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There’s an epidemic sweeping across the population.
It isn’t from a pathogen floating in the air, or a substance lying on a table surface. It’s right in our heads.
We’re faced with levels of uncertainty that many of us have never had to deal with. We’re faced with concerns about whether things will remain stable. And then there’s the inability to make future plans, which leaves people with lots of spare time.
Lots of time to think. Lots of time to worry. Lots of time to overthink.
Overthinking has always been prevalent. A study showed that 73 percent of 25 to 35 year olds overthink, while 52 percent of 45 to 55 year olds overthink. A large part of the population is doing a lot of thinking.
During times of crises on a national or global scale, those numbers jump up even further.
When you fall into a habit of overthinking, it’s hard to catch yourself in the act, let alone prevent yourself from going down that path any further. Like an itch, once you begin scratching, it’s hard to stop.
You try to convince yourself that it’s helping, but it’s really making things worse.
Overthinking is Not the Same As Reflecting
When you overthink, you tell yourself that you’re making progress, that you’re problem-solving, or that you’re somehow improving your life. But you’re not. Overthinking, or ruminating over something, is harmful.
When you overthink, it’s a huge drain on your energy and health. Overthinking can lead to depression and anxiety. People who overthink are also more likely to suffer from substance abuse, or suffer from eating too much or too little.
Overthinking can also lead you to draw the wrong conclusions. You replay situations and people’s actions in your head, trying to figure out a deeper meaning behind events. When you do that, you end up believing something that isn’t true, which can hurt your relationship with others.
Finally, overthinking gets in the way of actually doing something. When your brain gets going, it conjures up so many choices, scenarios, and consequences that you end up frozen in one spot. You might even take the wrong step because you can’t think clearly.
Instead of overthinking, it’s better to reflect. Overthinking means that you dwell on the negatives which you have no control over. Reflecting, however, is about looking at an experience and figuring out what you can do next time.
One digs you deeper into a hole, while the other lifts you out of it. It all depends on whether you’re sitting in the driver seat or on the passenger side.
Signs You’re Overthinking Things
Overthinking can be hard to spot in yourself when you’re so used to it. You get so stuck in your thoughts that your head gets all muddled up. But when you take a step back and look at what you’re doing, it’s easier to see when your thinking is doing more harm than good.
Here are 10 indicators you’re overthinking things:
1. Whenever you get a quiet moment to yourself, your mind starts dwelling on bad things that happened or might happen.
2. You worry about second-order problems, problems that aren’t relevant because you haven’t even gotten past the first problem.
3. You think so much that you feel exhausted emotionally, mentally, and physically.
4. You replay conversations over and over, wondering what you could have said differently.
5. One small slip causes you to re-evaluate your self-worth (we all make mistakes, and remember: the more you do, the more likely you’ll make mistakes).
6. Multiple people have commented or shown concern on how you’re always lost in your thoughts.
7. Your thoughts go around in circles, with no conclusion or change to the plot.
8. You suffer from a lack of sleep as your brain continues to run on high speed while you lie in bed.
9. You play numerous “what if” scenarios in your head, wondering about events that might happen.
10. By this point, you’re worried that you might be over thinking.
Strategies to Stop Overthinking
If you see yourself in any of these signs, there are ways to stop overthinking. You can perform some practices to quiet your mind and put yourself more at ease.
Do you ever notice that this overthinking problem crops up when you have nothing to do? Whenever you’re busy working, socializing, or just doing something, you’re so caught up in what you’re doing that you don’t have time to ruminate.
It helps to keep your days busy with something to distract yourself. Re-experience something you enjoyed before. Watch a movie that was memorable. Re-read one of your favorite books. They might remind you of something uplifting that you had forgotten.
You can also jot down all your worries. Just let it all out. Try expressive writing, where you write down all your thoughts and feelings without attention to grammar or spelling.
Studies have shown that when participants try expressive writing, they had reduced negative brain waves and were able to perform better in their work. A leading theory is that people offloaded their worries onto paper, freeing up their mind for other tasks (to dump out your worries, try jotting your thoughts in an app such as Journey).
If You Overthink, Here’s Good News
The good news is that overthinking becomes less and less common as people age. While over half of young and middle aged adults overthink, only 20 percent of 65 to 75 year olds suffer from this same issue. Why?
It’s believed that as we get older, fewer things surprise us. Also, as we experience more of life, we manage to survive all the hurdles we’ve encountered. And finally, we get better at coping with issues as time goes on.
So chin up. A lot of what you’re facing has to do with perspective. The earth-shattering problems you faced ten years ago don’t seem so big now. And in all likelihood, the same goes for many issues you’re facing today.
Journey – If you suffer from overthinking, try writing down all your worries for five minutes. This free app gives you a private space to put down all your thoughts, whenever and wherever.
Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind by Srini Pillay, M.D. – We often rely on programs that force us to focus in order to complete our tasks and goals. Pillay, however, draws from brain research and stories to show how adding deliberate and regular unfocus to your day is the key to being calm, productive, creative, and innovative.