We all do it, especially when we are stressed or worried. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, loss, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, attachment disorder etc often have overthinking as a symptom.
So what is overthinking?
Overthinking is defined as thinking about something for too long or analysing it in a way that is more harmful than helpful. Very often it has a repetitive quality, someone with social anxiety for instance may overthink how they were in a social situation, what they did or said and will repetitively do this for most, if not all sociable experiences.
Why do we do overthink?
It is often because we care, we care about what someone else thinks, we care about what will happen next, and we care about how others see us. This caring leads us to be concerned about the outcome of a relationship, a conversation or result. So our ever ‘helpful’ brain decides that if it analyses all the possible outcomes we can be prepared, it’s so good at this it will even analyse an event, meeting or result BEFORE it’s even happened. There are two main issues with our brains doing this:
- Our brain cannot possibly compute every outcome
- Our brain is influenced by any biases we have whether they are positive or negative. (If we are worriers or have a mental health issue this is usually a negative bias, but in mania, and some other conditions it can manifest as a positive bias.)
We can experience overthinking as:
- Not being able to think of anything but the subject/person we are worried about.
- Interfering with our ability to function.
- Increased stress levels.
- Things feeling bleak.
- Avoiding situations you are worried about.
- Conversely, if you have a positive bias, getting into situations that are risky or more complicated than you had imagined.
- Difficulty eating or eating too much in a bid to feel better.
- A form of self-harm
- Causing anxiety.
So what’s normal?
We all worry at times. We get nervous about things that matter to us like exams, job interviews, going on stage etc and during these periods we may experience overthinking. Overthinking becomes a problem when it doesn’t end after the specific event is over, when it becomes more generalised and we do it everyday. If overthinking is taking over your life, you should seek help from a qualified professional like a counsellor.
What we can do about overthinking?
So you are tired of overthinking, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, life feeling overwhelming and that you can’t seem to get out of your own head. So what do you do?
Especially when talking to others about their overthinking and worry, I find that most people use short to medium-term solutions, tips and tricks they have picked up to help in the moment. These include:
- Distractions like: talking to someone, listening to music, listening to podcasts, and watching TV.
- Mindful approaches like: grounding, breathing techniques, and fingertip touching.
- Facing the problem: checking the facts, testing your assumptions, and talking it through with someone.
- Getting support: help from family or friends when you are going through an tough time that needs extra support like exams, stage fright, PIP appeals.
Whilst all of these approaches can help you to feel better, people will repeat them over and over again because they still overthink.
My treatment plan for clients experiencing overthinking is a two-pronged approach, I will initially use short to medium-term interventions to give clients tools to help in the moment. But I also recommend more.
At the same time I will teach you a longer-term strategy to help you stop overthinking altogether so that eventually you don’t need the tips and tricks anymore.
So what do I recommend for chronic overthinkers?
Firstly we will try out and choose a short-term strategy that works for you, nursery rhymes or other distraction techniques are a favourite of most of the people I work with.
Next we work on the habit of overthinking. Noticing when you overthink allows you to name it, then you can catch yourself doing it and then you can change the habit to something else. One of my clients for instance will catch herself overthinking and acknowledge that she is worried about a particular issue, but the will choose to focus on something else and deal with the problem later. By the time later comes, the problem has often resolved itself.
For some people (especially those where the overthinking is more generalised and doesn’t have a specific cause) learning the first steps in meditation, where you focus on an object, sound, your breath or a sensation, can teach their mind to slow down and stop overthinking.
Learning to relax through Reiki or meditation can help to reset the balance in our bodies. letting go of the tension and stress that overthinking places in our bodies can be really helpful and replaces the the habit of overthinking with one of peace and calm.
Sometimes if your overthinking is part of a larger condition like anxiety, depression, Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotianlly Unstable Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or due to trauma or abuse, counselling can be a way forward. Counselling will provide support in the moment and help you to work through the issues you are facing, to help you find a better tomorrow.
None of these approaches is mutually exclusive, you can mix and match what works for you. My hope in writing this is that, as well as the short-term tips and tricks to beat anxiety and overthinking you see on Facebook and in ads, you will also consider using a long-term strategy alongside it so you find you don’t overthink in the first place.
If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch by clicking the button below.