All of us wonder or worry about ourselves, our life, our family, our friends or anything else. We ponder on these issues for a while and then go on with our day. However, if we find that our worries or thoughts interfere with the rest of our lives, it could mean that we are over-thinking. Over-thinking is a process of repeatedly thinking about any incident, relationship or a person for a long period of time.

Over-thinking involves analyzing, commenting and repeating the same thoughts over and over again. Over-thinking consumes peoples’ energies, disables their ability to make decisions and prevents them from taking action. It puts people on a loop of thinking and thinking over and over again. It is like people tying themselves to a rope connected to a pole and going in circles again and again. Psychologists strongly believe that over-thinking is a cause for demotivation, anxiety, stress, and depression.

Over-thinking comes in two forms; ruminating about the past and worrying about the future. Over-thinkers think about the worst scenarios, worry about past mistakes or future problems and issues and how they might lead to negative outcomes. They are obsessed with or over-analyze their day-to-day experiences and interactions with people. They tend to inflate every word, thought, and event beyond reasonable proportions, reading into things that are not actually there.

Over-thinking is different than problem-solving. While problem-solving involves thinking about a solution, over-thinking involves dwelling on the problem. Over-thinking is also different than self-reflection. Healthy self-reflection is about learning something about yourself or gaining a new perspective about a situation. It’s purposeful. Over-thinking involves dwelling on how bad you feel and thinking about all the things you have no control over. It won’t help you develop new insight.

How to know if you are an overthinker?

Given below are some statements. Read each one of them and see if they are applicable to you

  • I relive embarrassing moments in my head repeatedly.
  • I have trouble sleeping because it feels like my brain won’t shut off.
  • I ask myself a lot of “what if…” questions.
  • I spend a lot of time thinking about the hidden meaning in things people say or events that happen.
  • I rehash conversations I had with people in my mind and think about all the things I wished I had or hadn’t said.
  • I constantly relive my mistakes.
  • When someone says or acts in a way I don’t like, I keep replaying it in my mind.
  • Sometimes I’m not aware of what’s going on around me because I’m dwelling on things that happened in the past or worrying about things that might happen in the future.
  • I spend a lot of time worrying about things I have no control over.
  • I can’t get my mind off my worries.

If you agree to most of these statements, then you are an overthinker

Dangers of over-thinking

Over-thinking increases the chances of mental illness. It involves dwelling on shortcomings, mistakes, and problems increasing the risk of mental health problems. Rumination can result in a vicious cycle of decline in mental health leading to an increase in rumination. This cycle can be hard to break.

Over-thinking interferes with problem-solving. Overthinkers believe they’re helping themselves by rehashing their problems in their heads. Over-thinkers dwell on the problem rather than look for solutions. Even simple decisions, like choosing what to wear to an interview or deciding where to go on vacation, can feel like a life-or-death decision for an overthinker. Over-thinking paralyzes analytical thinking and interferes with problem-solving.

Over-thinking disturbs sleep. Research studies have established that rumination and worry lead to fewer hours of sleep. Over-thinkers cannot sleep as their mind won’t shut off. They are more likely to toss and turn for hours before they drift off to sleep. Over-thinking also impairs the quality of their sleep. They are less likely to fall into a deep slumber after they have been thinking the same thing over and over again.

Over-thinking hampers social life.

Over-thinkers find it difficult to go out and socialize, enjoy hobbies, or be productive at work as their mind spends a disproportionate amount of time and energy on specific lines of thought. Making friends or keeping them can be difficult for over-thinkers because they struggle to communicate when something is wrong or they might communicate excessively. Overthinker may struggle even to carry on general conversations or to interact in a normal environment.

Over-thinking does not prevent bad things from happening.

Sometimes, over-thinkers think that their over-thinking somehow prevents bad things from happening. They might also think that if they don’t worry enough or rehash the past enough then somehow, they’ll encounter more problems. But, the research is pretty clear–over-thinking is bad for people and it does nothing to prevent or solve problems.

