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Overthinking? How To Overcome It

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

Let’s talk about overthinking. This is important for every one of us, because all of us have overthought at some point about something in our lives. Let’s know what overthinking is, what causes it, and how you can stop it.

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What Is Overthinking?

So, what exactly is overthinking? The classic definition of overthinking is, “to think about something too much or for too long.” While it’s human nature to think things through when taking a decision or evaluating a situation, it becomes overthinking when you just can’t get out of your own head.

Overthinking a tough decision you have to take can cause problems. This is because replaying all the options in your head can lead to “paralysis by analysis” – which means, you’re afraid to take the wrong action, so you take no action at all, even though taking the wrong decision is better than taking no decision.

What’s Going On Inside Your Head?

Overthinking engages the same parts of the brain that are involved in anxiety and fear. The cerebral cortex is the seat of all thinking. It’s the logical part of the brain that can bring up memories and help us anticipate things. But if you let yourself obsess about something, you will soon have the amygdala’s attention. It’s the brain’s emotional centre, and research has found it to be involved in anxiety and fear. That’s when things get dramatic. The amygdala makes our heart pound, it makes us feel uneasy and gives us muscle tension. The more you worry about something, the more you train your brain to think about it—and the more you activate the amygdala. Eventually, it can become a vicious cycle, where anxiety causes overthinking, and overthinking causes anxiety.

What Are The Factors Behind Overthinking?

The main factor which leads to overthinking is – uncertainty.

Because we feel vulnerable about the future, we keep trying to solve problems in our head. The interesting thing is, you cannot predict the future for every decision you take. It is your reaction to uncertainty that leads to the overthinking. Once you get into overthinking mode, your brain forms patterns that don’t exist. Such a tendency is called the clustering illusion.

Your brain, by default, tries to identify trends to make better decisions. Our brain has a hard time accepting that the information was random or an event occurred due to coincidence. Picture this: you’ve had a fight with your boss. You start to freak out. Your thoughts go in a loop like: What if he fires me? I was really hoping to buy a house this year. What if I don’t get another job? What if this destroys my career? This loop is dangerous and has the power to amplify your anxiety.

Other factors will include:

1. How Busy You Are

The more time you have at your disposal, the more the opportunity to overthink.

2. The Impact Of The Event

If the consequences of the event are minor, you feel comfortable brushing it off. When the stakes are high, you start thinking longer.

3. The People Involved

If people associated are among your trusted folks, you find it easier to let go. If anyone suspicious has a connection to the event, your skeptical mind turns on.

4. Your Mindset

Whether you look at the positive or negative side of life determines how you think. The reality remains as is. One person looks at a mishap and thinks someone did it intentionally. Another person looks at the same setback and finds areas to improve.

Overthinking Signs

  1. You Can’t Sleep: When you try, you just can’t turn off your mind, and you begin to feel agitated by worries or doubts.

  2. You Self-Medicate: Studies suggest you might turn to drugs, alcohol, food or other external ways of regulating your emotions. This is because you don’t feel able to calm down using your internal resources. However, even external resources will only bring temporary relief.

  3. You’re Always Tired: This may be from insomnia, or just from the constant loop of your agitated thoughts.

  4. You Want To Control Everything: You try to plan every aspect of your life, down to the last detail. This is the only way you feel safe, but it never quite works (because it’s impossible to control everything).

  5. You Obsess About Failure: You tend to be a perfectionist and often imagine how awful it would be to fail in any way. This fear of failure often paralyses you, preventing you from learning from any mistakes.

  6. You Fear The Future: Instead of being excited by all you’ve yet to accomplish and experience, you only focus on what could go wrong, and completely ignore what could go right. You worry about the future, making catastrophic predictions about unlikely events that haven’t happened yet.

  7. You’re Stuck In The Past: You may also ruminate about the past, beating yourself up about “should haves” and “could haves.” You fret over what others might think of them and let negative self-talk build up in your mind.

