What is wrong with overthinking?
This may be a question the typical over-thinker might wonder.
More often than not, you already know the answer to that question.
While nothing is wrong with thinking, too much thinking about everything is a presentation of unhealthy anxiety. And, as you might already know from experience, the anxiety that results from overthinking leads to paralysis, indecision, and inaction. These traits can prevent you from moving forward boldly whether you are in a leadership position or just in your day-to-day relationships and interactions.
At the heart of overthinking anxiety is the emotion of fear. Fear keeps you wondering ‘what if.’ It keeps you stuck in negative thought. Your thoughts spin endlessly. You think of all the things that could go wrong. It causes you to stop living life because you are too scared to take the next step, and the next one.
When you learn how to stop overthinking, you experience more freedom and demonstrate more courage.
Common Overthinking Behaviors
As the word suggests, overthinking is the act of dwelling on negative and spiralling thoughts steeped in fear, anxiety, and dread.
It is not the kind of thinking you do when strategizing and as part of critical decision-making. Rather, this kind of thinking prevents you from being and acting decisively.
If you have overthinking anxiety disorder, you likely find yourself demonstrating one or more of these behaviors:
- Difficulty engaging meaningfully with others because you obsess so much over their statements and your own responses. This often leaves you tongue-tied, defensive, or withdrawn.
- Constantly feeling that others don’t understand you and others may not feel understood by you.
- Always comparing yourself to those around you—people you know and strangers alike. Over-thinkers often wonder what other people think of them, how other people view them, and whether they are good enough. Due to this chronic worry, an over-thinker will usually want to go to great lengths to please others at his or her own expense. Additionally, you are more likely to feel inferior to others and undermine your own capabilities and strengths.
Even More Common Overthinking Behaviours
So, perhaps you are familiar with the previous behaviours of overthinking disorder. How about these next overthinking anxiety symptoms?
- You always expect the worse. While approaching life with a bit of skepticism can be valuable, obsessively anticipating things to go wrong can paralyze you. It keeps you from enjoying the present moment. After all, when you are expecting the worst, how can you enjoy the present experience? You are too busy in your head planning, strategizing, and scheming how to prevent everything from collapsing. More often than not, things go better than you expect so why all the unnecessary worry?
- Ruminating over past mistakes causes you problems. Everyone has some regrets. A bad investment decision, a lost opportunity, the wrong words said at the wrong time, a misstep. However, over thinkers are commonly stuck in their past and beat themselves up over what “coulda, shoulda, woulda” happened. Allowing yourself to become stuck in the past is among the worst things you could possibly do to yourself. Thinking obsessively about the past does not change a single thing about what happened. It simply traps you in fear, resentment, and bitterness.
- You are constantly worrying about the future. In addition to being entrapped in the past, over thinkers are overwhelmed by thoughts about their future. Visualizing your future, planning, and taking the necessary steps to actualize your dreams is important. Ambition is admirable. Forethought is an excellent attribute. However, worrying about the future is quite different. This thought process is based in fear rather than clear thought, faith, patience, and positivity around the possibilities that lie ahead. Realize that like the past, the future is largely uncontrollable.
The Effects of Overthinking
Overthinking anxiety can have adverse effects on your wellbeing. Here are just a few things that happen when you think too much about everything:
You Are at Risk of Developing A Mental Illness
Research shows that ruminating over past mistakes or incidences can predispose you to the risk of developing mental health issues.
This kind of circular thinking about how things should have been can entrap you in a vicious cycle and set you up for depression.
The problem with chronic worrying and circular thinking is that the more you do it, the more ingrained the habit becomes. Indeed, this can be a difficult cycle to break.
You Become Paralyzed
Thinking too much may not physically paralyze you but you will feel mentally paralyzed. Mental paralysis is an inability to make decisions and to solve problems.
Mental paralysis can interfere with even the most mundane aspects of your life such as what to wear or what food to eat. This kind of indecision not only wastes your energy and precious time but can also affect your quality of life and your relationships.
You May Develop Poor Sleeping Habits
Research abounds on the profoundly negative effects of bad sleeping habits. Over-thinkers often have a hard time going to sleep because their mind will not stop spinning.
Thinking not only cuts down on your sleeping hours but also affects the quality of sleep. Experts recommend seven to eight hours of quality sleep for optimal health.
You can only get by with little sleep for so long until your body breaks down from sheer stress and exhaustion. Sleep deprivation can have dramatic effects on your wellbeing including increasing your risk for unhealthy weight gain, heart attack, and hypertension.
Lack of quality sleep also makes you more irritable, which can affect your personal and business relationships. Additionally, you are less likely to think clearly when you are sleep deprived.
You May Resort to Destructive Behavior
The stress, shame, and negativity that come with overthinking can cause you to adopt negative and destructive behavior in order to cope.
Anxiety-based thinking can lead you to binge on unhealthy comfort foods, abuse alcohol, become addicted to narcotics and painkillers, or engage in unhealthy sexual behavior.
