The Problem with Overthinking

Of all the negative personality traits that I posses, one stands high above the rest as being the most destructive.

I’m a thinker. If something bothers me, particularly in a situation where I feel unfairly treated, I’ll think about it… and then I’ll think some more. I’ll even think about the way that I’m thinking about something and by the time I have finished thinking I will have inevitably blown the initial annoyance out of all proportion in my mind. I think about what I could or should have said or done, what I wish I hadn’t said or done, what I will say and do in the future. I think about what has been said and done to me, and what should have been said to me instead.

It’s a lot of thinking… and it’s exhausting.

Despite the fact that I’m fully aware that this is not a healthy thing to do, I have found it difficult to control at times and the end result is always the same – I will have wound myself up and become agitated, the problem still remains unresolved and the only person left feeling angry, anxious or hurt is me. There’s a number of triggers that will set my brain into thinking overdrive – lack of control or fear of the potential in a situation, the feeling of something being unfair, the urge to ‘win’ – all of which I know are part learned thought patterns, part attempt to gain validation from others and part caused by my own stubbornness.

It’s a more regular occurrence in my life than I would like, to the point where The Bloke now usually ends a conversation with “just make sure that you don’t start overthinking it” when I discuss things that have been bothering me. In fact, it has made this year pretty awful at times and has affected personal relationships, my view on the world and my perception of exciting things that will happen in the future.

I think that it’s about time for me to stop thinking.

Want to change your mindset and avoid overthinking things? Here’s some ideas.

Take back control of your thoughts. It’s a difficult thing to do, but consciously making a decision not to get sucked into the cycle of negative overthinking and dealing with bad thoughts one step-at-a-time will eventually become a habit.

Distract, distract, distract and do things that make you happy when the negative thoughts creep in. My WORST time for overthinking is when I have seemingly nothing to do, so I have adopted distraction techniques that are filled with things that I enjoy. Yesterday, The Bloke and I went to a little festival in the park near our house and watched a film when we got home, which was a great day. I’ve distracted myself with the blog and social media, music, making arrangements with friends to meet up and have created a whole list of craft-based things that need doing for the wedding for times when I can feel my overthinking brain starting to kick in.

Exercise. My running shoes are looking sadly neglected and I have a wedding dress to buy. I have created a fitness plan for the next few weeks, which I am going to force myself to stick to.

Breathe. It’s something that I use to control moments of anxiety, but not something that I regularly use to control times where I get lost in thought.

Stop making assumptions about how others think and feel. We’re all different and to my knowledge nobody actually has proven mind-reading capabilities. Remember and accept that just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean that others will.

Shut. Up. Accompanying my overthinking is the urge to talk repeatedly in a desperate attempt to share how I feel. Trust me, this doesn’t help. Yes, talk about something once should you see fit, but then leave it and don’t bring it up again.

Write. Write your thoughts down in a journal until it is out of your system, then out it down and walk away.

Avoid focusing on fairness and the idea of winning. Life isn’t fair. People aren’t fair. Accept that others will have a differing opinion and never try and point score, even if you find things being thrown back at you.

Get rid of the assumption that you’re entitled to have support and someone on your side. You aren’t. Removing the need for validation from others may stop the overthinking process after moments of confrontation or sadness.

Put things into perspective. Is the issue really that important? Will it matter in a week’s time? Or in a month? What about in a year?

Stop thinking about the potential, or dwell on the past, particularly if it is negative. Try and remain in the present – what are you doing at this moment in time?

Try and remain rational and avoid an all-or-nothing approach. This is my BIGGEST issue when it comes to overthinking – instead of taking a singular situation for what it is, I am often inclined to look at it in terms of either/or or black and white. Someone said something seemingly derogatory on a night out? The whole evening was ruined. Someone told me that I had hurt their feelings during a particular situation? They hate me. Take a step back, take ownership of your behaviour, apologise and move on.

What about you guys? Do you overthink things?

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144 thoughts on “The Problem with Overthinking

  1. Excellent Post. I thought i was the only one that does this. I over think everything. I over to the point I have not started any of the businesses that I have a passion for. I am too busy thinking about what ifs, or I need to make sure everything is perfect so I don’t get sued. If I am on a call with an angry customer at work, I get upset and constantly think about the callers feeling and what the next call will be like, what I could do to prevent the caller from making me shut down and not provide excellent service. I am saving this post. Thanks.

