductive and are making you feel bad about yourself. 

Take a step back to evaluate the situation and observe what’s happening. This will help you manage your emotions and make better decisions.

3) Challenge and reframe your thoughts

Here’s the deal: More often than not, our mind’s take on reality is unreliable.

Trust me, I know what it feels like to get lost in toxic thinking cycles — from making unfounded assumptions to worrying about what other people are thinking and expecting the worst to happen in any given situation. 

When you realize that your thoughts are spiraling, try to shift your perspective and talk your way out of your mental circles. Make a mental list of all the things that could go right.

Think of powerful mantras that can give you a sense of peace. Tell yourself: “I’m trying my best. I can do this. It’s okay to ask for support.”

In other words, interrupt your thoughts and remind your brain that you’re in charge. 

Related: 10 tips to increase self-esteem if you feel that everyone is better than you

4) Focus on what you can do

Instead of getting stuck in the thinking phase, ask yourself: What can I do about it?

Turn your thoughts into effort and work. If you’re worried about a specific task, project, or goal, make a proactive choice to get to work.

Taking action, however small, makes progress. Remember, there is no good outcome from negative thoughts. 

The key is to redirect wasted energy into something useful by looking for solutions. Focus on the steps you can take to learn from a mistake or avoid a future problem.

5) Get moving

Physical activity is always a great way to get out of your head. It can be something as simple as getting up and changing your posture and location.

Or it can be more intentional such as exercising, cleaning your home or apartment, going for a run, or doing some yoga. 

What works for me is taking outdoor walking breaks. I love paying attention to the sights and sounds and taking in the beauty of nature around me. 

It helps me clear my mind, de-stress, and feel happier and more hopeful. 

6) Distract yourself

Doing something that you enjoy or love is also another go-to option that will help you get out of the overthinking loop. 

Decide what is the perfect distraction for you. Maybe it’s a three-minute puzzle or your favorite game. Or maybe it’s listening to your favorite music or reading a book.

You may even want to tend to your plants or work on your fruit or vegetable garden. How about tapping into a creative hobby like playing an instrument, drawing, or painting?

Whatever works for you, as long as it helps you switch gears and busy yourself with an activity.

7) Journal

For me, writing is a way of healing. And there’s evidence to support this. Research shows that expressive writing can lower anxiety and stress and boost overall health and well-being.

I keep a journal and write my worries away. I express myself, and my deepest thoughts and feelings, through writing.

Simply writing my anxieties down helps me take the pressure off and distance myself from what’s going on in my mind.

8) Practice gratitude

When all else fails, try gratitude.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: It’s not always easy to be grateful. But believe me, it’s always worth it.

Appreciating everything that happens keeps you grounded. Never take the little things for granted. Start with what you see, where you’re at, and who is around you. All these small moments will make you happy. 

And it doesn’t stop there: Expressing gratitude empowers you to foster stronger relationships. All it takes is a simple “thank you” to make a genuine connection.

9) Practice mindfulness

Yes, you can train your mind to focus on the here and now.

Ask yourself: How can I give more attention to the present moment as I go through my day? 

Turn to your senses and emotions and observe how everything unfolds. Notice something outside of yourself — the sky above, the feel of the wind on your skin, the sounds of people and traffic in the distance.

You’ll realize that you are not your thoughts and you can be an observer of your thoughts. You’ll find peace and meaning amidst the chaos.

 It takes practice to be mindful, but over time, it can decrease overthinking.

Related: If you avoid these 8 habits, you’re more mindful than you think

10) Schedule your “worry time”

Think about this for a minute: You’re stressing yourself out if you don’t set mental boundaries.

What can be more frustrating than having your mind on autopilot, endlessly worrying about things you can’t control?

Try setting a time limit or incorporating a worry break into your day. During this guilt-free time, allow yourself to identify your fears, reflect on issues, and worry as much as you want.

When the time is up, compel yourself to move on to something more productive. You can always think about your problems later. 

11) Surround yourself with positivity 

There’s no denying that the more you spend time with positive people, the happier you’ll feel. 

But if you talk to like-minded people, meaning those who tend to overthink things just like you, it may do more harm than good.

Find people who can help you break your overthinking habits and inspire you to live in the present. 

The people in your inner circle can heavily influence your thinking patterns and behavior, so reaching out to a positive thinker may help you gain a fresh perspective. 

12) Unplug more often

Be honest: When was the last time you passed a full two hours without checking your phone at least once?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many of us don’t have the healthiest relationship with technology. 

The sad news is, excessive reliance on tech and social media takes a toll on our mental health. We get sucked into the negativity that ends up occupying our thoughts and increasing our anxiety and stress.

Disconnecting from technology can help you feel calmer and reconnect with the present moment. Here are simple ways to do this:

  • Keep your devices out of reach.
  • Mute apps and turn off push notifications.
  • Try taking a 30-minute digital timeout every day.
  • Invest in face-to-face connections and experiences.

13) Be kind to yourself

Overthinking is not a habit that’s easy to break overnight. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t stay present for as long as you want.

Aim for consistency, not perfection. Things may not go according to plan and you may end up ruminating again. That’s okay. The important thing is to try again and find satisfaction in making progress.

Make self-care a priority. Nourishing your mind, body, and soul will help you feel more alive and in touch with life’s simple wonders.

Go easy on yourself. Be patient, and you’ll soon see the fruits of your hard work. 

Maria Fatima Reyes

Fat Niebres is a freelance writer who loves to chase stories that matter. She finds meaning and inspiration in the mundane. When she's not writing, she's probably reading, eating, traveling, or having deep conversations with her husband. She brings her experience in broadcast, print, and NGO communications, and has been published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Inquirer.net.

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