“Overthinking will not empower you over things that are beyond your control.
So, let it be if it is meant to be and cherish the moment.”
Wise words from guru Mahsati A: great to trust the moment and allow life to unfold around you. But, if you’re an overthinker, then letting go and letting be can feel like an impossible dream.
Overthinking is the habit of thinking too much and/or too long about something. Overthinking is also known as ‘analysis paralysis’ because by thinking too much you’re getting stuck in your thoughts and stopping yourself from taking action.
Healthy thinking, which is celebrated on World Thinking Day, opens minds and celebrates growth and empowerment. But overthinking tips the balance into stuckness, powerlessness, and a mind that’s closed to positive opportunities.
Yet overthinking is happening all around. Research shows that overthinking is prevalent among young (25-35-year-olds) and middle-aged adults (45-55-year- olds). Overthinking tends to be worse among women. And too much thinking can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, emotional distress, and self-destructive behaviours.
Typical behaviours of an overthinker
- There’s a running commentary in your head, criticising and picking apart what you said and did yesterday, terrified that you look bad – and fretting about a terrible future that might await you.
- Combing over your decisions, petrified you’ve made the wrong one, or procrastinating over the next one.
- Analysing what your friend or colleague really meant by that throwaway comment or that sideways glance.
- Agonising over what to post in social media, and concerned when other people are having a better time than you, or getting more likes.
- Reading and re-reading texts to work out the true meaning of the message.
- ‘What ifs’ and ‘shoulds’ dominate your thinking, as if an invisible jury is sitting in judgement on your life and finding it wanting.
- Not sleeping well, because all the ruminating and worrying keeps you awake at night.
- Feeling regret and beating yourself up for your perceived inadequacies.
- Sometimes drinking too much alcohol in a bid to calm the tyranny of your overthinking brain.
- Unable to be true to yourself because you’re so busy working out what other people need, want and think.
Understanding why you overthink
There can be many reasons why one person overthinks things and another lets life blithely happen. Some of the roots to overthinking can come from early life and experiences with your caregivers.
When you reached the developmental stage of learning to exert your own will and autonomy (pre-school age), how your parents handled you could determine your confidence in yourself and your abilities. If a parent mollycoddled you and didn’t let you try out new things or have original thoughts, you may begin to doubt your own thinking. Or, if a parent was overly critical and made you feel inadequate whenever you created or did something new, you may begin to doubt your ability to act. Overthinking keeps you trapped in thought without action.
Your sense of identity may not have been mirrored as a child. You may have had to second-guess what your parents wanted, to avoid punishment perhaps, or to secure their attention. Over time you then lose touch with what you really want and need and think. And you may fear shame or humiliation by doing something publicly that may be criticised or condemned. That can lead to paralysis, doubt, and fear of putting anything into action.
Strategies to stop overthinking
If you want to bring your overthinking under control, there are some effective strategies to help you:
Get out of your head
This is the number-one antidote to overthinking. Whatever it takes to get out of your head, do it. This may be vigorous exercise that takes you into your body, a brisk walk in the park, or an activity that doesn’t require you to think too much. This could be cooking, painting, doing DIY, completing a jigsaw – whatever puts you ‘in flow’ and keeps you relaxed.
Come to your senses
Find ways to attune to your senses, with nice things to look at, your favourite tunes to listen to, some scented candles to soothe you, cooking yourself your favourite food, or having a warm bath. Take care of your body and give your mind some time off.
Mindfulness techniques can help you reframe your thoughts as just that: thoughts rather than facts. They can help you slow down your thinking and let thoughts pass through your mind like clouds on a breezy day. Mindfulness can also help you to be more present in what’s happening now, rather than projecting into the future.
Ring-fence your thinking time
You don’t have to stop thinking entirely. But instead of allowing your thinking to spread across your day, diarise some time when you are actively thinking, mulling and reflecting.
Write down your thoughts
Instead of keeping your thoughts in your head, write them in a journal or start a ‘thoughts jar’ where you can post your thoughts. That way, you won’t need to hold onto them.
Trust your gut
Through all the years of second-guessing others and thinking, re-thinking and over-thinking, you may have drowned out your own inner voice. You may not even know what it sounds like. Trusting your gut may take time and patience, tuning into your intuitive feelings can be a first step to acting on your own terms, rather than being stuck in an overthinking loop.
Speak to a therapist
If overthinking is ruining your life, and if you think you may be spiralling into depressed or anxious territory because of your thoughts, then speaking to a therapist will support you in making sense of your world. Therapy can help build your self-identity and create stronger foundations to enable you to live life now – rather than overthinking a worrying future.
Therapeutic support is a phone call away. Speak to The Awareness Centre’s reception team on 020 8673 4545 to book an appointment with one of our therapists. You can also email [email protected]