Greetings to all you deep thinkers, eternal ponderers, and devotees of the fascinating dance inside your mind! Whether it is at 11 PM in the night or 3 AM in the morning, while the rest of the world is sleeping soundly, is your brain also wide awake and tap dancing through a maze of thoughts? If the answer to this question is yes, then my friend, ‘You are not alone!’.
Many of us have tossed and turned as the mental hamster wheel turns incessantly. Overthinking has become an unwelcome intruder in our daily routine, where information flows nonstop and life's pressures seem to multiply by the minute. Overthinking is like the friend who stays too long, the tune that gets stuck in your mind, and the conundrum you can't seem to solve.
The good news is that knowing and controlling your overthinking is not only doable but also deeply liberating. This blog is your guide through this maze of thoughts and your refuge from the onslaught of the non-stop mental chatter. Here, you’ll discover the depths of overthinking, its causes, its effect on our mental health and most importantly, the solutions.
Let us first start by understanding, what overthinking really is.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHAT IS OVERTHINKING?
Overthinking is that constant mental chatter that turns even the most straightforward decisions into a tangled web of uncertainty and converts the quietest times into a noise of thoughts. You're not alone if you've ever found yourself trapped in its clutches.
You know how you can't seem to quit thinking about something? Perhaps it's an imminent presentation that's keeping you awake at night or an embarrassing chat from last week. That, simply put, is overthinking in action. It's as if your brain is locked in a loop, rehearsing thoughts even when they aren't beneficial.
Overthinking frequently entails dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It's not your standard issue-solving approach, but, it's a preoccupation with the problem itself. Having said that, while overthinking is a formidable foe, it also provides a road to self-discovery and personal progress. But for that, it is very important to identify and learn about some of the most common causes of overthinking.
SOME SIGNS OF OVERTHINKING
COMMON CAUSES OF OVERTHINKING
Overthinking isn't a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. It can be triggered by various factors. It doesn't follow any rules, and its triggers are as varied as the thoughts it generates. Having said that, there are still some common causes, which might trigger your overthinking. These are:
1. FEAR OF FAILURE
Imagine you're going to start a new job and you're terrified of making a mistake. You are concerned that one misstep might set off a chain reaction of tragedies. So you overthink every potential circumstance in an attempt to avoid the feared misstep. That might be failure anxiety, the constant fear that if you make a mistake or stumble, the consequences will be devastating. This fear of failure frequently results in overthinking, as your mind attempts to foresee every conceivable conclusion and avoid any potential blunders.
2. UNREALISTICALLY HIGH SELF-EXPECTATION AND PERFECTIONISM
Perfectionism is like a tough coach who constantly pushes you to strive for excellence. It is having extremely high expectations of yourself and believing that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. Overthinking becomes your faithful companion when you are a perfectionist, as you methodically analyse every aspect to ensure nothing falls short of those lofty expectations that you have, from yourself!
3. TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES OR PAST FAILURES
Traumatic experiences and disappointments from the past can leave a long-lasting imprint on your memory. They're like ghosts from the past, haunting your thoughts and driving you to overthink in order to avoid reliving those awful memories. Your brain goes into overdrive, repeating those experiences in your head and trying to figure out every possible way to avoid them from happening again.
4. ANXIETY AND EXCESSIVE WORRY
Consider a girl named Natasha, who is extremely concerned about her health. Her mind is almost always racing as she suspects having a heart attack from even a small ache in her chest. She can't stop researching symptoms and going to multiple doctors for reassurance. Anxiety heightens her worry, converting it into a constant state of worry and hypervigilance. Overthinking becomes her alarm that never stops blaring, prompting her to analyse mild discomfort, even the most implausible, in order to stay safe and secure.
5. INABILITY TO CONTROL ONE'S THOUGHTS
Consider your thoughts to be a train which is running at over 100 kmph, with no brakes! How scary and terrifying would that be? It's a distressing experience to feel as if you can't control the torrent of thoughts racing through your mind. Overthinking becomes your desperate attempt to recover control, as you scrutinise every thought, attempting to make sense of it or halting it in its tracks.
Each of these causes is like a distinct entry point into the world of overthinking. They can overlap, interconnect, or manifest individually, making overthinking a very personal and frequently difficult path. Understanding these factors is like having a road plan that can guide you out of the maze of overthinking and into a calmer, more serene mind. But how does overthinking work? Why do we always keep on thinking about the same thing over and over again? Let’s understand this by looking at the vicious cycle of overthinking!
THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF OVERTHINKING Understanding this cycle is critical because it allows you to intervene when you notice the early signs of overthinking. The vicious cycle of overthinking mainly comprises 2 parts.
