Studies have found a direct correlation between overthinking and poor judgment, overthinking can seriously hinder your decision-making process, which can lead to dangerous, and at times even deadly situations.
Overthinking is exactly what the name suggests: thinking too much. It is an endless loop of the same thought going around in circles in your mind, without you making much sense out of it. As an over-thinker, you over-analyze the simplest of scenarios and blow them out of proportion.
As human beings, we are no strangers to overthinking. That is because as amazing as the human brain is, it can drive you absolutely nuts if you let it.
We are all prone to worrying every now and then – and that is completely normal. But time after time, we tend to cross the line dividing overthinking from plain old brooding. And when that line is crossed too often, it brings with it a whole new world of distress.
Instead of translating your thoughts into actionable outcomes, you are left with an over-bearing burden of stress and anxiety which further clouds your rationality.
There is nothing light-hearted about frequent overthinking and if you are a victim of it, you are well-aware of how big of a toll it can take on your happiness.
But as with any problem that needs to be solved, the root causes of it have to be recognized first. Listed below are a few common culprits that might be causing you to overthink needlessly.
What Is The Root Cause of Overthinking?
The triggers that cause people to overthink can look different for everyone. But the root cause and the main culprit of everyone’s overthinking lies in the primitive emotional part of our brains.
Similar to depression and anxiety, overthinking occurs as a result of our primal instincts to protect ourselves.
Our primitive mind always perceives things from the worst possible angle. It overworks and exaggerates our vigilance in trying to protect us and trying to keep us alive.
Our intellectual brain might tell us that we are being fearful for no reason, but the primitive part of our brain contradicts that rationale and causes us to ruminate.
When faced with a difficult or complicated situation, the primitive part of our brains triggers our stress and anxiety which causes us to overthink. This then comes full circle and causes us more stress and anxiety, and so on.
The irony here is that overthinking is not actual thinking at all; it does not lead you towards a productive solution. It is just like running on a hamster wheel of anxiety and stress-inducing thoughts. You keep on running despite being exhausted and end up getting nowhere. And yet, the wheel keeps on spinning.
Overthinking can also occur as a result of our inner perfectionist.
A perfectionist wants everything to be meticulous and is rigid with their ways of controlling outcomes. This causes them to overthink and sometimes take drastic actions that backfire.
Moreover, sometimes we overthink so much that we can’t even remember what triggered it in the first place.
If you do not know what triggered your overthinking and anxiety in the first place, it is difficult to eradicate it. The problem with overthinking is that it can be very hard to trace your thoughts back to where they started because they are not coherent, to begin with. They are intertwined like an unending mess of complication.
In these kinds of situations we have to remember that, typically, we overthink as a result of a fear that we hold. A good practice when you can’t figure out the root cause is to ask yourself,
- “What am I afraid of here?”
- “What’s the worst that could happen and why am I so afraid of it?”
- “If the worst does happen, how long is it going to keep on impacting my life?”
Asking these questions might make you realize that, in actuality, there really is nothing to fear. Other times, it will help you stop the overthinking loop in its tracks and cause you to make a plan and work towards overcoming that barrier.
Is There a Mental Illness For Overthinking?
Overthinking in itself is not categorized as a medical issue and does not signify a mental illness. However, it sure does lead to many different types of psychological and physiological issues.
Overthinking becomes a problem when it starts affecting your everyday life. This happens because it causes your mental health to deteriorate slowly but surely. The main problems caused as a result of thinking too much include:
- Post-traumatic disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Overthinking interferes with the problem-solving ability of your brain because you overanalyze situations. When you overanalyze, the situation loses its actual meaning and ends up being molded into a monster that does not exist in reality. Rather than finding a solution, you dwell on the problem and make up scenarios that will likely never happen.
However, the far-reaching negative consequences of overthinking are not limited to our brains. Overthinking also affects our physical health.
According to research, overthinking is linked to causing inflammation in your brain resulting in a significant increase in the risk of heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure. Additionally, in extreme cases, the stress induced by overthinking can cause enough damage to your blood vessels for them to rupture and lead to a stroke. In less extreme, yet still worrying, cases it can cause headaches, body aches, and stomach problems.
Not just that, overthinking disrupts your sleep which brings with it its own load of problems and worries.
Safe to say, overthinking is not beneficial in any way, shape, or form.
