What Causes Overthinking and How Do We Overcome It?
By Space Coast Daily // May 28, 2021
While it’s important to consider your options when you’re evaluating a situation and trying to make a decision if you reach a point where you can’t seem to get out of your head, it means you’re no longer just thinking things through, you’re overthinking them.
This is something that happens to everyone since we all have gone through experiences that caused us a lot of stress and anxiety.
Still, for some, it’s a habit. They simply can’t detach themselves from their worries, so they start ruminating about catastrophic events that might happen in the future, or their minds keep digging up the past and making them linger on what could have or should have happened. All these negative thoughts make them feel even more stressed and anxious.
Overthinking is not the same as problem-solving. You’re not coming up with a solution. That would be productive. Instead, you’re merely dwelling on a problem.
Let’s say a storm was coming. Problem-solving would mean thinking about going outside and picking up the things that might get blown away, boarding up the windows, and putting up sandbags to keep your house from getting flooded. You’re thinking of what might happen and taking action to minimize the potential damage.
When you’re overthinking, all you’re doing is ruminating on how your home might get damaged, how awful this is and how unlucky you are to be put in such a difficult situation that you’re sure you can’t handle. You’re not coming up with solutions, but you are making yourself feel scared and helpless.
Overthinking decisions can make your life harder because you keep replaying all the different options and possible outcomes, which can result in “paralysis by analysis.” You become so scared of making the wrong choice that you end up doing nothing at all.
What Causes Overthinking?
You’ve probably asked yourself what makes you do this. Why do we overthink?
Overthinking usually stems from anxiety or depression. You might have also noticed that it tends to happen more when you have to make an important life decision like changing jobs, moving to another city, or making a big step in your relationship with your partner.
You keep thinking of possible outcomes, and if you’re not confident in your abilities to handle unforeseen challenges, you’ll keep looking for the safest route.
Overthinking comes in two main forms: ruminating and persistent worrying.
When you’re ruminating, you’re usually thinking of the past. If certain aspects of your current life aren’t going the way you wish they were, you start to think that you would be much happier now if you hadn’t quit your last job or ended a former relationship.
This also reduced your confidence in your ability to make good decisions. In reality, you don’t know what would have happened, and instead of taking steps to make your present and future better, you dwell on your past and berate yourself for imagined mistakes.
Persistent worrying involves making catastrophic predictions. For example, you have to give a presentation the next day, and you think about all the things that could go wrong to make the presentation a disaster and all the possible consequences of things going badly like embarrassing yourself in front of your colleagues, disappointing your boss, losing a promotion, eventually getting fired, not being able to find another job and not having enough money to retire in the more distant future.
How to Overcome Overthinking
According to researchers, spending less time thinking about a problem can help you make better decisions and come up with better solutions. You’ve probably figured that out already, but it’s hard to break the pattern. Trying not to think about something makes you think about it more.
That’s why our first tip is to find a distraction. If you notice that you’re starting to overthink something and it’s making you anxious, find something else to focus on, preferably something enjoyable but cleaning the house while listening to a podcast will also work as long as it gets your mind to stop ruminating.
This way, your brain will work on the problem in the background without having negative thoughts and catastrophic predictions increasing your stress level and clouding your judgment.
If there’s a decision you need to make, and it’s not urgent, allow yourself to sleep on it. But what if the worrying keep you from falling asleep? If you’re an overthinker, there’s a good chance that you’ve spent a few nights tossing and turning because you couldn’t stop thinking about a problem and worrying.
In that case, you can try a natural sleep aid like the ones from PureHemp Farms and listening to an audiobook or guided meditation to distract yourself until you fall asleep.
Another important tip to remember is not to fight your thoughts when you notice that you’re overthinking. As we mentioned before, not trying to think about something makes you think about it. But you’re not always going to have distractions handy so when that happens, try disengaging from your thoughts instead.
Acknowledge your tendency to overthink and the pattern of thoughts it creates and simply observe it without judging yourself or becoming frustrated with yourself. You’ll notice that after a few weeks of doing this, both the frequency and intensity of your negative thoughts will decrease.
It also helps if you set aside a dedicated time for overthinking. This may sound counterintuitive since your goal is to move away from this habit, but Parkinson’s Law states that work expands in proportion to the amount of time we give it.
For example, if you give yourself a week to clean your home, you’ll probably take more breaks, but you’ll also go through every nook and cranny. Maybe you’ll also reorganize your kitchen shelves and move some furniture around. On the other hand, if you have people coming over and only a couple of hours, you’ll need to prioritize so, you’ll clean enough to make your home as presentable as possible in the time you have.
The overthinking process is similar. If you keep going over a problem or a decision several times per day, every day, you’ll have enough time to go over a wide range of possible outcomes and things to worry about.
But if you only give yourself half an hour per day, the mental depth you developed through years of overthinking will help you use this time more constructively and come up with creative solutions. Once you learn to take control of your overthinking, you’ll realize that you can turn it into your superpower.