Overthinking can lead to serious emotional distress and increase your risk of mental health problems
Thinking about something in endless circles — is exhausting.
While everyone overthinks a few things once in a while, chronic over-thinkers spend most of their waking time ruminating, which puts pressure on themselves. They then mistake that pressure to be stress.
“There are people who have levels of overthinking that are just pathological,” says clinical psychologist Catherine Pittman, an associate professor in the psychology department at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.
“But the average person also just tends to overthink things.” Pittman is also the author of “Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry.”
Overthinking can take many forms: endlessly deliberating when making a decision (and then questioning the decision), attempting to read minds, trying to predict the future, reading into the smallest of details, etc.
People who overthink consistently run commentaries in their heads, criticising and picking apart what they said and did yesterday, terrified that they look bad — and fretting about a terrible future that might await them
‘What ifs’ and ‘shoulds’ dominate their thinking, as if an invisible jury is sitting in judgement on their lives. And they also agonise over what to post online because they are deeply concerned about how other people will interpret their posts and updates.
They don’t sleep well because ruminating and worrying keep them awake at night. “Ruminators repetitively go over events, asking big questions: Why did that happen? What does it mean?” adds Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the chair of the department of psychology at Yale University and the author of Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life. “But they never find any answers.”
If you consistently focus on ruminating and make it a habit, it becomes a loop, And the more you do it, the harder it is to stop. Clinical psychologist Helen Odessky, Psy. D., shares some insight. “So often people confuse overthinking with problem-solving,” says Odessky, the author of “Stop Anxiety from Stopping You.” “But what ends up happening is we just sort of go in a loop,” Odessky says. “We’re not really solving a problem.”
Overthinking is destructive and mentally draining. It can make you feel like you’re stuck in one place, and if you don’t act, it can greatly impact on your day-to-day life. It can quickly put your health and total well-being at risk. Rumination makes you more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
Many people overthink because they are scared of the future, and what could potentially go wrong. “Because we feel vulnerable about the future, we keep trying to solve problems in our head,” says David Carbonell, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It.”
Extreme overthinking can easily sap your sense of control over your life. It robs us of active participation in everything around us.
“Chronic worriers show an increased incidence of coronary problems and suppressed immune functioning. Dwelling on the past or the future also takes us away from the present, rendering us unable to complete the work currently on our plates. If you ask ruminators how they are feeling, none will say “happy.” Most feel miserable,” says Nicholas Petrie, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership.
Overthinking can trap the brain in a worry cycle. When ruminating become as natural as breathing, you need to quickly deal with it and find a solution to it.
“When an unpleasant event puts us in a despondent mood, it’s easier to recall other times when we’ve felt terrible. That can set the stage for a ruminator to work herself into a downward spiral,” writes Amy Maclin of Real Simple.
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