How to Stop Overthinking

Here's how to recognize the signs that you're overthinking

Verywell / Laura Porter

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Overthinking can be a hard habit to break. You might even convince yourself that thinking about something for a really long time is the key to developing the best solution. But that’s usually not the case.

In fact, the longer you think about something, the less time and energy you have to take productive action. Plus, thinking about all the things you could have done differently, second-guessing your decisions, and continuously imagining worst-case scenarios can be exhausting.

Learn what overthinking is, some signs you may be an overthinker, and a few reasons some people think too much. Also, explore different types of overthinking, the effects on your mental health and relationships, and how to stop overthinking things in your life.

What Is Overthinking?

Overthinking involves thinking about a certain topic or situation excessively, analyzing it for long periods of time. When you overthink, you have a hard time getting your mind to focus on anything else. It becomes consumed by the one thing you are thinking about.

Overthinking Definition

Overthinking is defined as "a loop of unproductive thoughts" or "an excessive amount of thoughts that are unnecessary."

While some people believe that overthinking may be helpful since it involves looking at an issue or problem from nearly every viewpoint possible and anticipating future events, the opposite is true. Research suggests that overthinking is associated with feelings of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Everyone overthinks sometimes. Maybe you keep thinking about all the things that could go wrong when you give your presentation next week, or you’ve wasted countless hours trying to decide what to wear to your upcoming job interview.

Finding ways to put an end to overthinking can help you take action in your life versus simply thinking about things that are bothering you. Instead of going over something in your mind again and again, you can start to take the steps necessary to resolve the situation.

Signs You're Overthinking

If you're wondering whether you are overthinking a particular situation or concern, there are a few things you can look for. Signs of overthinking include:

  • An inability to think about anything else
  • Being unable to relax
  • Constantly feeling worried or anxious
  • Fixating on things outside of your control
  • Feeling mentally exhausted
  • Having a lot of negative thoughts
  • Replaying a situation or experience in your mind
  • Second-guessing your decisions
  • Thinking of all the worst-case scenarios

Causes of Overthinking

Overthinking can happen for several reasons. Here are a few to consider.

Not Being Solution-Focused

Overthinking is different from problem-solving. Overthinking is about dwelling on the problem, while problem-solving involves looking for a solution.

Imagine a storm is coming. Here’s the difference between overthinking and problem-solving:

  • Overthinking: “I wish the storm wouldn’t come. It’s going to be awful. I hope the house doesn’t get damaged. Why do these things always have to happen to me? I can’t handle this.”
  • Problem-solving: “I will go outside and pick up everything that might blow away. I’ll put sandbags against the garage door to prevent flooding. If we get a lot of rain I’ll go to the store to buy plywood so I can board up the windows.”

Problem-solving can lead to productive action. Overthinking, on the other hand, fuels uncomfortable emotions and doesn’t look for solutions.

Experiencing Repetitive Thoughts

Ruminating—or rehashing the same things over and over again—isn’t helpful. But, when you’re overthinking, you might find yourself replaying a conversation in your head repeatedly or imagining something bad happening many times.

Dwelling on your problems, mistakes, and shortcomings, increases your risk of mental health problems, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

As your mental health declines, you are more likely you are to ruminate on your thoughts. It’s a repetitive cycle that can be tough to break.

Your Brain Won't Shut Off

When you’re overthinking you might feel like your brain won’t shut off. When you try to sleep, you might even feel as though your brain is on overdrive as it replays scenarios in your head and causes you to imagine bad things happening.

Research confirms what you likely already know—rumination interferes with sleep. Overthinking makes it harder to fall asleep. 

Overthinking impairs the quality of your sleep too. So it’s harder to fall into a deep slumber when your brain is busy overthinking everything.

Difficulty falling asleep may contribute to more worrisome thoughts. For example, when you don’t fall asleep right away, you might imagine that you’ll be overtired the following day. That may cause you to feel anxious—which may make it even harder to fall asleep.

Making Decisions Is a Struggle

You might try to convince yourself that thinking longer and harder helps you. After all, you’re looking at a problem from every possible angle. But, overanalyzing and obsessing actually becomes a barrier. Research shows thinking too much makes it tough to make decisions.

If you’re indecisive about everything from what to eat for dinner to which hotel you should book, you might be overthinking things.

It's very likely that you are wasting a lot of time looking for second opinions and researching your options, when ultimately, those little choices might not matter so much.

Decisions are Second-Guessed

Overthinking sometimes involves beating yourself up for the decisions you already made.

You could waste a lot of time thinking your life would be better if you’d only taken that other job or not started a business. Or maybe you get upset with yourself for not seeing red flags sooner—because you believe they should have been obvious!

And while a little healthy self-reflection can help you learn from your mistakes, rehashing and second-guessing is a form of mental torture.

Overthinking can take a toll on your mood and may make it even more difficult to make decisions in the future.

