Give yourself a break!
There’s plenty of juice cleanses and fad diets to detox the body, but we often overlook how important it is to detox our minds. With the stress of work, relationships, and life changes, it can be easy to lose control of our thoughts and fall into the trap of overthinking.
Luckily, there are some science-backed tips you can use to gain better control of your mind and let go of the tendency to overthink your life:
1. Cut back on 24/7 news consumption
Of course, it’s good to stay in the know with what’s going on around the world. However, with broadcast news and the constant influx of notifications on our gadgets, consuming the news can become a 24/7 kind of habit.
Bob Miglani, author of Embrace the Chaos, a book that brings a fresh perspective to the chaos of the modern world, wrote for the Huffington Post that he used to be a news junkie, but realized it caused him more stress than value.
“It causes our mind to think further and deeper about the topic that we read or hear about. Normally that's not a bad thing, especially when we're trying to understand the depth of something,” he says. “But what I've observed is that my mind would burrow deeper into sometimes a worrisome place after hearing of all the uncertainty in the world around me.”
2. Resist the urge to constantly vent to friends
Talking about something that’s bothering you is a good thing, but make sure you aren’t constantly dissecting a problem and harboring on the negative details with a friend. What researchers call “co-rumination” can actually be more destructive than helpful or calming. In fact, research has found that co-rumination between female friends can actually lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
3. Reduce stimulants like coffee and soda
Miglani says that giving up caffeine had a noticeably positive effect on his mind. His overthinking slowed, and he added a morning run to his regular routine to help replace the energy he was no longer getting from coffee. “Reducing such stimulants helped to detox my mind because I didn't have the ups and downs anymore. No rush, no crash,” he says.
If you’re a chronic coffee drinker that has to drink cup after cup to keep yourself going throughout the day, try cutting back — it could work wonders and help reduce racing thoughts.
4. Use mindfulness meditation to “observe” your thoughts
Mindfulness meditation is positioning itself as an extremely important cognitive tool — research has shown that mindfulness can naturally increase the serotonin in your brain and reduce levels of a key biomarker that is linked with Alzheimer’s and cancer.
A good way to manage overthinking is to use mindfulness to observe your thoughts without judgement. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the chair of the department of psychology at Yale University and the author of Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life, advises to try thinking about your thoughts as if they were leaves floating by in a stream.
Bruce Hubbard, the director of the Cognitive Health Group and adjunct psychology professor at Columbia University, agrees: “Watching your ruminative thoughts without engaging with them can turn the volume down,” Hubbard told Real Simple. “You see them pass by, but you’re not getting sucked into the current.”
5. Pretend your problems are a friend’s problems, and give yourself advice
Often, our own problems can seem like they simply have no solution. But when we’re giving our friends advice, everything always seems clearer — at least we can usually muster up some decent advice.
Try pretending that your problems aren’t actually your own, and ask yourself what you would say to a friend if he or she came to you asking for advice. Ethan Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan that studies self-control and self-talk, found that self-distancing and acting as an observer of yourself can reduce emotions about your problems, put yourself in a better mood, and even lower blood pressure.
6. Instead of just thinking, act on it
If you spend all of your time rehashing a situation or problem in your head, you could be wasting precious time that could be spent actually acting on a solution.
“Ruminators tend to get stuck in the analysis phase of a problem,” says Hubbard. “You can’t change history. You have to shift your focus from rehashing the event to addressing the consequences.”