January 26, 2022

Overthinking Everything? Therapist’s Guide to Stop

Written by Clara Jennison

Overthinking young woman holding head sitting in chair

Something happened and you need to take action. But you’re stuck.

It could be good, or it could be bad—that almost doesn’t matter. It’s done, and you need to make a move, but you can’t because you are stuck overthinking everything.

A lot of situations pass you by like this. You need to do something, but you don’t know which way to go. Overthinking can lead to indecision.

Sadly, a lot of people today face this problem.

Whether it’s caused by past experiences, perfectionism, or simply thinking you’re not good enough, there is a way forward. These overwhelming feelings don’t need to hold you back anymore.

In this post, we will look at the mechanics of overthinking, what causes overthinking, how perfectionism can add to the picture, and how you can move past it all.

Overthinking Everything? young white woman holding head sitting in chair

 

What is Overthinking?

It’s healthy and productive to ponder one’s behavior and choices.

Overthinking takes this to the point of obsession, where our inner dialogue becomes stuck on one track, and we make catastrophic predictions about our future.

Overthinking is closely related to anxiety, but they are different. Where anxiety is an emotional response, something you feel in the presence of all of these “what ifs,” overthinking is the act of conjuring those “what if” scenarios.

It is the action of overprocessing information regarding a situation that has occurred or is yet to occur.

And like we said, every one of us has moments of intense rumination; they aren’t abnormal, but when we replay prior events — over and over — and we dread some events that may be looming, it takes these feelings to another level.

It feels like these thoughts step right into your mind, and you have no control over them.

Your brain can’t put down that one thing no matter what you are doing or what you are trying to focus on. You can spend hours—even days—thinking about that thing.

Overthinking man holding head a million thoughts coming from head

 

What Causes Overthinking?

The short answer is stress and anxiety. The long answer is a bit more complicated.

If you face a stress-inducing problem, your pursuit of solutions will be more aggressive. Add overthinking to the mix, and it’s like hanging on the edge of a cliff (the problem) and being asked to solve a rubrics cube (overthinking).

On the other hand, anxiety can use overthinking as a tool for rumination, as we mentioned before. But overthinking alone can also be what begins that anxious cycle.

A good metaphor for overthinking is a shovel. A shovel can dig you deeper, but it can also start the digging in the first place.

But then, you can have other factors like self-esteem issues or self-doubt. Overthinking is just another part of that equation if you are constantly questioning or unsure of yourself.

Ultimately, if you are an overthinker, the cause of that behavior is dependent on you, your background, and the way you look at yourself—which means overthinking can also tie to perfectionism.

Overthinking young woman looking at phone worried

Overthinking vs. Perfectionism 

Overthinking has become the norm for more people than ever. All-day long, we are bombarded with news, good news, bad news, and even “fake news.” We have so many things to think about; how can you not get overwhelmed?

And perfectionism is often seen as a parallel to being driven or motivated to achieve. “I know I went overboard—I’m just a bit of a perfectionist.”

Where overthinking is the need to understand all possible causes and results, perfectionism is akin to the feeling that almost anything you do with a situation probably won’t be enough.

They are often intertwined but remain separate issues.

Overthinking everything can lead us in circles, never actually moving forward. Perfectionism can do the same but through action rather than thought.

You follow yourself around adjusting this and that but never completing anything. They fuel each other.

So, if you are dealing with obsessive levels of rumination, you are further handicapped by the need to have whatever you do be perfect. Imagine riding in a car, and your destination is ahead, but you need to know what it was that you just passed, so you turn the car around.

But as you are turning around, you feel the need to do a perfect 3-point turn as if you are taking your driving test. Every attempt at turning around is a failure that you need to redo because it wasn’t good enough, and you can’t stop thinking about what you possibly passed.

Not only is it frustrating to experience, but the worst part is that you feel like you can’t help it. You get into that cycle, and then you get stuck there.

Overthinking, Perfectionism: How They Hurt

By no means should you feel shame about this. Both overthinking and perfectionism are features people often talk about as if they are good things.

We believe they aren’t good or bad.

You found this article and are reading it for a reason, and we are willing to bet that reason is that you have noticed this pattern in yourself. That being said, let’s talk about how these thought patterns can negatively impact your life and relationships.

 

Overthinking young man laying in bed

 

4 Ways Overthinking Hurts:

1. It Can Impact Your Physical and Mental Health

If we cannot stop overthinking, it can have a detrimental impact on our overall health. Dwelling on our (perceived) mistakes and flaws can cause, for example, sleep disruption and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

When we “can’t turn our mind off,” sleep is poor quality or non-existent. As the distraction and stress levels rise, we seek whatever relief we think we see.

