Harmful rumination: What helps against overthinking

Photo: CC0 Public Domain – Unsplash/ Ethan Sykes

Some thoughts have the potential to not let you go. Psychologist Umut Özdemir explains what harmful effects this can have and how to counteract overthinking.

Be it in quiet moments during a day full of appointments, on the way back from shopping, while doing sports, in the moments before falling asleep, or even in social situations: a certain thought pushes itself to the forefront of your attention and doesn’t let you go . Your own thinking begins to circle – and then often leaves you without a result.

But when do you think too much? When do you ponder and when do you talk about overthinking? What are the causes? When is it harmful? And how can you stop it?

Psychologist Umut Özdemir answers these and other questions. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, he describes what promotes overthinking and what methods help to limit it.

At what point does rumination become harmful?

According to Özdemir, the main difference between self-reflection and overthinking is the added value that thinking about a certain circumstance creates. “If I think for a quarter of an hour about why I reacted in a certain way in a certain situation, that falls more under self-reflection.”

But that can also be helpful: The added value could then lie in thinking about something new or taking a different perspective, the psychologist explains to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. This could be very helpful in preparing for a similar situation.

Overthinking becomes harmful when you start to devalue yourself in your thoughts and as a result feel worse. Or when you notice that certain thoughts don’t seem to let you go for days. “It may be that you can no longer concentrate on anything else,” says Özdemir.

But overthinking can also be a symptom. For example, when brooding is part of a social phobia. Those affected are then often inclined to think about the same circumstance for months – and, despite all attempts, not being able to stop it. “In the worst case, this can lead to you avoiding certain situations completely,” the psychologist points out.

What helps against overthinking?

As a method of not losing control of your thoughts and curbing overthinking, Özdemir recommends pursuing and describing your own thought spirals as objectively as possible. It also helps to ask yourself when overthinking starts and why you end up feeling bad.

The psychologist emphasizes that it takes practice to observe yourself thinking. “You can try to go backwards and see which thought led to which new scenario in your head,” suggests Özdemir.

In order to limit overthinking, Özdemir also recommends the so-called thought stop. “It means that you consciously devote yourself to something else. Especially when you think about the same thing several times and always come to the same conclusion or find no solution at all”.

If, as a result of observing your own thought processes as objectively as possible, you notice that certain thought contents are repeated or even filled with fear, you have become aware of them at least once and you have the option of not pursuing the thought any further at a certain point.

Source used: Süddeutsche Zeitung

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