Get Overthinking Under Control: 3 Ways to Jump Off the Worry-Go-Round


This article is a continuation of the topic of overthinking. If you missed part 1, you’ll find it here.

Better awareness makes for better choices that produce better outcomes.

Worrying eats up a lot of energy. It’s exhausting having to deal with endless mental turmoil. Given that we each have a limited supply of energy at any given time, it doesn’t make sense to squander such a precious resource on an activity that delivers no benefits. Worrying robs us of peace and leaves us depleted. In the process, it creates all manner of unpleasant feelings and distressing consequences.

How, then, do we stop the worry cycle and get off the worry-go-round?

Let’s go back to the exercise from Part 1 of this topic. Did you try the thought record? If not, I highly recommend you do. Thought records are a powerful tool to have in your health and well-being toolbox because, as psychologist Gwendoline Smith puts it, “when you understand how you think, you get to change how you feel.”

If you did the exercise, take a look back at what you wrote down. 

You made a note of a trigger – some emotional upset or difficult situation that happened. Then you recorded what thoughts you had in response to the trigger, how you felt, and what you did or didn’t do as a result.

Let’s zoom in on the thoughts you had since they underpinned the feelings and actions that followed.

Do your thoughts line up with any of the categories of thought distortions outlined in Part 1?

Did you…

  • immediately think the worst?
  • obsess over how you think things should be?
  • assume you knew what other people were thinking?
  • jump to conclusions before getting the whole story?
  • magnify the situation, blowing it out of all proportion? 
  • expect perfection from yourself or from someone else?
  • minimise or ignore the positives and focus on the negatives?

It’s amazing how often we use distorted thinking in everyday life. But awareness is powerful. When we become aware of our own thought distortions, we can do something about them. We can make better choices.


Here are three ways:

1. Replace or challenge distorted thoughts

The rule of thumb here can be summed up in three simple words: factual, helpful, and real.

Remember, opinions, expectations, and ideals are not facts. Just because we believe something does not make it true.

Emotions are not facts either. Without question, negative feelings are unpleasant. But again, just because we feel uncomfortable emotions does not make the situation real or true.

The following questions will help you sort fact from fiction and discern what is helpful. Ask yourself:

  • Is there any evidence to support my viewpoint?
  • Is there any evidence against my viewpoint?
  • Is my viewpoint the only way to look at this situation?
  • Are there other plausible explanations?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What is the best thing that could happen?
  • What is most likely to happen?
  • Will this matter next week? Next year? In 5 years?
  • Is this thinking helping me?
  • What is a more realistic, helpful way of looking at this situation?

It’s useful to write the answers to the above questions next to where you recorded your previous unhelpful thoughts. 

Compare your previous thoughts to your new thoughts. Do your thoughts, which are now based on what is real, factual, and helpful, make you feel calmer? Has the exercise given you clarity? Revealed a solution? Or simply put things in perspective?

Once you get the hang of doing this as a written exercise, you can do it in your head on-the-fly.  It may help to jot down the thought-challenging questions on a card or on your phone so you can refer to them whenever you need to.

For a long time, I carried a card in my purse that read What thought am I fusing with? Whenever a wave of intense emotion washed over me, threatening to pull me under, I would get that card out and read it. That one question would pull me out of my mind and back into the real world. From the vantage point of reality, I could spot my distorted, unrealistic, and unhelpful thoughts and then make better choices. 

2. Do something

When anxious predictions and assumptions whirl around inside our minds, we end up achieving nothing productive in the here and now. To stop that cycle, we need to jerk ourselves out of the future and back into the present. Ask yourself: Can I do something about this situation?

To answer that question, the Worry Decision Tree is a handy tool. A decision tree helps us analyze what can be done in a given situation and when to do it. And if nothing can be done about the specific situation, the decision tree helps us determine what to do instead.


3. Breathe

When someone is in the grip of distressing emotions, they are sometimes told to take a few deep breaths. While that advice may seem overly simplistic, using breathing to calm ourselves has solid science behind it.

Dr Alan Watkins is a neuroscientist and medical doctor who has extensively studied human performance. In a TEDx talk with the intriguing title Being Brilliant Every Day, Watkins demonstrates the powerful effect breathing has on a brain under stress.

According to Watkins, there’s more to calming the brain than just taking a few deep breaths. How we breathe matters. He shows that breathing needs to be rhythmic and even. I have used this technique many times; it’s really effective in calming a racing mind.

I recommend watching the two parts of Watkin’s presentation (Part 1 and Part 2). The entire talk goes for 45 minutes, but it is well worth the investment of time.

And finally…

I’m going to throw something into the mix here that has no scientific backing that I’m aware of, but, in my case at least, plays a significant role in overthinking. In fact, if I could point a finger at the biggest contributing factor to my overactive brain, this would be it. 

Are you ready? 


I already have a tendency to overthink (just ask my husband) but anxiety, a racing mind, and sleepless or restless nights are a zillion times worse when my sugar intake is high. My brain goes berserk when I eat a lot of sugar!

For me, that’s another helpful tool in managing overthinking – cut down on the sugar!

For a deeper dive into the topic of overthinking and more ways to change unhelpful thinking, Google self-help books on CBT (which stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). There are some great resources available. 

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash



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