  2. Yup!! I’m an over thinker too. Sometimes I feel I just worry too much and create a problem which wasn’t there in the first place. Yup, it all happens in my mind.
    I try to distract myself as much as I can to avoid overthinking

  3. It is challenging to stop the destructive overthinking and especially when your man is the opposite! Sometimes though, I embrace the overthinking (it has been with me from a really young age and has done its fair share of damage…) because I genuinely feel it makes me more intelligent, more astute, observant and little more protected. Granted I am accused of:
    -being too sensitive
    -being touchy (Oh, yes -looooooooove that one)
    – analysing unnecessarily
    I could go on! But I find I can balance it now- less so in my 20s- but my 30s are turning out to be a lot more self aware and accepting.
    So….in short (bit late now) I totally agree with you BUT this particular trait can be Constructive if honed appropriately.
    Great post šŸ˜Š
    (All the best for your wedding! )

    • Thanks so much! I am often accused of being over-sensitive about things – I’ve learned not to talk about something that bothers me too much and this generally stops the accusations…

      • It’s a tough one isn’t – we begin to censor and edit ourselves because we can’t be bothered to hear the same comments over and over again. But like I said, your overthinking is something to be embraced, too as it is a deep – rooted part of who you are; after all we are basically the amalgam of our thoughts personified.
        You’re welcome – I’m enjoying your posts šŸ˜Š

  4. I’m a chronic overthinker. I think my blog has proved a useful outlet. I also like to try and lose myself in reading a good book. I’m learning that I have a tendency to try and think and think about something to be able to ‘solve’ it when sometimes it’s something that I can’t solve and need to let go. I find this difficult but recognising it is a step forward.

  5. Oh boy, can I relate. I can work myself into such a pit that I even rehearse what I’m going to say to the person the next time I see them And it is NEVER what I perceive! Good advice – swimming will often relieve the thoughts.

  6. A great issue to address, Suzie..especially for writers, who by their very existence are often serious over-thinkers. I am trying to take action. Instead of talking about it, just get out there and do it. Get on with it.
    Two weeks ago, we had a big jolt to our family when our beloved family dog, Bilbo, passed away. My kids didn’t remember a time when he wasn’t with us and so losing him was always going to be monumental, especially with my health problems over the years. Hence, I bought the next dog 2 years ago to bridge that gap. After he died, we were obviously devastated. However, my daughter also started extrapolating from from that and was rather distraught thinking about my parents passing away, then my brother (he smokes) and then went onto the other dog. By the time she went to sleep, it was 1.15am…a very late night for an 11 year old.
    She was doing what is considered a sign of intelligence…applying knowledge learned in one area to another, which might be good at school, is a nightmare when it comes to grief, stress and worry. Far better to shut those processes down. Not to make those connections.
    I was seriously wondering whether the circuit was ever going to stop. We do practice deep breathing and thinking about our happy place. She also wanted to see photos of Bilbo and we read a few of my blog posts about him and she liked that. I went and printed off some photos of him the next day. She also aquired the fur I’d kept and that’s meant a lot to her too.
    So, for a grief situation, I’d say that for us all those rituals you do, were important and continue to get us through..sharing the memories, looking at photos and knowing that the place they occupied in our life was sacred.
    xx Rowena

    • Thanks very much Rowena! That’s the sort of thing that I mean – taking something and making a mountain out of a molehill… Thanks so much for your insights!

      • You’re welcome, Suzie. I find it much easier to see this mountain building process in other people, than myself. I usually feel perfectly justified until someone else comes along and rudely deflates it all.
        BTW I am currently exploring fidget toys as a means of destressing. I managed to get a few today through our National Disability Insurance Scheme and they were quite interesting. One of them, however, was this bright pink rubbery caterpillar covered in spikes and it ended up flying across the room, being tied in knots and I will soon be staring in a home movie. I think it’s actually overstimulated me instead!

      • Hahaha! Fidget spinners have been the latest fad over here and have been banned from lots of schools. I have never seen anyone use one – I don’t actually know how they work!

  7. Oh lord, I could have written this (albeit as eloquently). I have a GAD and while medication has helped somewhat, I am the WORST for over-thinking and analysing every situation. Like you said, I then tend to verbalise my thoughts but I end up completely over doing it. I am really, really sensitive so I often perceive insults that just haven’t been made.
    This is all very good advice and I’ll try to take it on board. One day at a time!

  8. Yes I do this and it’s really been causing problems for me lately. My daughter and her friend were going on a trail ride with a friend’s horses. I said, “what if….” and my friend immediately said, “Stop with the what ifs”. It snapped me out of it right away and I appreciated that. Otherwise, my brain would have been thinking about all the bad things that could happen the whole time they were gone.

  9. Some great points, but don’t neglect the running, that will help you focus more than you realise!

  10. Oh my gosh! I’m an overthinker, too! I tell people that I’m trying to solve the problem when I start overthinking. Thankfully, my writing has helped me so much with this. It has been an awesome way for me to use my energy in a more positive way. A lot of times when I fall into overthinking it’s because the problem isn’t really mine, it’s the other person’s and I can’t do anything about it. šŸ™‚

  11. Those are all excellent points. I disagree, in part, with the one about shutting up. For some of us just telling someone else gets it out of our heads. It doesn’t even matter who you tell, although that would depend on the situation. If you’re someone who has to keep on about it, though, shutting up is good advice. Especially if you’re going on about it to the same person.

  12. Overthinking, haha too much of that. I would try out your advice to stop overthinking, it seemed to work. Loving the style of your blog, and the diversity of your blog, covering from many aspects. Hope to see more from you. Have hope, write on!

