Overthinking or rumination overthinking is when you think too much about a situation that doesn’t need thinking at all. This could happen when you’re stressed out, anxious, or maybe even depressed. Learn more about overthinking help and tips.
When we are trying to solve a problem, we tend to focus on it for too long, which makes us feel worse as we ruminate about the solution.
People that overthink tend to think about every little detail and often worry themselves into paralysis. They end up thinking about their decision or situation so much that it leads them not to take any action towards the situation.
Overthinkers tend to be perfectionists – they want everything perfect before so they overanalyze every decision and they are fearful that they would make the wrong decision.
Overachievers also tend to think too much and worry about how well they did compare to other people.
Overthinking can be a symptom of and can contribute to depression and other mental health disorders, including anxiety.
Sometimes it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by being too much “in your head”. But chronic overthinking often starts to disrupt your sleep, work, relationship, health, or other parts of your everyday life.
When we overthink we dwell on the same thing repeatedly. Ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. If overthinking starts to hinder your day-to-day activities, it might help to try mindfulness techniques such as meditation.
Overthinking also disrupts productivity by leading to procrastination and this constant rumination doesn’t do anything except cause more anxiety.
You may be worried about something but you can’t think of anything else. So instead of doing something, you sit there and think about it more. This makes you feel worse. Your thoughts make you anxious. You get stuck in analysis mode.
“Perfectionists and overachievers have tendencies to overthink because the fear of failing and the need to be perfect take over, which leads to replaying or criticizing decisions and mistakes.”
Overthinking disorders – is overthinking a mental illness?
Overthinking is not a recognized psychiatric condition all by itself. However, it can be associated with various mental health issues and conditions such as Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Chronic Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, PTSD, and more.
Research shows that there is a two-way relationship. Stress, anxiety, and depression contribute to overthinking while overthinking may be associated with higher stress, anxiety, and/or depression.
Following a traumatic event, it’s also common for people to be hypervigilant being on high alert for any possible signs of trouble. Some people experience hyper-vigilance as overthinking about potential dangers. “Our brains can become stuck in this upregulated fight flight freeze mode and continue scanning for potential threats,” Foley says.
Depression overthinking is also very common. People who have been diagnosed with depression often struggle with overthinking. They may spend hours worrying about the future, obsessing about past events, or ruminating about problems. They may even become preoccupied with their thoughts.
Overthinking ADHD – Is overthinking a sign of ADHD?
Overthinking is a symptom of having ADHD, which is a neurological disorder characterized by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are three types of ADHD, including impulsive, inattentive, and combined. The first two types are not always diagnosed and require medication for treatment. People who have ADHD tend to be overly active and easily distracted by stimuli, such as loud noises, crowds, and bright lights. They also have trouble staying organized and may forget things. Many people with ADHD feel like their minds are constantly running on 200% and struggle to quiet their thoughts down.
Typical behaviors of an overthinker
- Your inner voice in your head is constantly judging, critiquing, and overanalyzing a situation or thought through commentary.
- You feel anxious about the future.
- You put a lot of pressure on the decision you make now worrying that it might be the wrong one for future you.
- You are over-critical and pick apart what happened or what you said yesterday or in the past.
- Procrastinating making a decision.
- Overanalyzing comments and behaviors of others towards you – you tend to think everybody meant something else to what they actually said.
- Obsessed with what people think of you (almost like a people pleaser mentality) – this can also relate to agonizing over posting or not posting something on social media or comparing their perceived ‘better’ life to yours.
- Rereading texts because you believe there is a hidden meaning to what this person has said. This often comes into play when you are feeling anxious or uncertain about a relationship.
- You base your decisions on “what ifs” and “shoulds” and you seek out all the ways your decision could go wrong.
- Suffering from insomnia or disrupted sleep because you find it difficult to switch off your ruminating brain.
- Being regretful and harsh on yourself when things don’t work out because you doubted the decision in the first place.
- Relying on substances such as drugs or alcohol to try and silence the mind or escape your noisy brain
- Not listening to your own intuition or asking yourself what you want, need, or desire at this moment because you are basing all your actions and decisions on what you perceive others to need, want, or think (again a people-pleasing mentality).
- Feeling more anxious because you end up not being very productive.
- You find the mental chatter exhausts you.
- You are convinced there is always something better, resulting in more indecision and more inaction.
Why am I overthinking?
Over-thinking is when you try to figure everything out before you take action. You start thinking about every scenario and how things might go wrong. This makes you think too much, and it stops you from doing anything. Over-thinking leads to worrying about making mistakes and fear of being criticized.
There can be many reasons why someone might think too much about things. Early childhood experiences with caregivers can cause people to overthink. A parent who doesn’t allow them to try new things or create original ideas may lead to overthinking. Someone who feels inadequate when they do something new may also overthink.
