You're Overthinking It! Tips to Stress Less
Get Out of Your Head
There's a fine line between thinking constructively and slipping into a toxic thought spiral. The key is being able to stop obsessing over whatever is bothering you and to move on to problem solving -- or just letting it go if there's nothing you can do. Try these tips when your head is spinning.Forget You
When your mind is replaying the same thoughts over and over, distract yourself. For instance, every time you start ruminating about why you can't get over your ex, conjure up the juicy deliciousness of a ripe red apple or, better still, Ryan Gosling's abs. Instead of analyzing ad infinitum how your boss critiqued your latest project, go out and see a funny movie with friends. Research shows that people who can refocus on positive or neutral thoughts or activities were less depressed than those who continued to ruminate. Later, when you're in a happier frame of mind, you can work on coming up with solutions and a plan of action.Be an Identity Thief
When you're completely immersed in your own problems, it's hard to break free. So instead, pretend you're listening to a friend's troubles and then giving her advice on what to do. (You wouldn't berate your bestie for what's on her mind, right?) In a series of studies, Ethan Kross, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, found that when you act as an observer of yourself, you're less emotional about your problems, your blood pressure is lower, and you're in a better mood, even days later. Changing your perspective actually changes your thoughts and physiology. Plus -- who knows? -- you might come up with a smart solution or two.Find Your Focus
Doing even a short session of mindfulness meditation -- concentrating on the present moment by bringing your attention to your breath and coming back to it whenever your mind wanders -- may help reduce rumination, according to research. If you're not the sit-and-be-Zen type, take a Spinning or Zumba class and concentrate on your movements. "Anything that trains your attention on the present can be helpful in keeping your mind from wandering to the past or thinking about the future," Hilt says.
It's also a good idea to keep your eyes on the prize. A 2010 study found that when cricket players wore contact lenses to make their vision slightly blurry, their batting performance was just as good as it normally was because the lenses forced them to focus only on the ball instead of on all the extraneous details. The lesson: You don't always need all the information you think you need. Trusting your gut and ignoring every last possibility can help when you're struggling with any big decision, like buying a house or accepting a job offer. "It's not always better to have more choices," Beilock says. "Some research shows that when people have too many options, they're not very satisfied with any of them."Get in a Groove
To prevent decision fatigue, remove the piddly decisions from your life. "There's President Obama's strategy to wear the same kind of suit every day so he doesn't waste his energy making minor decisions," Baumeister says. "For the same reason, some people have a set routine every morning; they eat the same breakfast, take the same route to work and so on. You don't want to use up your brainpower making decisions at a mundane level; you want to save it for the more important things."Hit the Sack
Get your zzz's -- at least seven hours a night. "If you have a decent amount of sleep and a good breakfast, you start the day with plenty of willpower," Baumeister says. And that fuels you to make decisions without feeling overloaded. But what if you can't snooze because pesky thoughts are running in circles in your brain? Mindfulness training helps here, too. Try focusing on your breathing, counting backward, or singing a song in your head to quiet your mind and lull you into dreamland, Beilock says.Don't Stop Believin'
When you're replaying a moment from your day, wondering if you did or said the right thing, or worried about the future, confide in and take advice from someone you look up to and trust, like a parent, coach, or mentor. While it's helpful to have someone rooting for you, a lucky charm can provide the same boost: In a German study, golfers who were given a "lucky" golf ball and told that others had performed extremely well with it hit the ball much better than those who weren't informed of that tidbit. Likewise, when you're contemplating a career change and fretting over everything that could go wrong, having faith that it will all just work out helps relieve some of the pressure that comes from feeling as though you have to be in control all the time.Just Do It
Whether you're trying to hit a ball or rock a work assignment, don't dwell. "Just start a project rather than waiting and thinking about every aspect of it," Beilock recommends. "Focus on an outcome, the one goal you want to achieve. That prevents your mind from wandering to all the other things that could have an impact on your performance." In other words, you won't overthink it.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2013.
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