Overthinking. Something most have done at least once regarding a situation. Simply put, overthinking is when we think about something too much, and give it too much of our energy for two long. Harping on your problems, mistakes, shortcomings, relationships with people, places, or things, lead to stress, anxiety, and emotional distress and increases your chances of mental health problems. The more you overthink, the more you’re emotional and mental health is at risk, and the more it declines, the more your ruminations increase. Thus, leading to a vicious cycle that can be extremely hard to break.
Overthinking can also interfere with logic and problem solving. It will keep you stuck, dwelling on the problem, rather than focusing on finding a solution. The most simple decisions can become overwhelming, deciding what to wear, where to go to eat, what to eat, even the most simple things can feel like a life-or-death decision when you're an over thinker. Ironically, all that thinking won't help you make a better choice. It can throw off your mood, and disrupt your sleep. Rumination can lead to hours of tossing and turning before falling into a less than restful slumber. Those who struggle and get stuck in these patterns. They may get stuck on a conversation from yesterday, last week, or last month and let it ruin their day.
Ruminating and incessant worrying are the two main components of overthinking. Dwelling on the past, or ruminating, is when we say things such as "I shouldn't of" or "I should have" the cycle of "should-ing" all over ourselves is a slippery slope best to be avoided at all costs. Within this same realm are statements such as "I've always lacked confidence, my insecurities have always held me back." Words like never and always allow us to get stuck in a pattern of thinking that often becomes negative, destructive, and often keeps people from reaching their potential due to the lack of confidence they are creating and validating for themselves.
Another thing that tends to happen when we allow ourselves to get stuck in a pattern of overthinking, is that we go in a loop of cognitive distortions. In case you aren't familiar, cognitive distortions are the ways our mind convinces us of something that isn't really true. Catastrophizing, expecting the worst possible outcome in all scenarios. Personalizing, taking everything personally, even when it has nothing to do with you what-so-ever. Future telling- my least favorite, because unless you have some secret future telling crystal ball, you cannot, I repeat, you CAN NOT predict the future. Filtering, or taking only the negative details from a conversation or situation and magnifying them rather than taking them for what they are worth. When this filter is on, a person is unable to see any positive in the given situation. If you sat in a review at work and everything was positive except one minor detail where you were told there was room for improvement, you would be hyper-focused and stuck on that one thing, rather than all the positive feedback you received. Other cognitive distortions include black and white thinking, over-generalization, jumping to conclusions, control fallacies, blaming, and emotional reasoning. It can be extremely difficult to change these cognitive distortions, however it is imperative to help improve your overall health, wellness, and mindset.
Overthinking is not ideal, and yes, it can be hard to get out of the spiral once one has become consumed in it. It is possible, but it will take some work on your end, practice, and mindfulness to notice when you are slipping into a ruminating pattern before you allow it to consume you. Try to notice when you get stuck in your own head. Overthinking becomes a bad habit and when stuck in it you may not initially realize you are even doing it. Start paying attention so that you are able to identify the problem. In general, thinking is only beneficial when it brings us closer to a solution. Thinking about things we can't control (which is most things,) worry, and replaying things in our minds is harmful and won't get us anywhere quickly. Remain focused on problem solving, dwelling on your problems, or the things you think are problems isn't helpful. If by chance, it's something you have control over, identify how you can solve or prevent the issue yourself, and try to identify several potential solutions. If however, you have no control over it, like someone else's thoughts, beliefs, or feelings, or something bigger such as a natural disaster, come up with strategies to help you get through the angst, discomfort, and utilize these coping skills. Remember, we can control our actions, reactions, the way we present ourselves, our attitudes, and effort, beyond that, there is not much we are actually in control of. Challenge your own thoughts, step back, and ask yourself what evidence you have to support the thought or belief. Fact checking will help you recognize what may be true and what may be an intrusive thought.
Your emotions can interfere with your ability to look at situations objectively, try to remain unbiased and open to change. While I don't recommend stewing over things for too long, taking time for reflection is healthy and important. It becomes an issue when it consumes us. Allow time for reflection and/or mindfulness in your daily routine. Allow yourself a certain amount of time, maybe it's half an hour, and once this time has been utilized, move onto something else to avoid staying, or getting stuck. If you haven't already, learn the skill of mindfulness. Like anything else, this is something that is learned and takes practice. Once learned, mindfulness can help us stop overthinking. It will help you become more aware of the present, and allow you to begin to let go of the past, taking only what you need, and worry less about the future and things you can't control. By becoming more self-aware, more mindful, and paying more attention to your thoughts and the way you think you will learn to become more self-aware and identify these bad habits. You can train your brain to think differently, and in time as you build healthier habits, you will become mentally stronger, tougher, and in turn, more positive in the way you think and view situations and life. It isn't easy work, but it is possible. When you learn to stop overthinking, check the facts, practice positive self-talk, self-love, and self-care, life becomes much more enjoyable and you will be on your way to a happier, healthier life.