What is Overthinking?
The term overthinking is self-explanatory. You think about a situation or an event over and over again. It involves overanalyzing conversations, situations, and outcomes. Overthinking is a negative thought process. It awakens your inner critic. In such a situation, the mind never stops. A constant chatter goes on inside your head. Consequently, overthinking lowers your confidence and creates self-doubts.
Overthinking does not lead to solutions. On the contrary, it tends to lower your morale and creates a vicious circle of negative thoughts. It triggers negative emotions like self-doubt and makes you question your decisions, judgment, and relationships. Thinking about something for too long cripples you, skew your decision-making skills impacting your mental wellbeing.
Constant overthinking changes your perception. What may be a minute error on your part can lead to you questioning your self-worth. A simple example of overthinking is constantly reliving an uncomfortable event or wanting to see hidden meanings in seemingly innocent conversations. You think of all things you could have said or avoided. You tend to over-interpret a regular conversation. Therefore, your perception becomes your reality. It makes you feel attacked or like a victim in a lot of situations.
Origin of Overthinking
Overthinking is an indirect result of a primitive survival instinct. The fight-or-flight mode in the brain makes you overanalyze a troubling scene. This is supposed to prepare you to fight the worst outcomes. A primitive brain believes in seeing things from the worst possible angle. It helps to increase your chances of survival.
Evolved thinking is a result of evolution. It helps you to be more rational and worry less. Therefore, confusing overthinking with evolved thinking is a fallacy. Overthinking leads to clogging your brain with unwanted negative thoughts.
More often than not, overthinking couples with anxiety. It brings about a feeling of helplessness and further adds to your stress.
Difference between Self-Reflection and Overthinking
Both self-reflection and overthinking involve you analyzing your choices and methods. However, they are far from being the same. A common misconception is that overthinking helps you improve yourself. There is a thin line separating both.
Self-reflection is an important aspect of mental growth. It involves a healthy habit of questioning your patterns and decision-making skills. The goal of self-reflection is to unearth something unknown or unexplored about you.
Identifying your mistakes motivates you to correct them in the future. There is a purpose to each of these introspections. What you gain from it makes you a better individual. You can also hone your natural abilities like social skills, analytical ability, interpersonal relations, goal setting, work-life balance, etc through self-introspection.
Overthinking is a negative habit that has no positive outcomes. This does not allow you to find any solutions. Instead, you constantly dwell on unnecessary issues and that is also in a loop. They are irrational thoughts that do not lead to betterment.
Time is not a measure of self-reflection or overthinking here. To put it in simpler words, any amount of time you spend on thinking must be purposeful. Dwelling about things you cannot control or that lead to no outcomes is merely overthinking.
Signs You Are an Overthinker
Identification is the first step to break you free from overthinking. Some common signs of overthinking are given below. Knowing when you overthink can help you consciously stop yourself from doing it.
1. You do not focus on the solution
The chain of thoughts in your head never leads to any significant answers. It mostly comprises worrying and asking the same questions. There is a lack of problem-solving ability. This often leads to mental health deterioration.
2. Your thoughts affect your sleep
Quiet night-time is a gateway for overthinking. Your mind becomes hyperactive with thoughts and worries.
It may feel like your brain will not rest at all. The anxiety that it causes disrupts your sleep pattern. Your thoughts keep you up for long durations and the chatter goes on nonstop. This, in turn, affects health and overall well-being.
3. You find difficulty in making decisions
Most people think twice before making a choice. You are an overthinker if you continuously obsess over your decisions.
The fear of making the wrong choice or its outcomes runs through your mind constantly. This can lead to you becoming indecisive. Even simple questions turn into a debate in your head.
4. You doubt your choices
Being unable to make a decision is one thing. Many times, you question the choices you already made. In the case of a wrong choice, you beat yourself over a minor error.
The road not taken often makes you challenge your decisions. This means that you spend a lot of time thinking about the ‘what ifs’.
5. Ruminate over the same things
You have a habit of replaying events over and over in your head. You spend too much time feeling guilty or analyzing your mistakes. It becomes impossible to accept what has happened.
This harms your mental state. With every cycle of thought, you think of different ways that it can go wrong.