  8. You Don’t Trust Your Own Judgment: You second-guess yourself on everything from what you’re wearing to where you’re going, what you’re saying and how you come across to others. You may also rely on others to reassure you that your judgment is okay. This is particularly dangerous, since your self esteem may take a serious hit.

  9. Self Blame: You start blaming yourself for things you didn’t do, and worrying about scenarios that may or may not happen.

  10. You Get Tension Headaches: These feel like a tight band around your temples, and you might also notice pain or stiffness in your neck. Chronic tension headaches are a sign that you desperately need rest.

How To Stop Overthinking?

  1. Identify Your Overthinking Pattern

Awareness is the beginning of change. Before you can begin to address or cope with your habit of overthinking, you need to learn to be aware of it when it's happening. Any time you find yourself doubting or feeling stressed or anxious, step back, look at the situation, and how you're responding it. In that moment of awareness is the seed of the change you want to make.

2. Don't Think Of What Can Go Wrong, But What Can Go Right

In many cases, overthinking is caused by a single emotion: fear. When you focus on all the negative things that might happen, it's easy to become paralyzed. Next time you sense that you’re heading in that direction, stop. Visualize all the things that can go right and keep those thoughts present and up front.

3. Distract Yourself

Sometimes it's helpful to have a way to distract yourself with happy, positive, healthy alternatives.

Things like mediation, dancing, exercise, learning an instrument, knitting, drawing, and painting can distance you from the issues enough to shut down the over-analysis.

4. Put Things Into A Wider Perspective

Challenge your thoughts. Stand up to your critical inner voice. The next time you catch yourself making a mountain out of a molehill, ask yourself how much it will matter in five years. Or, for that matter, next month. Just this simple question, changing up the time frame, can help shut down overthinking.

5. Change Your View Of Fear

When you're afraid because you've failed in the past, remember that just because things did not work out before does not mean that there has to be the same outcome every time. Every opportunity is a new beginning, a new place to start again from.

6. Schedule Time For Reflection

This helps you change your focus from problems, to problem solutions. Harping on your problems for long periods of time isn’t productive, but brief reflection can be helpful. Thinking about how you could do things differently or recognising potential pitfalls in your plan, can help you do better in the future. Incorporate 20 minutes of “thinking time” into your daily schedule. During that time, let yourself worry, ruminate, or mull over whatever you want. Then, when your time is up, move onto something more productive. When you notice yourself overthinking things outside of your scheduled time, remind yourself that you’ll think about that later.

7. Set Time Limits For Decisions

Give yourself a boundary. Set a timer for five minutes and give yourself that time to think, worry, and analyze. Once the timer goes off, spend 10 minutes with a pen and paper, writing down all the things that are worrying you, stressing you, or giving you anxiety. Let it rip. When the 10 minutes is up, throw the paper out and move on--preferably to something fun.

8. Realise You Can't Control Your Surroundings Completely

No one can predict the future; all we have is now. If you spend the present moment worrying about the future, you are robbing yourself of your time now. Spending time on the future is simply not productive. Spend that time instead on things that give you joy.

9. Practice Mindulfness

It’s paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment non-judgmentally as if your life depended on it. When you’re sitting in mindfulness meditation, it’s like you’re watching a movie of all your thoughts. You begin to see your thoughts as passing clouds and once you come to observe them that way, they won’t have control over you. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you to know your thoughts and react more calmly to them, without catastrophizing or allowing them to spiral out of control.

10. Let Go Of The Past And Be Grateful For The Present

You can't have a regretful thought and a grateful thought at the same time, so why not spend the time positively? Every morning and every evening, make a list of what you are grateful for. Get a gratitude buddy and exchange lists so you have a witness to the good things that are around you.

Overthinking is something that can happen to anyone. But if you have a great system for dealing with it you can at least ward off some of the negative, anxious, stressful thinking and turn it into something useful, productive, and effective.

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