If you can’t seem to get out of your own anxious head, it’s time to take action.

Right now it’s inevitable that we all feel anxious. Existential angst is hanging over us like a big dark cloud as we contemplate health, income and a very uncertain future. And what compounds that anxiety is a tendency to overthink. Overthinking means “to think about something too much or for too long.” While it’s human nature to think things through when facing a crisis, making a decision or evaluating a situation, it becomes overthinking when you can’t get out of your own head. Does this sound like you?

Much of what is happening in our world is beyond our control and that can be frightening. So think about what you can control – how you process it. If you can’t seem to quiet the constant barrage of questions and negative thoughts about something you did or said, or something you fear is going to happen – or not happen – it’s time to kick the habit.

If not, it could take a serious toll on your wellbeing, increasing the risk of mental health problems. And once your mental health is affected your tendency to ruminate increases, which can lead to a damaging vicious cycle. Many over-thinkers resort to unhealthy coping strategies to handle the emotional distress it causes, such as alcohol or food (oh dear, this sounds like us). If you’re an over-thinker insomnia may well plague you when your mind won’t shut off, and poor sleep can lead to serious health consequences.

“Chronic rumination, when you’re overthinking things constantly, means you’re triggering your ‘fight or flight’ response too much, which ultimately can lead to fatty deposits in your blood vessels and ultimately to heart attacks. So it’s vital to break the cycle,” says Gitanjali Trevorrow-Seymour, whose confidence coaching draws on neurological research and techniques. Here are five expert tips to break the cycle of overthinking.

1. Notice it
“When you notice you’re re-playing events in your mind over and over, or worrying about things you can’t control, acknowledge that your thoughts aren’t productive and start looking for solutions. Avoid fretting and think practical: what can I do about it?” says Gitanjali. If it’s your work or financial situation that you’re overthinking, write down some simple actions you can take, like planning a budget for the next few months and contacting your bank and HMRC to get some clarity.

2 Park it
When you find yourself overthinking distract yourself in the moment. “In order to break the cycle distract yourself for two minutes. Try spelling out the alphabet backwards, or do something differently for two minutes,” says Gitanjali. Go out, do some exercise, give someone a call and discuss a completely different subject, or get working on a project that will distract your mind from the barrage of negative thoughts.

3. Indulge in it
“Set a timer for seven minutes and allow yourself to go vent the emotions that are filling your body as you overthink. Scream, jump around, swear, cry or just write it all down. When the timer finishes take a breath and know that you can do the same thing tomorrow but that’s it for today. Where will you allow your mind to focus its energy now?” says Gitanjali. Now tackle one of the actions you planned in Point 1.

4. Practise Mindfulness
Living in the present and becoming more aware of the here and now will help you beat overthinking. Here’s how to do mindfulness meditation.

Words: Marina Gask