How to Stop Overthinking? 6 Ways that can Help
1. Find a distraction
An empty mind is truly a devil’s workshop. Having too much free time will enable you to overthink. Distract yourself with hobbies or causes that you are passionate about.
Do not look at it as a way of escape from real issues. Make enough space in your mind for only necessary thought processes.
Meditation is one of the best ways to quieten a chaotic mind. Focus on your breathing, which will help relax your body. Regulating breathing can help you focus and ground yourself. Once the mind is free from unnecessary thoughts, overthinking stops significantly.
Make it a practice to follow a meditation routine every day. You can also try yoga for calm and mindfulness. It slowly teaches you to live in the present.
3. Accept and let go of the past
Mistakes and decisions from the past cannot be undone. It is helpful to accept that there is no way of going back.
Accept your story for what it is and leave it at that. Do not let the fear from your past control the decisions of your future.
4. Change the narrative of your story
This means that you have control over how you see yourself. Get rid of a negative mindset that puts you down or undermines your capability.
Tell yourself that all your choices were your choices and you take full responsibility for them. Do not try to go back in time and spend time idly musing. Start in the ‘now’. Believe that you have the power to make the right decisions.
At first, it may seem hard to rope your thoughts back in. With regular practice and awareness, you will become more present.
5. Maintain a journal
Write your train of thought in a journal. Note down any solutions that occur to your mind. Revisit the journal when you question yourself.
It can help you identify if you are overthinking. Reading your answers written down will help to calm your anxiety.
6. Differentiate your fear and intuition
The trauma of mistakes from the past can cloud your judgment. Identify your fears and write them down. It will help you to listen to your intuition closely. This may cause better decision-making skills.
Should you see a specialist?
Overthinking is preventable with self-practice and dedication. However, it is always a good idea to see a therapist. It is a safe space for you to discuss your thoughts and emotions.
Anxiety and depression are often interlinked with excessive overthinking. It becomes a loop of negative thoughts and lowering mental health. In such cases, visit a psychologist for treatment.
Overthinking is the repetitive playing of situations in your head. It involves fear and worries over mistakes and possible outcomes. They are irrational thoughts that lead to no self-improvement. Instead, overthinking worsens your mental health and leaves you anxious. It mostly involves regrets from the past or fear of the future or the unknown.
Constructive thought is the main differentiator between overthinking and self-introspection. If spending time on your thoughts betters you in any way, it becomes self-reflection. Any train of thought that is not solution-oriented or is out of your control is useless.
Overthinkers tend to question their decision-making skills and find it difficult to land an answer. Self-doubt and fear of past traumas are common in overthinkers. It can even lead to sleepless nights.
The best way to overcome a self-critical mind is to channelize your energy into purposeful things. Taking control of your emotions and letting go of the past helps too. Some people can benefit from writing it down or seeking medical aid.
The bottom line is, do not fret over unavoidable things and focus on the present. It will make it easier for you to avoid overthinking.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A. OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is due to the influx of intrusive thoughts. It is often fuelled by fear and anxiety. Both are related in a way that all OCD patients tend to overthink. However, not all those who overthink end up having OCD. Visit a mental health professional for diagnosis.
A. Intrusive thinking acts as a seed for overthinking to grow. Intrusive thoughts tend to gravitate you away from reality. They are often intertwined with strong emotions. They can come in the form of daydreams, fantasies, etc. This pattern may make us question its origin and overanalyze it. As a result, you begin to overthink.
A. One of the main outcomes of overthinking is increased stress and anxiety. This in turn increases inflammation in the body, causing skin flare-ups. You may face hair loss and worsen conditions like psoriasis. Hence, overthinking can indirectly lead to the falling of your hair and skin issues.
A. The reason for this is the fast pace of life. Your daily schedule is filled with things to do. Hence, your mind is distracted from overthinking. Bedtime happens to be a less intense phase of the day. Since no other things are preoccupying your mind at night, you tend to overthink most at that time.
A. There are chances that your loss of appetite or weight loss is related to overthinking. The anxiety that comes with overthinking puts immense pressure on your body. It leads to high levels of stress. Stress often inhibits hunger and this may lead to a loss of appetite. It can have an impact on your weight as well.