  13. I’m a Modern Philosopher. It’s all about generating the Deep Thoughts. But I do distract myself with running, writing, and other fun activities to give my big brain a much needed rest. šŸ™‚

  14. I can relate to this. But i think over-thinking is a boon as well as a curse. There are certain times, thinking helps me sort my tangled thoughts. I have even written a poem on my blog on over-thinking.

  15. Pingback: The Problem with Overthinking ā€” Suzie Speaks Visits The Progressive Pugilists! – The Progressive Pugilist with D.V.H. Esquire

  16. I could have written this myself, not so long ago… Today I feel much better pretty much by putting most of the tools you described into action! (and which I too discovered and they proved to be working!)

  17. You have articulated very well the repercussions of overthinking! I’m not that bad anymore (since I’ve finished working) and I can see it in others. It really does get the better of you and I’ve experienced the ‘loop’ thinking and accompanying anxiety. I like running and keeping busy, the distractions you mention are great examples. At least you’re aware of it and can hopefully keep it in check – good luck!

  18. Must admit to being guilty of doing exactly the same thing! Quite a relief to find someone who overthinks almost exactly in the same way I do!

    Your solutions are ones that I’ve also used to counter any negative effect and yes, they work.

    But I think it’s just something that a certain type of person does! If it is, then it’s best done when you’re alone, so as you can avoid saying the wrong thing in company! The good thing is things usually turn out to be not as bad as I think they are!

  19. ” Take a step back, take ownership of your behaviour, apologise and move on.” – I wish more people did that. And then the world would be a greater and peaceful place. And happier.

  20. Very honest post and you seem to have climbed inside my head and written about me ha. *waves* queen of overthinking here. The amount of arguements I’ve had in my head whilst in the shower is ridiculous. You’re right I think distraction is key here and definitely writing about it. Getting it out of one’s system. I think I’m going to try singing in the shower more & having imaginary tense conversations less ha.

  21. I relate to all of this. I am such an overtthinker I literally overthink myself into loops where I’m like “Maybe I did or said something I’m unaware of” which is kind of possible as alongside being an overthinker I can also be scatty and not detail oriented (pretty sure it’s a INFP/Meyers Briggs thing if you buy into that stuff!), which can often feel like I’m in a constant cycle of self defeating, shoot myself in the foot-isms. Your advice is all very sound. I completely agree stilling our minds is the only way, because writing out my stress only ends in 5000 words about nothing of any importance at all! For some reason last week I was stuck on a couple of things that friends had said to me, about someone else’s perception of something that had happened a million years ago being completely different to mine, which is 100% of no relevance or importance to my present life.But it was stuck in my head, months after the fact – how could this person think that? What are they trying to prove etc. Utterly pointless and a road to nowhere.Trying to figure out other people’s motives can be such a time waster. But I do have the “set the world to rights” nature in me, it’s a pain. I am trying to exercise more and even started trying guided meditation, I hope someday I will be zen and not easily riled! šŸ˜‰

    • I can totally relate… I haven’t read much about Meyers Briggs but some of my friends are really into it. Perhaps it’s something I need to look at more…

  22. But seriously folks, as a kid I use ta worry bout even going to the loo, cause people would know. At school I’d hold it til the hall was empty of students, which made me too often late for class. Until, until… one day the truth dawned on me… NObody is perfect…

  23. I can relate to overthinking. Your points on exercise, stopping assumptions about how others are thinking and feeling, and letting go of attachments or feeling entitled to a a particular outcome or support particularly resonated with me. These are simple things, but sometimes we need the reminder to stop our thought-trains and get back on track. (Oh! I just realized that’s a pun. Let’s just say I meant to do that.) šŸ™‚

  24. I used to get stuck in a loop of something bad that happened. Usually, I didn’t speak up or spoke up with the wrong words. Now, if I catch myself, I stop by concentrating on a book or blog idea. We can only think of one thing at a time!
    Loved this post, Suzie!

  25. I started drafting a poem the other day where the first line was. ‘I’ve already put more thought into your next sentence than you have’.
    I’m a terrible one for overthinking, eacepically when it comes to what other people say or think about me. The effort required to stop myself going down the rabbit hole or what someone might really mean by something can be exhausting but not catching myself is so much worse.

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  27. These are some great ideas! I tend to overthink when I’m stressed. Sometimes, I have to set aside a specific time to just sit and think until I’m over it…kind of like writing it out. It helps me set aside the thoughts when I need to focus on something else.

  28. Hi Suzie,
    I’m super guilty of overthinking all the time! These tips are great. I personally just try to recognize when I’m about to enter an ‘overthinking’ phase and try to distract myself with doing anything possible. Great post!

  29. I was a classic overthinker, but I think I’m in recovery! I’ve really gotten to the point where I’ve stopped assuming what people are thinking, because honestly you cannot control what other people think. I used to think I could change their minds, but it never works. My life is much calmer!!

  30. Overthinking. That is also part of self-sabotage. At some point, we need to stop thinking and start doing. Yes, easier said than done, but true none the less. Action gets us out of our head.

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