Are you an overthinker? Overthinking is when you can’t stop thinking about a topic, even though it is making you miserable. Your brain is stuck in a loop and you play out a situation or memory again and again. While another person might think about a topic, process it and switch to a new one, your brain continues to ruminate.
Rarely (if ever) does overthinking bring joy. Instead it makes you feel bad about yourself and puts you in a blue mood. Negative thoughts are like magnets, they draw other bad memories into your mind. After ruminating on all these difficult memories it is hard to feel positive about the future.
This video was originally recorded for The Untapped Brilliance Club… a group for positive and motivated ADHDers. You are welcome to come and join us!
Click here to join the Untapped Brilliance Club!
For example, if you ask a girl out on a date and she says no, you might think about the rejection for several hours then remember other rejections in your life, not just with girls but friends in high school, a rejection letter from a job application and even things that weren’t actually rejections but feel like it right now, perhaps the time a meeting changed locations and the email went to your spam folder. Then when you think about the future, it feels very bleak as your mind has set the stage for you to be forever single and jobless, which isn’t true of course, but it definitely feels like it after all that thinking.
The interesting thing is that if the people in your life knew about these thoughts you were having they would be shocked. They see you as the smart, funny and energetic person that you are.
The type of overthinking is a result of the creative, active ADHD brain, rather than Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Although OCD is a condition that often co-exists with ADHD (you can learn more about OCD here) you don’t need to have OCD to be an overthinker.
Overthinking has some unpleasant side effects.
- It makes you feel lonely because you cut yourself off from other people. Your habit to dissect a casual conversation can result in you feeling that people were saying hurtful things, even when that wasn’t their intention.
- You lose confidence in your abilities because you remember all your minor mistakes. For example, if you are late for work once, but replay it 1,000 times in your mind, you can end up believing you were late 1,000 times.
- It takes a toll on your immune system and mental well-being too.
Not all thinking is bad!
Some people living with ADHD do the opposite of over thinking, which is doing no thinking or reflecting. This means they jump from one activity to the next, and they don’t learn from the events of the day. Their life becomes like the movie, Groundhog Day, and the same stressful things happen again and again. If there is no pause for time to think, you don’t get a chance to create a plan, and so the stressful or upsetting event happens again. The plan does not need to be grand. Just something like ‘I will put a hook by the front door to put my keys on, so I know where they are’.
As with everything, balance is key.
Walking away from a hospital after learning she had an advanced form of cancer, author Winifred Gallagher had an epiphany. She realized that cancer wanted her full attention, and she wasn’t going to comply! Instead she made an active decision to focus on her life and all the things that were important to her. This included big things like her family and work, as well as smaller items like walks and a 6.30pm martini. Throughout her year of chemo, surgery and radiation she focused on the present moment and productive, energizing thoughts rather than anything depressing and upsetting. In her book, ‘Rapt: Attention and the focused Life’ she explains this allowed her to stay in good spirits and while it was not the best year of her life, it was not the worst either.
When you are stuck in an overthinking cycle, Winifred’s story is a helpful reminder that moving our attention away from an event is possible – no matter what the circumstances are or how bad your ADHD is.
Here are 5 ADHD friendly ways to break free from overthinking. They all involve shifting your focus from your internal thoughts of what is happening in your external environment.
1) A Fun Distraction
What is fun for you? Perhaps it’s a compelling movie or an interesting conversation with a friend? Pick something that is really fun and totally captures your attention so there is no room to think about anything else.
Exercise is a great antidote to over thinking, because while you are moving, your body releases a flood of feel good chemicals. Pick your exercise carefully as some types of exercise provides more thinking time, for example running on your own. A martial art is a good choice because you have to focus on your physical movements so there is no time to think about anything else. Experiment with a few types of exercise until you find one that helps you stop thinking.
