How do I stop being an overthinker?

The Curse of Overthinking.

How do I Stop Being an Overthinker?


Today, I’m talking about overthinking.

Hi, I’m Shelley Treacher from the Stress and Anxiety Podcast.

As an experienced psychotherapist in Bristol, I help people to release binge-eating and to learn how to manage their emotions without food. One of the ways that I do this is by allowing them to regulate their nervous systems. Overthinking is an overactive nervous system.

It’s my understanding that many of us are in a state of having an overactive nervous system much of the time. Just think about how we rush all day to finish work and chores, barely having time to catch our breath and the effect it has on our body:



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Our culture prizes productivity, which makes us feel good about ourselves. So we might not even know that we’re overthinking and that this exacerbates the heightened state of the nervous system.

So first, if you’re struggling with stress, you might need to become aware that you are overthinking.

Symptoms of Overthinking

Mental signs

  • In overthinking, it’s difficult for you to focus on anything else.
  • Overthinking can lead to insomnia. You can’t sleep because your brain won’t shut off, which keeps you in a cycle of worrying, so not sleeping, so being tired, so worrying.
  • Another sign of overthinking is that you can’t stop worrying.
  • Or that you worry about things that you have no control over.
  • You might be constantly reminding yourself of the mistakes that you think you’re making.
  • Or reliving embarrassing moments.
  • You might be asking ‘what if’ a lot of the time.
  • In overthinking, you make plans and come up with solutions to all the possible worst case outcomes and scenarios.
  • You might perceive situations and events as threatening, even when they’re not.
  • You might become indecisive or fear making the wrong decision.
  • Overthinking might show an inability to set aside or let go of worry, an inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge.
  • Not being able to stop thinking about all the things that you wish you’d said, or wish you hadn’t said.
  • At its worst, you might even be thinking about the hidden meaning behind what people are saying.
  • Dwelling on difficulty, dwelling on the past, and worrying about the future.
  • And you also might need a lot of reassurance in your relationship.

I know a lot of these things are normal for most of us to experience, but they can signify that your brain is working overtime and that you’re going to suffer with that. In particular, suffer with an overactive nervous system.


Effects of overthinking on the body

  • Shortness of breath or a rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Flushing
  • Rushing
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling or feeling twitchy
  • Nervous or feeling easily startled
  • Nausea, diarrhoea, or any other digestive problems
  • Itching or skin problems


Emotional effects of overthinking

  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Self-doubt
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Imposter syndrome


What is the first step to stop overthinking?

There have been links made with rumination as a mechanism linking stressful life events to symptoms of depression and anxiety.* Overthinking is repetitive and unproductive. We’re usually convinced that the more we do it, the more it will help on some level. And so this becomes a habit. So, breaking this belief is half the battle.

Then when you’re aware that you are overthinking and that your nervous system is triggered, you can choose whether you need a practical approach to changing your mindset, a physiological approach to relieving your nervous system, or a process-oriented approach to working through your emotions and your triggering.

What I mean by this is that when you’re aware that you’re in this thought system that’s not helping you, you can begin to challenge it. Because it is too black and white You need to break the cycle.


How do I stop overthinking and assuming the worst? – A practical approach

An example of a practical approach is a distraction or being in company. It may simply be that you’re overthinking because you are alone too much. So you may need a plan to get out there more. I know this has been a particular difficulty for many since the pandemic.

Another practical approach to reducing overthinking may be research. So that you can know all the real options and can make an informed decision.

Of course, this can lead to overthinking too. This is one of the ways that overthinking shows up for me. I can be researching something and then suddenly find that I’m quite manic about the research, because I have to find the best microphone for the best price that’s going to do the best job in the world for me! So chances are, like me, when overthinking, your nervous system is triggered.


How do I relax my mind from overthinking? – A physiological approach

I produced a video on social media recently (which was the most popular video I’ve produced for a while). This is a simple exercise that you can try to shift your system.