What is interesting is that while these behaviors may seem like they are helping you to stop your mind from overthinking; they actually predispose you to all sorts of risks and may entrap you in a cycle of regret.
The good news is that you can develop the skills to manage your thoughts so you can overthink less and instead, think more clearly. These practices are not about how to stop thinking but rather how to be in control of your thoughts.
Here are practical, everyday things you can do to overcome the habit of overthinking:
Awareness is not a difficult thing to practice. It simply means getting out of your head and being in touch with your thoughts and emotions at any given time.
Awareness allows you to catch yourself thinking too much. Therefore, instead of falling into an abyss of fear-based thinking, you can stop yourself and really see the situation for what it is.
The more you are able to catch yourself in the act the better you become at putting an end to fear or anxiety-based thinking.
Life is messy and you cannot control every minute aspect of your life. Most over-thinkers wait for the perfect opportunity, the perfect presentation, the perfect house, the perfect person to come by in vain.
Nothing is wrong with setting standards but is your need for complete perfection keeping you from taking decisive action? Set standards and plan but acknowledge that perfection is not a destination but rather a perception.
Additionally, you also need to realize that you can only control so much. Letting go of the need to control and perfect everything can be difficult but with daily practice, you can do it.
Focus on Solutions
We all get anxious and feel fear especially when dealing with something that is super important to us. However, instead of focusing on what could go wrong or what went wrong in the past, refocus your thoughts on finding solutions.
For example, instead of worrying about failing your interview, think of ways that will make you improve your prospects of nabbing the position you are looking for.
Instead of being caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts about the mistakes you made in the past, focus on improving your present because this is the only thing you can control, not your past and not your future either.
Examine Your Thoughts
Anxiety-based thoughts are often irrational i.e. they lack any meaningful supporting evidence.
When you find yourself anticipating the worst, beating yourself up, or feeling inferior in relation to others, take a step back and look at the situation objectively.
Is there real evidence that supports your thoughts? Even after thoroughly preparing for a presentation are the chances of messing things up really that high?
What real evidence do you have to suggest that if you could have made decision X then Y and Z would or would not have happened?
Do you have actual evidence that you are inferior to this or that person? Do you know about their personal situation, which might be far worse than your own?
Questioning your thoughts and bringing rationality into the picture paves way for clearer thinking but this all starts with being acutely aware of your thoughts and emotions.
Make Time-Limited Decisions
Indecision is a key attribute of over-thinkers. To break free from indecision, start by setting time limits for yourself to make certain decisions. For example, if you tend to spend too much time deciding what to wear to work, give yourself 10 minutes to make a decision. You can allow slightly longer time limits for more important tasks.
Remember, to build a habit you need to set realistic goals, commit, and execute. The more you train your brain to make decisions within certain time limits the less time you will spend overthinking and the better you become at decision-making and taking appropriate action.
Of course, some things take more time to think about before arriving at a solid decision. However, being conscientious is different from being indecisive. The former is based on insight, rationality, and wisdom while the latter is based on fear and anxiety.
Practice Daily Affirmations
A large part of overthinking stems from negative thought processes. As seen earlier, this kind of thinking is more focused on what could go wrong and less focused on what could go right. Over-thinkers tend to ruminate more about the bad things in their past and less on the great stuff.
Daily affirmations can help you end the cycle of negative overthinking, allowing you to be more in control of your thoughts.
Affirmations retrain your brains to think differently. The brain is a neutral agent and cannot tell truth from false. So, the brain will process whatever information you provide it and this will influence how you see yourself and the world.
Provide the brain with negative information and your perception of yourself and the world will be negative. Feed the brain with positive information and you will approach yourself and the world more favorably.
Examples of positive affirmations that can help to minimize overthinking include:
“I am in control of my thoughts.”
“Living in the present moment feels great.”
“My decisions are always good”.
“There is always a positive outcome to everything that happens”
“All of my thoughts are life affirming and helpful to me.”
The great thing about affirmations is that you can personalize them to your unique situation at any given time.
Doing less might seem counterproductive because overthinking typically keeps you from doing.
However, the advice to do less here means slowing down, disconnecting for a while, taking time out to reflect.
In a hyper-busy and information laden world, one can become easily overwhelmed and anxious about everything.
If you struggle with overthinking, minimize the time you spend on social media as this can trigger a cycle of unhealthy comparison.
Also, instead of attempting to multitask, try to do one thing at a time within a certain set limit. Taking more than you can handle will only exacerbate the problem of analysis paralysis.
Anxiety-based thinking can affect the quality of your life and your relationships. Fortunately, with daily practices such as reciting positive affirmations, bringing objectivity into your thought process, and nurturing a sense of awareness, you can stop the spiralling thoughts. A life coach can bring all of these vital ways to stop overthinking together and help you gain a happier, more beautiful life.