3) Act of Kindness
When you focus on someone else and their problems, it blocks out your own troubles. There are many ways to do that. You could phone a friend who you know is going through a hard time, even if you usually hate the phone. Volunteer at a charity in your area, make a donation or go onto an online forum where you can answer people’s questions in your area of expertise. You could just go for a walk in your neighborhood to look out for ways that you can be helpful. You might hold a door or offer to carry a heavy bag. Even small gestures can make a difference. Plus, the act of looking for ways to be helpful takes you away from your thoughts.
4) Muse Headband
If you like technology and gadgets, this Muse headband might interest you. It is an investment; however, all my clients that have one (and use it) find it has helped them to retrain their brain. When they catch themselves over thinking they can shift their thoughts to a different topic. Something they would have found almost impossible to do prior to using Muse. The headband is a type of neurofeedback, and it allows you to know how your brain is operating. A common criticism of neurofeedback for ADHD is that while it might work during the neurofeedback session, the benefits do not necessarily transfer to real life situations. However, in my (admittedly small ) sample group, this product has helped overthinkers in real life as well.
5) Focus on a Goal
Focusing on something positive and productive helps take you away from rumination. So pick one of your goals, and take action towards achieving it! Plus when you cross something off your to do list you get a shot of dopamine, which helps you feel good.
This is one great article!
Overthinking has definitely been one of my biggest problems and challenges till date along with ADHD. I over-think to asuch extent that I would end up with a headache or become insomniac and stay wide -awake till late at night. It causes me to become not only de-motivated and sad, but also affects my overall happiness and productivity. I play all the nagative incidents in my mind on repeat and think about them whenever I have to do something big. These tips have also been suggested to me by my therapist and I followed them religiously. Whenever I feel like ruminating and overthinking, I go for aquick brisk walk and wave at my neighbors with a wide smile. This makes other peoples’ day and in return you also feel great about it.
I would like to add one more tip to escape overthinking. Just when you are about to drown in the nagativity and play bad moments of your life on loop, try switching to your favourite comedy movie or show and listen to great music of your choice. Do whatever it takes to distract yourself and you will certainly feel a difference. Also, our mind listens to how we think and act in accordance. Keep reminding yourself that you will abandon overthinking at all cost and your brain will gradually train itself to follow your instructions. I would love people to aware themselves of all the misconceptions regarding ADHD and try to get the gist of it. I am leaving for you all to read this https://ezcareclinic.com/debunking-9-myths-about-adhd/ and get rid of the unwanted myths. This will also help you stay away from overthinking.
Overthinking is my worst symptom!!! I find it almost impossible to detach my brain from thinking and rethinking and overthinking many topics but especially ones involving relationships and what I consider my faults. I even make myself sick over these thoughts I cannot seem to stop.I do like some of these suggestions. I do find that if I am sitting too long and ruminating that just getting up and doing some task helps a bit but it is tough sometimes to get the butt out of the chair without help.
literally same here..
Excellent article. All 5 tricks would be just fine for me. For exercice, reaching a prerecorded tv stretching program from PBS and doing the exercice is a good way for me. Also, moving can also include doing an item from my new to-do list. A good deed can be simply replying with a good comment on Facebook or other. Thank you Jacqui.
This info is like life saviour.
This was exactly what I needed right now. Not sure if it will totally work but at least I can try 🙂
Dear Jacque, I always take Lorazapam when I get stuck in the negative overthinking loop. About once every month or two. It used to be more frequent but life is much better these days. I prefer your medication-free suggestions! I also like your point about the NON overthinker (my teen son!). We work on ideas to make both of our lives easier – especially in the mornings! Thanks for all you do!
Yoga really helps me!
Thank you again for sending another good article our way, Jacqui. I do catch myself overthinking a lot of ‘negative’, so now I have 5 ways of working on putting a lid on it!
Thank-you very much Jacqueline! I will use these suggestions ! I definitely have suffered in the past. A awesome gift !
This is a wonderful article. It is very helpful to me.