What is overthinking?

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Summary
Overthinking is thinking about a certain topic or situation excessively and analysing it for a long length of time.

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Overthinking is thinking about a certain topic or situation excessively and analysing it for a long length of time. When you overthink, it becomes difficult getting your mind to focus on anything else. In other words: you’re consumed by the one thing you are thinking about.

While some people believe that overthinking may be helpful since it involves looking at an issue or problem from nearly every viewpoint possible and anticipating future events, the opposite is true.

Everyone overthinks sometimes. Finding ways to stop overthinking can help you take back control of your thoughts, so instead of going over something in your mind again and again, you can start to take the steps necessary to resolve the situation.

Causes of overthinking

Not Being Solution-Focused

Overthinking is different from problem-solving. Overthinking is about dwelling on the problem, while problem-solving involves looking for a solution.

Second guessing

Overthinking sometimes involves beating yourself up for the decisions you already made. You could waste a lot of time thinking your life would be better if you’d only taken that other job. Or maybe you get upset with yourself for not seeing or doing things sooner.

And while a little healthy self-reflection can help you learn from your mistakes, second-guessing has a negative impact on our mental health.

Ruminating

Going over the same thoughts again and again—isn’t helpful. But, when you’re overthinking, you might find yourself replaying it in your head repeatedly or imagining something bad happening many times.

Dwelling on your problems, mistakes, and shortcomings, increases your risk of mental health problems, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Michl LC, McLaughlin KA, Shepherd K, Nolen-Hoeksema S. Rumination as a mechanism linking stressful life events to symptoms of depression and anxiety: longitudinal evidence in early adolescents and adults

When you’re overthinking, you feel like your brain won’t shut off. When you try to sleep, scenarios are replayed in your head and can cause you to imagine bad things will happen. This can make falling asleep difficult.

Overthinking is not a mental illness, and while overthinking can make you anxious, it is not necessarily the same thing as anxiety. However, it can often play a role in the development and maintenance of several mental health conditions. Some disorders that are associated with overthinking include: Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression.

Stressful events, depression, and anxiety can make people more prone to overthinking, and then this overthinking contributes to worse stress, anxiety, and depression.

Listed below are a few ways to stop overthinking:

1: Distract yourself and take a walk, do some gardening, reading, listening to music, exercising, having a chat with a loved one, or just stop and breath deeply for a few moments.

2: Challenge negative thoughts, Try removing the thought ‘I should have’ and ‘I need to’ as they can have negative connotations.  Instead replace with more positive ones, ‘next time I will’ and ‘I choose to’.

3; Practice the serenity prayer:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

4: Practice self-acceptance, after all, we all make mistakes, it’s what makes us human beings. Overthinking often stems from dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about things that you cannot change. Instead of berating yourself for things you might regret, try working toward being more accepting and compassionate of yourself. 

5: Practice gratitude and forgiveness and focus on the aspects of yourself that you appreciate.

6: Try talking therapy or counselling if you can’t break free from overthinking.

A counsellor will teach you skills that will help you stop obsessing, ruminating, and dwelling on things that aren’t helpful. They may also help you identify coping strategies that work for you, such as mindfulness and relaxation.  It can help to share how overthinking is making you feel and can help you find clarity and peace of mind.