What is Overthinking?
Overthinking happens when one obsesses about something. To overthink, by definition, means to think about something too much and or for too long. People tend to engage in two types of overthinking: rumination about the past and worrying about the future. Both types, when left unchecked, can be seriously harmful to one’s mental health.
Those who overthink tend to experience related psychological issues. These issues include anxiety, depression, and negative self-talk. Additionally, overthinking can seriously impact one’s progress by creating analysis paralysis, which impairs productivity and can feed into a vicious cycle of negative experiences that further fuels overthinking.
What Overthinking is Not
It is important to make the distinction between overthinking and other types of thinking. Some people who overthink may try to convince themselves that they are trying to solve their problems; however, there is a clear distinction between overthinking and problem-solving. Overthinking focuses on the thoughts and feelings of an event or experience. Problem-solving, on the other hand, focuses on solutions and how to move forward.
Additionally, overthinking is not self-reflection. Self-reflection is purposeful and provides productive outcomes, such as self-learnings and insights. Self-reflection can conclude with the individual moving on from the situation. Conversely, overthinking does not produce such results.
Five Questions to Ask if you are an Overthinker
To address overthinking, you must be able to identify if you are an overthinker. This can be difficult as overthinking typically consumes all of one’s cognitive capacity, leaving little room to catch oneself in the moment. Below are five signs that you may be an overthinker. Read through them and answer yes or no to see if you are.
Question 1: Do you relive embarrassing moments or mistakes in your head?
One of the key signs of overthinking is to ruminate on past embarrassing moments. These moments, like mistakenly a stranger for a friend on the street, or feeling like you asked the wrong questions in a social conversation, can leave one feeling anxious. Recognize that the moment has passed and move on from it.
Question 2: Do you replay and second guess old conversations in your mind?
Another sign of overthinking is to replay old conversations in your head. This is usually characterized by trying to re-interpret what someone said and or find some hidden meaning behind someone’s words.
Question 3: Are you always asking yourself, “What if?”
If you find yourself questioning your past experiences with “what if” questions, chances are you are an overthinker.
Question 4: Do you have trouble falling asleep at night because your brain won’t shut off?
Overthinkers typically report that they have trouble falling asleep at night because their brains won’t turn off. If your rumination of the past is preventing you from a good night’s rest, chances are you are an overthinker.
Question 5: Do you find it difficult to be in the present?
Because overthinking inherently consumes your thoughts, it can be near impossible to enjoy the present.
Four Tools to help with Overthinking
In order to overcome overthinking, addressing the issue is an essential first step towards breaking the cycle and leading a productive life. It is also helpful to understand what triggers cause you to overthink and to find tools that help you identify these triggers in your daily life. Additionally, practicing reframing your mindset can be helpful as it allows you to start focusing on solutions. While deeper emotional issues may require professional help, below are three ways to address and manage overthinking.
- Take control of your story – your story of yourself is a powerful tool for framing your thoughts. Take time to build the story of who you are and who you want to be. If you tell your story as someone who is always worried or always making mistakes, you will continue to manifest these behaviours. Tell a story of your successes and achievements; then, your mind will help manifest a positive reflection mindset.
- Let go of the past – ruminating in past experiences can lead to a vicious cycle of what-if questioning and bad feelings. Accept that what has happened has happened. Take the lessons and insights you need from your previous experiences and leave them in the past. Reframing your mind to focus on the future is one of the most important and powerful steps for overcoming overthinking.
- Focus on solutions – another key tool for overcoming overthinking is to focus on solutions. You can do this by setting the intention and objective of not reencountering a similar experience. What this can do is help focus any rumination to productive reflection. Draw learnings from your experiences that will help shape who you would rather be.
- Schedule time to worry – it is impractical to say that people should not worry at all; however, in place of overthinking, schedule time in your calendar for you to worry. Once that hour or two are up, commit to being productive and or looking to other solutions. This way, you can ensure you have a healthy emotional balance of worrying and reflection.
Mental health is vital to living a stress-free and healthy life. If you are having trouble coping with overthinking and or recently experienced a traumatic or life-altering event, we recommend seeking help. There are numerous resources available online for learning how to cope with overthinking. Online counselling from sites such as Better Help can provide you access to professional counsellors.
- Overthinking is when you think about something for too long or too much; it is not the same as self-reflection or problem solving, as overthinking usually leaves you with no solution or insight.
- When left unchecked, overthinking can manifest into other mental issues, such as anxiety and depression.
- You can learn to manage your overthinking by taking control of your story, focusing on solutions, and letting go of the past.
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