However, if you are a chronic overthinker and worry about things to the point that it is difficult to perform everyday tasks, you might be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
GAD usually develops in our younger years and can be caused due to a trauma one might have faced. People with GAD may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:
- Constant fatigue and tiredness
- Muscle aches, headaches, and stomach aches
- Getting startled easily
- Having a hard time concentrating
- Feeling restless
- Having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Trouble swallowing food
- Twitchy muscles
- Sweating excessively
- Feeling light-headed
Keep in mind that this is not a diagnosis. If you overthink occasionally, there is nothing wrong with you. But if overthinking rules your life, it is best to consult a professional and get to the root of the problem.
How to Stop Overthinking and Relax?
Overthinking might seem harmless but as discussed in the previous sub-heading, it can lead to harmful diseases and wreak havoc on your life.
The good news is that overthinking is definitely beatable. Yes, it might require a lot of effort on your end but keeping your overthinking at a minimum is undoubtedly something you can change.
So, how do we cut back or put a stop to our overthinking tendencies? Here are a few ways that might come in handy for you.
Keep Track of Your Thoughts
Sometimes the mere act of realizing that you are overthinking can be difficult. For a lot of us, it becomes such a habit that you don’t even notice it while you are doing it.
It is recommended to monitor your thoughts. You can track your thoughts by jotting them down in your journal. Additionally, you can type them out on-the-go in your phone.
By observing your thoughts, you can identify any recurring triggers that are causing you to overthink and nip it in the bud.
This one might seem too overused at this point but it works!
If your thoughts are getting the best of you, write them down. This gives you an opportunity to sort them out and gain a sense of clarity. It will help make your train of thought more coherent through which you can get to the root of the problem and find a solution.
Focus on What You Can Control
A lot of the overthinking that we do is a result of fear. And what gives birth to this fear is usually our inability to gain control over the things we have no control over.
Letting yourself get absorbed in worrying about situations you have no power over is not going to resolve anything for you.
If there is any part of the situation that you have certain control over, try to move your focus to that particular area and think about what you can do to prevent the issue. If you do not have any power over what is going on, take a different approach. Instead of trying to control an uncontrollable situation, try and shift your focus on how you can cope with not being in charge.
A good way to stop overthinking right in its tracks is by distracting yourself with an activity that you enjoy.
It does not have to be something productive. It just has to be something that distracts you and makes you a happy individual.
Common ideas include:
- Going out for a run/walk or working out
- Watching stand-up comedy
And so much more! The possibilities are endless.
Question the Validity of Your Thoughts
It is easy to get swept away by negative thoughts without any real rhyme or reason.
A good practice is to question your thoughts by asking, “Will this matter in a month, a year, or five years?”
You will be surprised to find that the answer is almost always no.
Looking at the bigger picture will help you recognize that your emotions are getting the best of you and your mind is making a mountain out of a molehill. Take a second to question the ‘evidence’ of your concerns. Is there evidence that your thought is true or is it just a hypothetical situation that you have made up in your mind?
Focus on Finding a Solution
One of the worst things that thinking too much does is that it overworks us and at the same time, doesn’t allow us to find a solution to our problems.
When you find yourself overthinking, stop and question how you can solve the problem at hand.
It is better to spend your thinking prowess on finding a fix rather than worrying about the future or reminiscing over the past.
Counteract the Negative with Positives
When you find yourself overthinking, you can change your emotions by changing your actions. There are a number of different things that can help you with this. For example:
- Practice rhythmic breathing. You do not necessarily have to get your yoga mat out and launch into a full-on meditation session. Just the act of controlled rhythmic breathing can help you relax.
- Do something positive. When you’re feeling sad, do anything that can lighten up that dull mood of yours. It can be anything from cleaning your house to eating what you love to dancing to your favorite song.
- Change your position. If you’re sitting, stand. If you’re lying down, get up and sit. Changing your position from the one in which you were feeling angry or sad can help distract you and make the situation a little easier to deal with.
Make Someone Else Happy
Trying to make someone else happy by easing their load can really help put things in perspective for you.
Think of ways you can give back to a person you love or to the community that you belong to. Ask yourself how you can be there for them and then act on it.
Making someone happy with your thoughtful actions can take away some of your own sadness too. It helps you in overcoming your negative thoughts by giving you something productive to focus on.
Ask For Help
While trying to fix things on your own is great, sometimes you have to accept the fact that you need a hand. You do not have to go through everything all alone.
The best and fastest way you can defeat any mental issue is by consulting a qualified therapist. This will significantly improve your life because a therapist will help equip you with new tools for working through your problems and changing your mindset.
In conclusion, it is good to realize that you are not the only one who thinks too much and too hard about things. It is something that a lot of people struggle with.
Luckily, a lot of people also overcome it by making an effort and that is a consolation in itself because that means that you can do it as well. You, too, can change your life for the better by taking the right steps in the right direction.
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