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Overthinking Is Bad For Mental Health, Here Is How To Stop Doing That

If you find yourself overthink a lot, you should take steps to avoid overthinking as it affects health negatively.

Chanchal Sengar
Written by: Chanchal SengarPublished at: May 20, 2022Updated at: May 30, 2022
Overthinking Is Bad For Mental Health, Here Is How To Stop Doing That

Often times it feels like we are trapped in our thoughts that we can’t seem to get out of. Ruminating about your past and worrying about the future without finding a resolution can be exhausting. But we still continue to overthink when there is a big decision to take or an issue we’re trying to deal with. Overthinking is a pattern of repetitive and unproductive thought process. The truth is that we all tend to overthink from time to time. As we go through everyday challenges, we hold onto our thoughts to give us a sense of control. It makes us feel like we’re problem-solving and working through these challenges. But, we may fail to recognize that we might be stuck in a vicious downward spiral. In this article, Archana Dinesh, Clinical Psychologist at Authentic Living explains all about overthinking including cause, symptoms, effects and tips to avoid overthinking. Make sure to read till the end.

How overthinking affects you?

Before we change our thought patterns, it is important to notice and become aware of them. Here are some of the signs to recognize if you're overthinking

  • Thoughts are related to the past events of what happened, what went wrong, what could you have done differently, and so on. These thoughts might seem important to make changes in your present situation. But when they lead to rumination about things that are no more in your control, that’s overthinking!
  • We often think about what might happen in the future. We get carried away with many possibilities of how a particular situation will play out. We might engage a lot with thoughts that start with “what-if?” followed by assuming a negative consequence or a worst-case scenario.
  • We tend to focus on things that are not in our control. “What if they don’t like me?”, “What if I don’t perform well in school/at my new job?”. Thinking about things that are not in our control can keep us in the vicious loop of overthinking.
  • We tend to focus only on the problem. We may tend to dwell more on the problem, instead of focusing on solving the problem. “What if I fail at my new job? What will my manager think of me? I don’t think I’ll perform as well as my colleagues.”
  • The same thoughts keep repeating every time. Ruminating about the problem or an issue isn’t helpful. Thoughts about our mistakes, any shortcomings, or an issue can keep coming back to haunt us. 
  • Overthinking can interfere with your daily life. When you are at work, you might be overthinking about something that happened with a friend. It gets challenging to separate these thoughts from the present. 

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What causes overthinking? 

Our ability to think is one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings. When faced with challenges or when there is a need to plan, we use our thinking capacity to find solutions.

  • We might believe that thinking hard about a problem can help us come up with ways to deal with it.
  • We hold onto certain positive beliefs about overthinking that can make it difficult to break out of the habit.
  • When we overthink, we feel in control and in-charge. It gives us a sense of problem-solving. This can be a “safety behavior” to reduce anxiety in the short-term.
  • But when we have thoughts about the worse possible outcomes or other negative thoughts, it causes more stress that causes overthinking

How to stop overthinking? 

Here is what to do to stop overthinking:

  • Identify triggers - Notice what makes you overthink. This awareness would help you get a grip on your overthinking pattern and help you build healthier coping mechanisms when faced with similar stressors.
  • Challenge your thoughts - When a thought occurs, firstly ask yourself if the thought is helpful or unhelpful. This will help you take a problem-solving approach to the thoughts. If the thoughts are unhelpful, allow yourself to observe the thoughts as thoughts and let them go, while bringing yourself back to the present. 

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Overthinking Effect on Health

Overthinking can have some negative effects on your mental health. Have you noticed that overthinking can interfere with your daily life? You might be out with your friends and yet be preoccupied with something that your manager said about your work. We don’t actively engage in worrying, ruminating or overthinking.

  • Overthinking can potentially affect our decision-making skills as it keeps us occupied with the problem.
  • A study by Di Schiena et al (2013) showed that ruminating negatively affects decision-making among individuals with depression.
  • Repeated patterns of overthinking can be associated with conditions like anxiety and depression.
  • Excessive worrying is one of the key symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder while ruminating can be associated with depression.
  • We might also find it difficult to sleep in the night with these racing thoughts.
  • Overthinking along with other symptoms of anxiety and depression can affect sleep (Pillai & Drake, 2015)

How to avoid overthinking at night?

Here are some tips to deal with overthinking.

Being mindful

As we recognized earlier, noticing overthinking is an important part of dealing with them. As our thought processes can take us to the past or the future, it’s important to bring our awareness to the present moment. Being aware of our thoughts can help us observe them from a non-judgmental perspective. “My thoughts are about what will happen in the future, which is not in my control at the present moment”. Being non-judgmental would mean that we are not evaluating our thoughts, but rather just observing them. This will also help us become aware of the vicious cycle of overthinking.

Also Read: Attract Positivity In Your Home With These Indoor Plants

Labeling these thoughts

Once we become aware of these thought patterns, it would help to label them as overthinking. This perspective will help us to disengage from the downward spiral of thoughts. “I notice that I am overthinking. I don’t need to give meaning to these thoughts”. Also, remember that thoughts are thoughts. They are not facts. 

Worry time

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If you notice that you worry all the time, try to postpone your thoughts. Set out a specific time and place to worry. This works paradoxically to reduce negative thoughts. Firstly, it would help you break the spiraling of thoughts. Secondly, when you revisit the thoughts later at the specified time, you will be able to manage your worries more effectively by focusing on things that are in your control. 

Grounding 

When you recognize and disengage from overthinking, you might also experience feeling anxious or a sense of losing control. Try to ground yourself to the present by engaging in sensory experiences such as hearing, sight, touch, taste and feel. For example, notice 5 things in red around you, hear the sounds around you, taste a sour lemon, or wash your face with cold water. Grounding yourself can give you a greater sense of control.

Relax

Overthinking can make you feel anxious and feeling anxious can increase overthinking, forming a vicious circle. You can break this loop with some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, going for a walk, playing with your pet, or any other activities that can make you feel calm and relaxed.

Lastly, the final resort to get rid of overthinking is seek professional help. You don’t have to deal with your thoughts alone. Consult a therapist who can guide you through challenging these thought patterns and break out of the habit of overthinking. 

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