  • All you need to do is put one hand on the top of your head and then lean your head towards your arm, your elbow
  • and then look up, shift your eyes into the opposite top corner.
  • If you hold that for 30 seconds, or however long you can handle, your system will start to shift and you’ll start to breathe more deeply.

It’s thought that stimulating the vagus nerve has something to do with this. This is the nerve that governs part of your nervous system. It’s deciding whether your system needs to respond to a threat and so needs to protect you in some way, or whether your system can relax, rest and digest, because there is no threat. When we’re in a state of overthinking, our systems think there’s a threat that we need to defend ourselves against.

Creating a pause between your thoughts, your racing thoughts, or before reacting is a game changer. One of my clients said recently,

“I can really feel it now when I’m up in my head too much”.


How to stop overthinking – an experiential approach

I produced one of those character reels that you see on all the social media video channels. This is something that I’d been wanting to do for a long time but just not had time for. I wanted to make something funny. I’ll let you be the judge of whether I succeeded in that! But I’m just going to describe what I talked about in the video.

I took great delight in dressing up as four different characters. The left part of the brain, the right part of the brain, the brainstem in between the left and right, and the integrated brain.

The left and the right brain have this dialogue where they don’t get on very well. One side is all about emotion, creativity, instinct and intuition, and the other side is about logic and rationality.

My point in the video as the integrated brain or therapist is that both are needed to make good decisions in life. So the part of the brain responsible for emotion and creativity is complaining that the other side of the brain, rationality, won’t listen to her and wants everything to be rational.

Is that familiar to you? I think this is pretty common, where the emotional side of us gets overlooked, and put down in favour of productivity.

The brainstem is small. It’s a tiny little connector between the left and the right. This may go part way to explaining why it is so difficult for us to go from one side to the other.

And it is! It is difficult for us, isn’t it, to go from rational, logical, productive, doing, action, to emotional, intuitive, and perceptive, and honouring both of those?

In overthinking, we’re too much in the rational part of our brains and don’t value our feelings enough.

But you cannot think your way out of emotion. If something’s emotional, something’s triggered you, something’s bothering you emotionally, you can’t think your way out of that. It has to be processed emotionally.

Or, we can try something physical. Like the exercise I described earlier.

  • You can also do the thing that you do when you’re on an aeroplane and your ears are blocked. You can hold your nose, hold your mouth, and breathe out (without breathing out), blocking your airways.

This switches on the ventral part of the vagus nerve. The part of the parasympathetic nervous system that tells us to rest and stops anxiety.

Here are some other ways that you can try and do this:

  • When you’re feeling anxious, you can imagine that a friend is calmly hugging you. Touch and a calming person, who is physically and emotionally safe for you, will also activate this part of your nervous system.
  • A simple calming touch can also stimulate the nerve endings that connect to the vagus nerve.

Life is better when you’re in a ventral vagal state. Because when you’re in this calm, rest and digest, you can think straight. You can make good decisions for yourself. You can feel loving and generous and compassionate.


The underlying causes of overthinking

Once you’ve done this, you might choose to explore the function of your overthinking or the feelings underneath it, because overthinking is a symptom or a sign of a concern of some kind. Often shame or depression are causing it.

Sometimes it’s a form of self-protection. You may have had to think your way out of situations when you were a child. This may be where it developed. Overthinking might have made you feel safer than being emotional. But often this way of thinking as an adult is outdated and not very useful, particularly when we want to be intimate with our partners.

This is something that I work a lot with, in body-centred or somatic psychotherapy.

People who are overthinkers often feel silly at first when I direct them to the experience they have in their body or their feelings. It’s strange for us when we’re used to overthinking; when we’re used to working through and making choices and decisions based on pros and cons. It’s unusual for a lot of us to work through our emotions, feelings and unconscious.

When I direct people to pay attention to the feelings or the sensations they have in their body, and then I ask them to stay with that and to expand on what they notice, they might notice details in imagery, they might have words come up, they might have feelings or more sensations, and they might have memories. All of these things feel strange to a person who overthinks.