Over-thinking can occur at any time.

People with anxiety problems are more likely to indulge in over-thinking. The anxiety and worry they have about different situations and obstacles in life can quickly turn into over-thinking and worry about what should be done and how to stop bad things from happening. The truth is, nobody can stop all bad things from happening, nor can they stop themselves from every bad decision. What they need to do is get help.

 

How to stop over-thinking

Overcoming obsessive thoughts requires an action plan. People who want to stop over-thinking need to find straightforward techniques that work, and repeat them until they become second nature to them. Some of the best ways to overcome anxiety and put a stop to a relentless loop of thoughts are described below:

Know your thought process and anxiety triggers.

Increase awareness of your over-thinking, ask questions about why and when over-thinking occurs. Pay close attention to your thought process and notice when you are thinking in an unproductive way. Note down what you are thinking and what form it takes. For instance, check whether you are replaying a previous conversation, picturing a future disaster, thinking about social interaction, etc. Your notes will quickly help you pick out specific triggers for your anxiety. This information helps to challenge the underlying limiting beliefs through reflection. In the course of time, it will be possible to preempt triggers before they cause an episode of over-thinking.

Organize your thoughts.

One of the best ways to stop overthinking is to adopt new and practical ways of dealing with life’s challenges. Consider the following tips in particular when trying to learn how to stop overthinking:

Look ahead

When something is bothering you, ask yourself: will this matter in a year? How about a month? How about a few weeks? Often, you’ll find it won’t matter even a month down the line. This can help you relax.

Limit decision time

Make time-limited decisions. For example, you might give yourself five minutes to decide about something minor (e.g. whether you’re going to some housework or whether you’ll go to the gym today). Other issues (making a presentation or attending a big social event) may require half-an-hour.

Take breaks

Take regular breaks (10 minutes for meditation, 30 minutes for reading, 20 minutes for walking) throughout the day to reduce overall anxiety levels.

Adopt positive affirmations for anxiety.

Affirmations are statements that help you overcome negative thoughts. They can be used at any time of the day to help people stop over-thinking.

Some of the examples of positive affirmations are:

  • I have the power to decide what I will think about. My thoughts do not control me.
  • I refuse to allow my imagination to show me disastrous futures.
  • I am more than my negative thoughts. I can and will be happy.

Build better connections with your physical body.

Physical and mental forms of positive stimulation help to rewrite problematic, negative thought processes. For example, Physical exercise (sport, cycling, and swimming) focuses the mind on something straightforward, structured and rewarding, turning pent-up energy into something you can use. It also floods the body with feel-good endorphins that make you more positive in general. A mental activity like learning a new language, trying a new problem-solving game (Sudoku) helps to reduce over-thinking. Meditation, breathing exercises are also useful techniques to relax and reduce anxiety

Cultivate ways of better living in the present.

Do not allow yourself to be held hostage by vague fears about what might happen to you. Confront the question (What is the worst that could happen?). Often, it won’t be as bad as you think. You might also discover the resources if you already have to deal with such scenarios.

Anchor yourself in the present moment.

When you’re over-thinking, slow down physically. Try to notice every movement of your muscles and everything around you. Your brain will slow in response. You can also try narrating the present in your head (e.g. “Now I am taking a walk. Now I am getting dressed”) to pull yourself back to the present.

Accept that you cannot control everything.

This is the aim of your over-thinking, and it’s ultimately holding you back. To grow and develop as a person, you need to willingly move out of your comfort zone into places where the unexpected can happen. You also need to be able to learn from mistakes and see them as opportunities for improvement rather than as failures.

Final thought

If you’ve been struggling to stop over-thinking, despite all your efforts, it may be helpful to seek professional treatment. You can find help in many ways, but a convenient and private place to start is via an online counseling site. Trust an online therapist to guide you toward a healthier way of thinking about your life, and living your life in healthy ways every day.


Prof. Madhu Kosuri

I have completed 30 years of teaching and research in psychology at the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India.

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