Why do I overthink everything? How can I enjoy life more and be in a state of flow? How is overthinking stopping me from living the life I wish to live? Going gung ho and rushing into things is not always a wise idea. It is important that in certain situations we let our hair down and spontaneity can be our best friend, but we also at times need to pause and be more thoughtful too. Overthinking however can lead to in action which prevents us from feeling positive emotions arising and moving towards our goals. Overthinking in a relationship; romantic, work and socially can cause an inward focus and numb our awareness of our surroundings. We will learn how to break the cycle of overthinking, how to believe in ourselves more and how to live a healthier life.
“All emotional intelligence begins with awareness. When we fail to notice what we’re feeling, our responses to that feeling will be habitual and automatic. But when we identify our emotions, we can consciously choose to act on them in healthy and intelligent ways.”Jessica Moore
Why do I overthink everything?
According to David A. Clark. Ph.D;
“Overthinking is a problem for another type of thinking that I discussed in a previous post: negative intrusive thoughts. When we pay too much attention to such thoughts, overanalyze their meaning, and try too hard to control them, we can slip into unhealthy forms of thought, like worry, rumination, obsession, and the like. And when we overanalyze negative, intrusive thoughts, we can end up anxious, depressed, frustrated, and guilt-ridden.”
Overthinking can be caused by an external stressor such as a work deadline. Overthinking can be caused by a tendency to overanalyze a negative such as a negative thought about ourselves or a given situation. This can often be linked to how we view ourselves and our levels of self-acceptance. If we were to go on a first date we may overthink elements of that date and ‘how we were’ during such an interaction. The key focus here is our appraisal of a situation and following on from this is our ability to stop negative thinking patterns in their tracks. If something happens to us we may perceive this as very negative such as not getting a job role during an interview. This appraisal may then result in us ruminating and obsessing on what we did wrong. This may be further impounded by being highly critical of ourselves and self-doubt creeping in.
These patterns of thinking are very normal and we all have negative thoughts and self-doubt at times in our lives. We do not however want to train our minds to continuously fall into negative thinking patterns. We will learn how to get over something that has hurt us so that we do not overthink and we will learn shortly how to break the cycle.
The relationship between overthinking and anxiety
The American Psychological Association say that there is a subtle difference between stress and anxiety, Stress is often caused by an external factor and this can cause physical and mental symptoms. This stress could be caused by a project deadline or a family illness. Anxiety is continuous worries that don’t disappear even when the initial stressor has disappeared. For example someone may have an underlying anxiety in social situations but this individual may have a stressful day due to being told they need to give a presentation to their team at work. Once the presentation is over the initial stressor is gone but the continuous anxiety of social conversing may still be there.
Overthinking can become a habit and a viscous cycle. Like any habit this can be trained in a way that has negative effects on us but we can also retrain our minds thinking patterns that have positive effects on us.
Meaningful Paths anxiety worksheets are free to work with anytime you need in addition to an entire tapestry of free materials for you to work with under our resources section. We also have an audio course under our Digital Store called ‘Breaking Bad Habits’ which can help you break free of overthinking and patterns of thinking that maybe causing you negative emotions.
The real dangers of overthinking
According to the American Psychological Associations survey in 2019, nearly half of adults have laid awake at night because of stress following on from a prior month. They go on to further say that a significant proportion of adults also have physical symptoms from stress including headaches, tiredness and changes in sleeping behavior.
Overthinking can cause us many challenges and prevent us from moving forward and being happy in life. These issues can include:
- Challenges with our sleep: By being awake at night and our minds racing we can struggle to find a good sleeping pattern. A further lack of sleep will cause our cognitive functioning to narrow which in turn will cause us to think more negatively, cause more anxiety and curb our potential for positive and creative thinking which may be our way out of this thinking trap, This can also lead to un healthy eating via sugar binging and drinking too much caffeine which in turn will cause even further anxiety.
- On set of depression: Rumination is a strong trigger in causing the onset of depression and anxiety. The further we fall the harder it is to get back up again. Therefore it is imperative that we learn how to stop negative thinking patterns in the early stages. Please see the study on rumination and links to depression and anxiety here – Rumination as a mechanism linking stressful life events to symptoms of depression and anxiety: longitudinal evidence in early adolescents and adults – PubMed (nih.gov).
- Prevention of spontaneity: Many of the most meaningful moments in our lives from an introduction with a future romantic partner, adventure, and going with our gut feeling come from being spontaneous. If we continuously analyse and assess every given situation and be critical of ourselves then we will sadly miss the beauty around us and the potential to shine.
How to stop overthinking?
“Spend eighty percent of your time focusing on the opportunities of tomorrow rather than the problems of yesterday.”Brian Tracey
How do we stop our negative thinking patterns?
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness exercises for anxiety can help us to slow down, pause life and to relax. These exercises can help us to be aware of our thoughts but learn to let them go and not become overly analytical of such thoughts. Create a daily habit with this and ideally a morning and bed time routine to ensure that you start the day and end the day in with a calm mind.
- Stress Interruption: The SOBER stress technique is very helpful for us to stop negative thinking processes; Stop – what you are doing. Observe – the feelings and sensations in your body and mind. Breathe – pay attention to your breathing. Is it deep or shallow? Fast or slow? Expand – your awareness of your body and your environment and surroundings. Respond – with thought and calm rather than being on autopilot.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Many things in our lives are interlinked from our diet, our morning routine, our work, our family, our finances and so on. We now know some techniques for being more aware of our stress triggers and how to become more calm during times of anxiety. It is also important to create a holistically healthy lifestyle. The happier and healthier we are in general the better we handle life’s challenges and recover from difficult situations. Make a list on a piece of paper with the headings ‘nature’, ‘healthy eating’, ‘exercise’, ‘social connections’, and ‘charity.’ Write under each heading how you can spend quality time each week improving these life domains.
- New Hobbies: Start new hobbies with friends and loved ones that get you out of your comfort zone. Start a dancing class, join a hiking club or begin a class in art. The more time you spend in creatively expressing yourself the more you will natural become spontaneous and not overthink.
A conclusion of thoughts
We all overthink at times in our lives and we can all be critical of ourselves after a job interview and become self conscious in many differing social interactions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, we are all human and often hide our worries and woes. Stress and anxiety have very damaging physical and mental health affects on us. Use the SOBER stress technique as your best friend in your back pocket. Practice meditation and mindfulness techniques as often as you can and ideally form a morning and bed time routine which focusses on calm, no negative news and no social media. Organically start new hobbies with close friends and loved ones to push your comfort zone, be more spontaneous and create a sense of adventure.
Thanks for listening.
Wishing you health and well-being.
Positive Psychology Program B.V 2020.