Types of Overthinking

There are also different types of overthinking that a person might engage in. Many of these are caused by cognitive distortions, which are negative or distorted ways of thinking.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

This type of overthinking involves only seeing situations in black or white. Instead of looking at both the good and the bad, you might analyze an event only in terms of it being a total success or a total failure. 

Catastrophizing

This type of overthinking involves thinking things are worse than they are. For example, you might fear that you will fail an exam. This then leads to worry that you will fail the class, which will then lead to failing school, not getting a degree, and not being able to find a job. This type of overthinking sets you up to worry about unrealistic worst-case scenarios.

Overgeneralizing

This form of overthinking happens when you base a rule or expectation for the future on a single or random event from the past. Instead of accepting that different outcomes are possible, you might assume that certain things will "always" or "never" happen. In this case, overgeneralizing one event from the past to every event in the future often leads to overthinking and worrying about things that might never occur.

Effects of Overthinking

Overthinking is not a mental illness, and while overthinking can make you anxious, it is not necessarily the same thing as anxiety. However, it can often play a role in the development and maintenance of several mental health conditions. Some disorders that are associated with overthinking include:

  • Depression
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)

Overthinking can have a bidirectional relationship with mental health issues. Stressful events, depression, and anxiety can make people more prone to overthinking, and then this overthinking contributes to worse stress, anxiety, and depression.


Finding a way to break out of this cycle can often help relieve some symptoms of these conditions.

Overthinking can also take a serious toll on relationships. Assuming the worst and jumping to incorrect conclusions can lead to arguments and conflicts with other people. Obsessing about every little thing other people do and say can also mean that you misunderstand what they are trying to convey.

It can also lead to relationship anxiety, and behaviors like constantly needing reassurance or attempting to control other people. Such behavior can harm your relationships with others.

How to Stop Overthinking

Research shows thinking less about a problem might actually be the key to developing better solutions. Here are a few ways to stop overthinking.

Distract Yourself

Rather than sit and think about a problem for endless amounts of time, you can distract yourself for a bit.

Your brain may find better ways to work out a solution in the background while you’re distracted with another task—like working in the garden. Or, you might “sleep on it” and discover that your brain solves the problem for you while you’re sleeping.

A brief distraction can give you a break. And it may get your mind focused on something more productive. And, your brain might even develop a solution for you when you stop thinking about the problem.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Remind yourself that your thoughts are not facts. Every thought you have will not be truthful, accurate, or even realistic. Learning how to reframe them in a more positive way can help relieve the tendency to overthink.

When you find yourself overthinking, challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself if they are realistic. Consider alternative scenarios. It can be difficult at first, but learning to call out your own overthinking can help you learn to replace negative thoughts with more helpful ones.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can stop dwelling in a negative mindset.

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Work on Your Interpersonal Skills

Studies have found that improving your interpersonal skills can help stop you from overthinking since these skills have a large effect on this particular habit. Ways to develop stronger interpersonal skills include:

Meditate

Meditation can be an excellent tool for redirecting your thoughts more positively. As you meditate, work on focusing on your breath. The goal is not to clear your mind, but rather to focus it on something and practice redirecting your focus whenever your thoughts wander.

With practice, you will find it much easier to halt overthinking in its tracks before it becomes a more serious problem. Research has found that a 10-minute meditation can be an effective way to stop intrusive thoughts and worry.

Practice Self-Acceptance

Overthinking often stems from dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about things that you cannot change. Instead of berating yourself for things you might regret, try working toward being more accepting and compassionate of yourself. 

Research suggests that people who extend themselves such compassion are more likely to use adaptive coping strategies.

Strategies that may help you become more self-accepting include:

  • Practicing gratitude and thinking about the aspects of yourself that you appreciate
  • Cultivating a strong support system made up of people who can provide encouragement and love
  • Forgive yourself for things you regret

Get Therapy

If you can’t break free from overthinking, consider getting professional help. Overthinking may be a symptom of a mental health issue, like depression or anxiety. On the flip side, it may also increase your susceptibility to developing mental health problems. 

A mental health professional may teach you skills that will help you stop obsessing, ruminating, and dwelling on things that aren’t helpful. They may also help you identify coping strategies that work for you, such as mindfulness or physical exercise.

If you feel like your brain is on overdrive, talk to your physician. Your doctor may be able to refer you to a therapist who can help you put an end to overthinking.

A Word From Verywell

Overthinking can create an endless cycle of stress and worry, which can ultimately cause you to feel less prepared, motivated, and confident. It can also play a role in mental health issues like anxiety and depression, so it is important to find ways to break out of such destructive thought patterns.

Self-help strategies like distracting yourself and challenging your thoughts can help. If overthinking is taking a toll on your well-being, consider talking to a mental health professional. They can help you develop the mental tools and coping skills you need to prevent overthinking.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.