But these are the languages of the unconscious.

Given that something like 92%, (don’t quote me on that), of our thinking, is unconscious, that’s quite important. It’s our unconscious that’s leading us into the stress of overthinking, and all that negativity.

But following the unconscious is a little bit like magic.

I had a dramatic example of this for myself recently. As you know, my cat died at the beginning of the year. I’ve also just lost a very dear friend of mine, and without going into too much detail, financially it’s been a difficult year as well so far. One week I found myself overthinking it, trying to work out what I could do last thing at night, and then waking up feeling stressed every morning.

I knew I had to practice what I was preaching and how to do something about it. So I did something called Embodied Breathwork.

What that looked like for me was being guided by an expert into my body’s experience in exactly the way that I’ve described to you. And I went for it! As I descended into the physical sensations of pain I reached a point of realising that I woke up every morning worried about the same thing. And I broke down in sobs of tears, despairing at just how miserable that was.

As I would do in a session with a client, the facilitator carried on guiding us through letting go and crying, to the other side. And to feel more resourced, powerful and calm. But, to be honest, I didn’t even need that part of it at that point because I had done what I needed to do. I had acknowledged how awful I was feeling every single day and how terrible that was.

Releasing that emotion physiologically brought my ventral vagal system back online. And I’ve been in a better place since then, altogether. I can’t say that life has changed a huge amount. I’m still having the problems that most people are having at the moment, with an extra dose of grief. But I’m happier. I can cope with it better because I’m more rooted in that ventral vagal system.

Overthinking happens up in the head. So the body is the solution, in the present.

I saw a post on Instagram recently saying that you don’t have to fix your emotional problems to fix emotional eating. This bothered me! What the woman was promoting is uncoupling the trigger of emotional eating with the behaviour of emotional eating, which is of course important. This is mindfulness or embodiment, creating a pause between your trigger and your reaction. This is stress regulation and it is so important!

But what bothered me is

1. She’s promoting a quick fix to people who want a quick fix.

2. My feeling is that this only goes halfway. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It doesn’t address limiting beliefs. It doesn’t address the trigger at all.

I think it’s the same with overthinking. The real release comes with allowing and giving permission to be yourself. Forgiving yourself for all the things you got wrong or thought you got wrong. For binge eaters, emotional eaters, and comfort eaters, I know that this thing that you think you got wrong can be just having emotion. However, allowing your humanness safely can lead to releasing stress and binge eating.

I’m going to end with another piece of neuroscience that I learned recently: Apparently, our brain grows when we do the things that we don’t want to do. From exercise to not giving in to a craving, and to, I think, doing this kind of depth work.



  • Today I’ve talked about overthinking.
  • I suggested that to manage overthinking, we first have to become aware that we’re doing it.
  • I gave you some mental signs, some physical symptoms, and some emotional effects of overthinking.
  • I then suggested breaking the belief that overthinking is productive.
  • I gave you three ways that you can challenge overthinking; taking a practical approach, a physiological approach, or an experiential approach. I gave you examples of each of these.
  • I gave you two exercises that shift your nervous system.
  • I talked about the left and the right brain, and how both are needed to integrate to perform well in life.
  • I finished by encouraging you to permit yourself to be an emotional human being.


Final thoughts on overthinking

As often happens, while producing this podcast, I had a session with a client about overthinking. We went through the processes I’ve described here.

This led her to the question, “What thoughts would I be left with if I let go of overthinking or anxiety?”

So I’m going to leave you with this question:

Just as with overeating, could you be hooked into overthinking because you are afraid of what you’d be left with if you didn’t do it?

If you are finding that you can’t break free of overthinking and need some support getting in touch with your emotions safely? Please get in touch with me for one-to-one support online or in person.

Thank you for making it to the end here. Next month in May, I’ll be talking about depression.

This has been the Stress, Anxiety and Binge Eating Recovery Podcast with Shelley Treacher.

I’ll see you in May.



How do i stop being an overthinker