The vicious loop of overthinking is almost like a running hamster in a wheel. It begins with a single idea, develops momentum, and locks you in a never-ending cycle of rumination and fear. Recognising this pattern is the first step in recovering control of your thoughts and finding calm in the midst of mental turbulence. You can prevent the issue from spiralling out of control by stopping the feedback loop at its start. Wondering how exactly is it possible? Let’s find out!
HOW TO STOP OVERTHINKING
1. Practising Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques!
Overthinking can be turned off by practising mindfulness, which is all about focusing your attention on the present moment. Mindfulness entails being totally present in the current moment. It entails paying attention to your ideas and feelings without passing judgement on them. It is not about getting rid of thoughts, but rather viewing them from afar. Consider Joseph for example, who frequently overthinks his work deadlines. He takes a mindfulness break when he begins to feel overwhelmed. He sits calmly, concentrates on his breathing, and observes his thoughts without attempting to change them. This practice allows him to regain perspective and minimises stress.
Grounding activities, such as touching or smelling something pleasurable, might also help you break out from the thinking spiral. It's like pressing a mental reset button, to break the cycle of overthinking. These strategies act as anchors, keeping you grounded in reality when your mind wanders into the pit of overthinking. Physical actions such as touching an object or sensory experiences such as smelling something good are examples of this. Another example could be a person, who has a habit of overthinking during social occasions but keeps a smooth stone in his pocket. When he's feeling anxious, he pulls it out and runs his fingers over it, immersing himself in the tactile sensation and diverting his thoughts from overanalysis.
2. Setting firm boundaries for planning and problem-solving!
Setting aside time for problem-solving is an effective technique to keep overthinking at bay. Set aside time during the day to address concerns or make important decisions. Outside of that time, remind yourself gently that it is not time and even if overthinking creeps in, tell it, "Not now, I'll deal with you later." It's about taking control of when and how you engage with your thoughts. For example, consider a person who has a tendency to overthink money, and sets aside 30 minutes every Sunday for budgeting. When money issues arise during the week, they tell themselves, "I'll tackle this during my budget session," thereby postponing overthinking.
3. Identifying and Reframing Negative Thoughts!
It might be very helpful if you’re able to make yourself somewhat like a thought detective!
The first step is to recognise cognitive distortions, which are typically unreasonable and negative thought habits like "all-or-nothing thinking" and "catastrophizing". So whenever you notice yourself overthinking next, ask yourself, "Is this thought useful?", "Is it founded on facts or on assumptions?".
The second step is where these distorted and negative thoughts must be replaced with more balanced and sensible thoughts. It's like editing a draft until it's a more accurate representation of reality. For instance, consider a guy who is constantly concerned with what people think of him. He frequently overthinks many of his previous discussions, assuming that people perceived him as awkward. But, he is now learning to question these thoughts. When he thinks to himself, "I must have sounded so stupid," he reframes and responds by thinking, "I may have made a mistake, but everyone does. Maybe, most people did not even notice or care, as much as I do."
4. Distracting and engaging in other productive activities!
If we consider overthinking as a mental exercise machine, then distracting yourself and being productive is like getting off the treadmill and going for a beautiful walk. Find things to do that completely captivate your attention. Hobbies and interests are a fantastic way to divert your thoughts, as there is less room in your mind for overthinking when you are deeply engaged in something you enjoy. Your preferred pursuits such as painting, jogging, or reading a book, might help you shift your attention from overthinking to something more useful and productive. Discovering activities that fulfil you on a deeper level, outside the shallow seas of overthinking, is the key to finding joy and meaning outside of rumination.
5. Building a Resilient Mindset and practising self-compassion!
Acknowledging imperfection by accepting that nobody is flawless and making mistakes & lacking information is acceptable. If you're able to do so, it will definitely decrease the strain and eliminate the need for continuous overthinking. Also, being kind to yourself, like you would be to a friend, is like a warm hug for your spirit. Don't berate yourself for past errors or instances of overthinking and indulge in some self-compassion.
These techniques are like tools in your mental toolbox. By Putting them into practice, you can gradually reclaim control over your thoughts and enjoy a more-centred, less stressful life. Remember, the goal isn't to completely stop thinking but to learn better techniques to control it. Never forget that overcoming overthinking requires effort. Be kind to yourself and don't be afraid to ask for assistance if you need it.
Getting professional help, online therapy or face-to-face therapy (as per your comfort and convenience) can sometimes make all the difference. A Professional will assist you in recognising and altering your unproductive thought patterns. You should seek online counselling if overthinking is significantly distressing you or interfering with your daily life. You can get the support and tools you need in online therapy to stop the pattern of overthinking. We, at MentAmigo, understand the need for the comfort and safe space that you may be looking for. Consider checking out our services and finding a therapist that’s right for you.