The truth is that everyone overthinks things from time to time.
In my therapy office, it is one of the most common things I deal with. People often come in for their appointments saying things like, "I can't relax. It's like my brain won't shut off," or, "I can't stop thinking about how my life could have been better if I'd have done things differently."
The act of overthinking can be linked to psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, although it’s hard to know which happens first in each individual. It’s sort of like a “chicken or egg” type conundrum.
Either way, it's apparent that overthinking can cause your mental health to decline. And then as mental health declines, it becomes more and more tempting to overthink. It's like a vicious downward spiral.
It’s hard to recognize when right in the middle of it, however. It’s easy to convince yourself that ruminating and worrying over things is somehow helpful.
After all, how is it possible to come up with a better solution without thinking about it? You have to keep thinking about that mistake to stop yourself from repeating it, right? Well, the answer is not as obvious as you might think.
“Analysis paralysis” is real. The more you think about a problem, the worse you feel. And the worse you feel, the harder it is to take positive action because emotions can cloud your judgment.
Two Types of Overthinking
Overthinking often involves ruminating about the past and worrying about the future.
Overthinking isn’t the same as healthy problem-solving. Problem-solving consists of thinking about a difficult situation when necessary. Overthinking, on the other hand, involves dwelling on the problem.
Overthinking is also different from self-reflection. Self-reflection can be healthy as it involves learning and gaining perspective about yourself in regard to the situation at hand. It is also purposeful. Overthinking, however, is thinking about everything you don’t have control over, and then dwelling on how bad you feel about it. It does not help develop any insight into the situation.
The amount of time you spend in deep thought doesn’t really matter, though. If any amount of time is spent actually learning from previous behavior and coming up with creative solutions, then it is productive. But time spent overthinking won’t enhance your life at all, regardless of whether it's 10 minutes or 10 hours.
Signs You’re Overthinking Right Now
Before you can change your thinking habits, you have to become aware of when you’re overthinking.
Here are 10 warning signs that you’re overthinking:
- I can’t stop worrying.
- I often worry about things I have no control over.
- I constantly remind myself of mistakes.
- I relive embarrassing moments in my mind over and over.
- I often ask myself "what if..." questions.
- I have difficulty sleeping because it feels like my brain won't shut off.
- When I recall conversations with people, I can’t help but think about all the things I wish I had or hadn't said.
- I spend a lot of free time thinking about the hidden meaning behind things people say or events that occur.
- When someone says something or acts in a way I don't like, I dwell on it.
- I spend so much time either dwelling on past events or worrying about the future that I often miss what’s going on in the present.
How To Deal With Your Overthinking
It’s easy for anyone to get caught up in overthinking. Fortunately, there are several mental strength exercisesyou can do to change the channel in your brain from overthinking into a more healthy mindset.
Studies show scheduling time to worry can actually decrease overthinking. Rather than worry all day every day, you can contain your worries to just 15 minutes a day.
With just a little effort, you can adjust your thinking and take steps to replace overthinking with more productive self-reflection and problem-solving. In doing so, you will reclaim your brainpower, energy, and time.