How to Stop Overthinking When You Have ADHD

woman standing under a thought cloud in a room with brick walls

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If you are living with ADHD, you are probably familiar with the concept of ‘overthinking’. It’s when your thoughts get caught in a loop, and you go over and over the same thoughts without feeling better or finding a resolution.

Your thinking might get stuck on day to day worries or on future events. However, a large portion of your overthinking is probably to do with events that happened in the past. Whether it was something that happened last week or decades ago, you keep wishing you had done or said something different. Feelings of shame or regret sweep over you.

Because your brain works faster than people without ADHD, you can do more thinking loops than your non-ADHD peers. This means you experience more of these negative feelings.

It is helpful to reflect back on a situation and see what worked and what you would do differently next time. On the other hand, overthinking is damaging and can result in sadness or depression. It can make you feel anxious and lower your confidence in your ability to navigate the world. It can also make you less social because you are self-conscious about what you say and do.

Tips for Avoiding Overthinking

Even if you have been an over-thinker your whole life, you can change. Here are four suggestions to help.

Notice the Times You Overthink

Notice the specific times in the day when you do your overthinking. For example: in the shower, driving home from work, etc. Then, create a plan to stop the overthinking before it starts. You might set a timer for a 4-minute shower. That way, you don’t have a chance to get lost in thought. In the car, you might listen to an engaging podcast.

Know Your Triggers

There could be triggers in your life that make you more likely to overthink. For example: feeling sad, sleep-deprived, hungover, or stressed. You might not be able to completely avoid those things, but if you know when you are more likely to overthink, you can be more vigilant during those times.

Actively Process Your Concerns

While overthinking isn’t good, actively processing your concerns or worries is very helpful. Sit down with a pen and paper and write down everything that is on your mind. On the other side of the paper, write down any concrete actions you could take that would help.

For example, if you constantly worry about doing presentations at work, join Toastmasters. If you need to plan your vacation, break it into small actions to take. Such as rent a car, book a hotel. If you overthink the past, is there something proactive you can do, so it doesn’t happen again?

Find Distraction

Even after you have created a plan addressing your concerns, you might still overthink; which is where distraction is helpful. Create a list of possible activities to distract yourself rather than overthink. These activities need to be compelling and interesting enough for you to engage in them fully rather than thinking. What works for one person might not work for you, so you can personalize your list. Here are some suggestions:

  • Have a conversation with a friend
  • Watching a film or TV show
  • Play a computer game or board game
  • Exercise
  • Perform an act of kindness for someone else
  • Listen to music

A Word From Verywell

If you're having difficulty managing your thoughts, talk to a mental health professional. Talk therapy can help you learn new skills and strategies to manage overthinking. It can also reduce the symptoms of ADHD and help you feel and perform at your best.

By Jacqueline Sinfield
Jacqueline Sinfield is an ADHD coach, and the author of "Untapped Brilliance, How to Reach Your Full Potential As An Adult With ADHD."