The habit of overthinking exists in the mental sphere while action lives in the physical sphere – overthinking takes us far into our minds and therefore out of our bodies and results in inaction.
With that being said what does overthinking actually do to our physical bodies?
You may feel you don’t know what you want, or how to get it. You may worry about being punished or criticized. You may fear public embarrassment or disapproval. You may hesitate to take risks or try new things because of these fears.
Physical symptom of overthinking – What does overthinking do to your body?
The more you think about something, the harder it is for your brain to process. And that can lead to stress and anxiety. Worry and overthinking go hand-in-hand. We know by now that stress, anxiety, and worry have a huge impact on our physical health.
Overthinking can lead to panic attacks in extreme cases or other physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate and breathing rate, lethargy or hyperactivity, anxiety, irritability, as well as low appetite, irregular sleep patterns (overthinking insomnia) to mention a few.
Overthinking also makes us less likely to take action on things we want to change in our lives. It can make us procrastinate and avoid taking responsibility for ourselves.
There are certain things that can help us to get out of our heads and reduce anxiety or moments of overthinking.
Overthinking a relationship – how do I stop overthinking in my relationship?
Overthinking when dealing with relationships is very common. Miscommunication or no communication leads us to try and figure out what the other person is thinking and our minds start to run away with all sorts of perceived realities or situations that might not be true…
– Talk to the other person! When we know how the other person feels or what they are thinking about a situation it releases our mind’s assumptions or jumping to conclusions.
– Accept that you can’t control what the other person thinks or feels.
– Stop comparing yourself to others which goes hand in hand with worrying about what other people think of you – what other people think of you is none of your business. We cannot change other people’s opinions of us and we shouldn’t have to either.
– Be open and honest with yourself and others about who you are, what is on your mind, and what you are feeling.
Overthinking in a relationship can also lead to self-doubt, especially if we feel our feelings are being gaslighted.
Self-doubt and overthinking
Overthinking, in most contexts, is often traced back to self-doubt. When we lose trust in our decision and doubt our actions we overthink what the best way forward would be… which ironically prevents us from moving forward at all.
Once self-doubt sets in we give a lot of attention to other people’s opinions and then try and base our thoughts on that instead of what is best for us. Even when we might not know what is best for us we lose sight of our intuition which can provide us with a lot of aligned answers.
Breaking the overthinking cycle can be difficult when we are doubting everything because it increases uncertainty within the scenario. It also changes our perceptions towards our experience and this can alter the reality we perceive within the situation. We ‘blow up’ the severity of the situation and our minds start to make a bigger thing out of it than it actually is.
The next thing this leads to is… you guessed it… anxiety.
Some may argue overthinking and anxiety are one in the same thing but there are fundamental differences.
Anxiety vs overthinking – Does anxiety cause overthinking?
The feeling of being anxious and overthinking can feel very similar and they very much go hand in hand.
What is the difference between anxiety and overthinking?
Anxiety, as a mental health condition, can be defined by excessive worry about something that may or may not happen. It’s often associated with obsessive thoughts and feelings of fear and dread. Overthinking is a more general term for any repetitive thought process that occurs without external stimuli.
When we think about our lives, we often have negative thoughts. We think about past events that didn’t turn out well or future scenarios where we will fail. These thoughts can become overwhelming if we dwell on them. They can make us feel stressed, anxious, sad, angry, guilty, frustrated, etc.
When we overthink, we often think about the same thing over and over again. The problem is that we usually don’t realize we’re overthinking until after we’ve done so. Overthinking can result in feelings of stress, frustration, anger, sadness, guilt, and/or hopelessness. Overthinking can also lead to depression.
You might be asking yourself – does anxiety cause overthinking or is it the overthinking causing the anxiety?
It can be a vicious cycle between one worsening the other. It is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation. “Am I overthinking because I am anxious?” or “Are the feelings of anxiety from overthinking?”.
So then is overthinking a form of anxiety?
Short answer, yes. Anxiety is defined as a mental illness or disorder while overthinking isn’t – overthinking however can be a sign or even cause for anxiety.
What to do when overthinking – how to stop overthinking and anxiety
How to quit overthinking when we are already anxious…This is not an easy task. Overthinking as well as anxiety can be crippling in so many different ways. It momentarily affects the state of our minds and our brain’s chemical composition which almost alters our perceived reality, this makes it very difficult to snap ourselves out of the mental downward spiral.
Read further on tips to help yourself or how to help someone stop overthinking.
How to control overthinking – 5 tips for How to Stop Over-Thinking
1) Take time to breathe deeply. Breathing exercises like diaphragmatic breathing will help you slow down your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and calm your nervous system. Deep breathing helps you clear your head and relax. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take some deep breaths until you feel calmer.