This can take the form of overeating, alcohol consumption, gaming, and other potentially additive options.

2. It Causes You to Look for Threats Constantly

You walk into a look, and you don’t see the waiting room at the dentist’s office. You only know that lady is giving you a look you don’t know the meaning of, and you wonder if she will stab you.

And if she does attack you, can you fight her, or are you running?

3. You Need Answers, Like Yesterday

When you are in an overthinking slump, you tend to have many questions. And it would be nice if you could get some answers, but your brain wants all the answers. This one can get messy very quickly.

The issue here is that you will never have all the answers.  Until aliens come with technology that tells the future, you will never be able to know everything about everything you could ever question, and that will drive you crazy.

4. You’re Excessive About Planning

This one is a bit of a spin-off from the last one, but essentially it means that you need events in your life to go a certain way. You might even attempt to control factors that are entirely dependent on chance.

This kind of behavior often results in you feeling deflated by basically everything. It feels like nothing can ever go right for you. You also lose the opportunity to enjoy the way things unfold because it’s not what you put in place.

How to Stop Overthinking, In the Moment

Overthinking is a semi-obsessive rumination of everything coming and everything that has been. If that’s true, how do we move forward and not spread ourselves so thin like this?

It starts by learning to be good enough, building a foundation for things to happen while knowing you will be okay. Then you move to dismantle the pattern.

1. Recognize the Problem

If we feel challenged or even threatened, we may not even recognize how obsessive our thinking has become.

So, when something happens that you feel the need to dissect, ask yourself why, what will this do for you, really?

Journaling might be helpful here. Write down everything you have built up in your mindset it on the page; that way, you have the ability to (eventually) step away from it.

2. Practice Mindfulness

The vast majority of overthinking falls into two categories. We regret the past, and we fear the future. That leaves one time period for us to occupy.

Mindfulness helps you release your grip on the past events that you have no control over, and the future events that you also have no control over. You have only now. The best thing you can do for yourself is be here.

uncertain asian woman with hand on chin

3. Swipe Left

You can scroll away, so to speak, from the thoughts that consume. When a familiar regret demands attention, we can swipe left.

To put it another way, we can change the channel and find another target for our focus. It helps to cultivate hobbies to hold our attention in a positive way.

Physical activities — from sports to joining a gym — can effectively redirect our minds to a productive task and keep us too busy to fall back on fixation. Do something you enjoy that won’t let your mind go elsewhere. Eventually, you’ll feel able to let that thing go.

4. Practice Daily Self-Care

Overthinking creates stress which can, in turn, create compromised health. Practicing daily self-care helps keep us strong to fight off such ill effects. This means, for example:

Examples of Self-Care:

This daily routine is also another way of “changing the channel.”

5. Look For Underlying Issues and Causes

We may feel ashamed of what’s got us fixated. It may even feel trivial. But keep in mind that the topic of overthinking isn’t automatically the underlying concern. More likely, it’s a sign that something needs to be dealt with.

 

Examples of Self-Care

 

 

Where Can We Get More Help to Stop Overthinking?

Let’s return to a line from above: society’s gaze can be relentless. This reality can neutralize many of our efforts to recognize the good in ourselves.

In such cases, it is extremely beneficial to seek help. Working with a therapist is an ideal scenario for a rebuilding perspective.

You’ll learn to identify the behavioral trends that serve as obstacles. In addition, you can become more adept at recognizing your strengths.

This skill will ground you as you assess yourself.

Working with a therapist is a proven path toward unearthing why lies beneath the rumination and worry. We all could use a hand when it comes to identifying patterns that sabotage our own success.

When caught in the throes of overthinking, we may really need a guiding hand.

Next Steps

Weekly counseling sessions serve as a safe space to explore the elements that brought you to where you are right now. We do not develop a skewed self-image alone. Many others play a role.

In turn, we do not recalibrate that self-image alone. Seeking out a professional guide is always a more than “good enough” choice.

At Eddins Counseling Group, we have qualified therapists that can help you learn to speak to yourself compassionately and get the most from life. Call us at 832-559-2622 or book an appointment online.

If you’re ready to take the next step to stop overthinking, contact one of our counselors for help. Our therapists in Houston, TX can help you get started.

Recommended Reading for Overthinkers:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, a leading expert on shame, authenticity, and belonging, shares ten guideposts on the power of Wholehearted living—a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.

Stop Overthinking 23 Techniques to Relieve Stress Stop Negative Spirals Declutter Your Mind and Focus on the Present

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