When a relative by marriage suggested that I might be “overthinking things,” I felt hurt and a tad defensive: She’s judging me. And since when did deep and deliberate thinking become a bad thing? Ah, this business of being human! I immediately reacted by trying really hard not to overthink her comment and soon came to the more reasonable conclusion that she might be on to something.
Mental health professionals suggest that everyone can overthink at times, in part because we learn as children to use reason and logic to solve our problems. Overthinking expresses itself in many ways, all of which can be problematic. It may:
- cause you to dwell on every possible bad thing that could happen
- render you unable to make a decision
- make you obsess over every detail of every conversation or interaction
- interfere with your ability to relax or fall and stay asleep
- distract you from enjoying the present moment
- cause others to pull away from you
Overthinking is downright exhausting and most of the time, there is not much to show for it. In fact, research shows that eighty percent of the benefit comes from the first twenty percent of our time and effort. In other words, the rest of the time we spend overthinking can mostly be categorized as spinning our wheels! Is it any wonder that, in severe cases, overthinking may even lead to anxiety and depression? But, as with most habits, we can learn to eradicate or at least manage overthinking so that it doesn’t manage us.
Strategies for Overcoming Overthinking
Know your personal triggers~ It’s not one-size-fits all. Deepen your self-awareness by beginning to notice what triggers your overthinking. Is it worrying about an upcoming event? Is it wondering if your new co-workers will like you? Is it fear you will make the “wrong” decision? Ask yourself: What triggers my tendency to overthink?
Catch yourself when you overthink~ Then call it out: I am overthinking right now. Next, deliberately shift your attention to something tangible such as the water you are drinking or the bird that’s right outside your window.
Shift to mindful awareness~ Instead of focusing on that continuous cycle of thought, work on being fully present and aware of where you are, what you are doing. As you do so, cut stress off at the pass by choosing not to overreact or give in to the notion that you are overwhelmed.
Get into your body~ It makes perfect sense that the antidote to being too much in your head is to shift to something physical. It hardly matters what you do. Stand up, walk to the mailbox, do a few long and leisurely stretches. This strategy is my personal “go to”; I am amazed by how consistently it quiets my overthinking.
Accept the limitations of overthinking~ Take a good, honest look at how overthinking has served you. You are likely to find that all of that overthinking had little value in terms of having a good day, enjoying the moment, interacting with others, predicting the future, and making decisions.
Own your decisions~ Ah, decisions…Would-a, could-a, should-a; If I’d only known then what I know now. It’s classic Monday morning quarterbacking and none of it is useful. Remind yourself as often as you need to that you make the best decisions you can with the information and intuition on hand at any given time. In other words, don’t waste your precious time by beating yourself up.