2) Find the right balance between thinking and doing. When you’re trying to solve a problem, it’s important to give yourself enough time to think without getting so caught up in your thoughts that you don’t act. The best way to achieve this is to set aside specific times each day to work on projects.
3) Get rid of negative self-talk. Negative self-talk can be hard to control. Instead of allowing your mind to run away with itself, tell it what you want.
4) Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t multitask. When you’re working on a project, focus on one task at a time. Our brains aren’t meant to multi-task and it struggles to process all these different thoughts.
5) Practice mindfulness like yoga – a great way to get out of our heads is to get into and direct our awareness towards our body through exercise or mindfulness that includes movement like yoga, dancing, or movement meditations.
Overthinking therapy – Meditation for overthinking
Although medication for overthinking and anxiety exists and can create relief by calming our minds down it does not treat the cause of why we might be feeling this way.
Self-reflection and introspection practices such as mindfulness and meditation is a way where we can train ourselves to change our thinking and be aware of intrusive thoughts.
This is not a quick fix however, it is a long-term practice. It also helps us stay curious about our minds and mental states which brings on a more compassionate approach to the way we handle our thoughts, feelings, and emotions and ultimately results in our behaviors and actions in specific scenarios.
Meditation and mindfulness can feel very inaccessible when we are anxious because going further into our minds might worsen the situation. These practices are therefore really helpful as a management and prevention tool so that these moments of anxiety or overthinking become easier to cope with or that you know how to handle it before it spirals.
Meditation teaches us to not force ourselves to empty our minds but rather how to detach and let go of these intrusive thoughts. Furthermore, it is also a practice of noticing these uncomfortable feelings or thoughts and being able to accept and sit in the discomfort rather than resist it.
Remember what we resist, persists…
With that being said, however, we are all different, and therefore what works for some might not work for you…
Many people find that they need to get out of their heads not go further in and that’s why traditional practices of meditation might not work for them… The good news is there are so many different ways to practice mindfulness that doesn’t involve sitting in stillness.
The best way to get out of our heads is to get into our bodies and this can be done through movement. Movement meditations, yoga, going for a walk, dancing, or any other form of exercise/movement can be really beneficial. We practice being present in our bodies and trust that our mind responds to that sense of presence.
Through all of this if you find none of it is helpful and you don’t have the capacity to do any of it then seeking help from mental health professionals is always the best option. Speaking our thoughts out loud is very powerful in making sense of them as we notice that our heads might be presenting us with a false reality.
Anxiety and overthinking get us stuck into living for the future – the trick is to find something that brings you into living in the present moment.
Mindfulness and meditation offer us this presence. Life is happening in the here and now and we need to trust the process that the decisions we make right now are the right decision for right now … it has nothing to do with our future selves because then our context and circumstances will be different.
We need to trust the process that we are always just doing our best with the amount of knowledge we have at a certain time and that’s when we realize there are no right or wrong decisions because it is all relative to what we are presently living.
We need to trust the process that it will all work out with the perfect universal timing and we need to trust that we can let go of trying to control our futures because it will all work out as it should.
Again… I know easier said than done. I understand I have been there many times too.
Overthinking can be debilitating to our minds and being caught up in the cycle of overthinking or constant thought loop is less than fun. Our racing and noisy minds can greatly affect the quality of our daily life by suppressing joy.
The good news is we have the power to alleviate our minds from these intrusive thought patterns. Meditation and mindfulness are very effective to practice how to deal with our thoughts when our mental health takes a bit of a dip. Although it might not seem attainable it is possible to release these thoughts and find peace of mind.
(Maybe meditating feels very daunting currently if you are caught up with an overwhelming amount of thought – these affirmations below might be more helpful. You can even use some of these as journal prompts – getting our thoughts onto paper helps to make sense of them.)
23 affirmations for overthinking
1. It won’t be easy but I can get through this.
2. Every obstacle is nothing but a stepping stone.
3. I am not my thoughts. My thoughts are under my control.
4. Relaxation is an inhalation; tension is an exhalation.
5. I release stress, tension and anxiety.
6. My life and my mind are under my control.
7. Everything is working out in my best interest. It is all part of the process.
8. Peace of mind is possible..
9. This too shall pass.
10. Letting go of things I can’t change and working on things I can.
11. Positive change is happening right now.
12. I release the past, I live in the now.
13. This is a point of growth.
14. This expands my experience.
15. I release intrusive thoughts.
16. I am joyful and have peace of mind.
17. My decision-making skills are good.
18. I trust my intuition.
19. This is all part of the process.
20. There are no right or wrong decisions.
21. I invite certainty into my mind.
22. The answer is clear to me.
23. I release self-criticism and self-doubt.