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International Day of Happiness: How to Stop Overthinking

Women's Health UK logo Women's Health UK 20/03/2019 Claudia Canavan
Marcia Imperator smiling for the camera © Provided by Hearst Magazine Media, Inc.

When it comes to your happiness levels, figuring out how to improve yours is a funny thing. Do you need to work on your gratitude and being more content with what you've got? Should you get cracking on extra exercise and watch those endorphins soar? Or do you need to work out how to stop overthinking?

The latter can be a common culprit, when it comes to winding down how content we feel.

a man standing on top of a mountain: how to stop overthinking how to stop overthinking

In terms of zapping your joy, an inability to live in the present, because you're forever ruminating on the past (if only you didn't abide by the slogan 'you can repeat the exam, but you can never repeat the party' while you were doing your A-levels) or analysing the future (but then what if Ellie tells Sarah about the time you were found eating fried chicken on top of a bin after a night out and she never takes you seriously again) is a clanger.

Which is why, in celebration of International Happiness Day 2019, WH has asked Sarah Rees (@sarahdrees.co.uk a cognitive behavioural therapist and the author of The CBT Journal, to share a practical exercise with us. If you're constantly asking yourself 'how can I stop overthinking,' then invest some time in the below.

Release your mind, enjoy today, and feel your wellbeing soar.

Gallery: The biggest wellness trends for 2019 [Harper's Bazaar UK]

How to stop overthinking: the mental exercise you need to try

Catch it

Creating awareness of the patterns of your mind is the first step towards making changes. We spend much of our time in auto-pilot, unaware of what our minds are doing until they’re causing us a problem such as rumination, worry or overwhelm.

By slowing down, you can become more aware of your patterns of thinking, allowing you to catch negative thoughts and giving you more control over them. A regular mindfulness practice can be helpful in training your brain to slow down and be in the moment.

Name it

When you recognise and name what your thoughts are doing – for example ‘I’m ruminating’ or ‘I’m anxious’ – it engages your logical mind (the left side of your brain) and can reduce the emotional intensity of the experience. This also helps you address the process rather than the content of your thoughts.

a woman standing in front of a window: how to stop overthinking how to stop overthinking

Be Flexible

Our thoughts impact how we feel and what we do, but our thoughts aren’t always accurate. Developing good cognitive flexibility can help. Try asking yourself five times if there’s another way of thinking about the issue at hand.

Write It Down

In CBT, one of the first things I ask people to do is start a diary of their thinking patterns. A regular journaling practise is another great way to process what happens to us each day and assess our patterns of thinking over time. It helps you become more aware of the thoughts you’re having, and it helps you engage with them from a curious standpoint rather than a place of overwhelm.

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Writing is a left-brain activity. This side of the brain likes thinking in words; it’s logical and analytical. Journaling fully engages the left-brain, freeing up the right-brain to deal with non-verbal cues, to intuit, and to tune into feelings. Both parts of the brain get to do what they’re best at, and they get to do it in tandem, allowing you to better understand what you’re thinking and feeling.

If you think something and don’t write it down, you’re only engaging the right-brain. The mere act of putting those thoughts down on paper means your left-brain is on-board too. The power of this whole-brain activity is that it taps into the subconscious mind, allowing you to see things differently and feel more confident about the steps you need to take to achieve the change you want in your life.

Talk It Out

Connection with others is a vital part of our emotional wellbeing. Talking things through with others balances out our thinking and helps us develop new perspectives. Considering other options can also be very emotionally grounding.

How to stop overthinking? Nailed.

Visit Sarah's website for more information about CBT: sarahdrees.co.uk

Gallery: 30 problems not worth worrying about [Espresso]

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