January 26, 2022

Overthinking Everything? Therapist’s Guide to Stop

Written by Clara Jennison

Overthinking young woman holding head sitting in chair

Something happened.

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.

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, different types, what causes it, 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

Table of Contents

  • Intro
  • What is Overthinking?
  • What Causes Overthinking?
  • Overthinking vs. Perfectionism – Side by Side Comparison
  • Overthinking, Perfectionism & How it All Hurts
    • Ways Overthinking Hurts You
    • Ways Perfectionism Hurts You
  • When You Never Feel Good Enough – Who Decides?
  • Five tips if you never feel good enough
  • Five tips to stop overthinking everything
  • Getting Help

Overthinking young woman looking at phone worried

 

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 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.

 

What causes perfectionism?

What Causes Perfectionism?

1. Dysfunctional Beliefs

Dysfunctional beliefs such as shoulds/musts, black and white thinking, rigid or irrational beliefs, and cognitive distortions can lead to perfectionism.

Black and white thinking assumes that things are all good or all bad. Perfect or imperfect.

Since perfect is unattainable, this sets one up for a perpetual feeling of inadequacy. For example, you might feel that no matter what happens in your life, you need to fire on all cylinders at all times.

You can’t slow down, or else the world will stop turning. If you ever even think about moving at 105 rather than 110, you have failed, and that’s just not true.

 

2. Lack of Information About the Self

Not knowing who you are or needing validation from others to feel worthwhile can make it impossible to have a healthy relationship with yourself or others.

You might also be unfamiliar with what triggers these feelings or the underlying issues. Perhaps you didn’t do well in school because you had a hard time reading, but the whole experience left you feeling inadequate or even stupid.

And now, when your intelligence is brought into question, you are triggered and feel the need to kick it into the next gear and prove to everyone how capable you are.

 

3. Fear of Failure and Rejection

An irrational fear that one will be rejected if they aren’t perfect can lead to perfectionistic tendencies or avoidance.

Perhaps your parents demanded perfection, even in moments where it was impossible. They made you feel less than for the most trivial of things.

Now, you have an intense fear of rejection or failure that makes you avoid any tasks that challenge you.

 

4. Fear of Success.

The idea of success can feel like a heavy burden. If one is successful, it can mean a lot of work to maintain and keep up. Perfectionism can contribute to the belief that success will be held at all costs.

You might hate what you are doing, but at least you have been successful, right? But is that really success?

 

 

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.

5 Reasons Perfectionism Prevents Success:

Professionals overwhelmingly agree that perfectionism can lead to anxiety and depression, especially if you are predisposed to those disorders.

Yes, ambition and drive can be excellent characteristics; however, if the most consistent measure of your value is whether or not you succeed at everything you do, perfectionism—not failure—could be the culprit behind your blues.

Despite what you think, perfectionism can prevent success rather than lead to achievement.

Perfectionism can be maladaptive and lead to indecision, avoidance, and procrastination. It can create a cycle of anxiety, avoidance, and self-doubt.

The costs of perfectionism could include being paralyzed with fear and an inability to work towards one’s goals. When you set high standards for yourself, they may become impossible to achieve. This can lead to a lack of motivation and giving up before starting.

The ideal you strive for can never be reached, leading to depression, guilt, and shame.

 

1. Perfectionism distorts self-worth.

Perfectionism props up the dangerous myth that you need to jump over endless hurdles before you can feel good about yourself. Rather than doing something simply for enjoyment, you might start to seek out activities solely for the validation they provide.

Perfectionism prevents success and leads to indecision. Perfectionism also tells you that you need to hear from others that you have value before you believe it yourself.

 

2. Perfectionism motivates you with fear.

When you’re wholly invested in outcomes, anticipation, and fear become driving forces. You become nervous and agitated. You might feel consumed by thoughts of what will happen if a presentation doesn’t go well.

Perhaps you take on too much responsibility for yourself to ensure that nothing goes wrong. When fear is a steady hand on your back, pressing you constantly forward, you can become so focused on not making any missteps that you miss out on what’s happening around you.

 

3. Perfectionism leads to avoidance.

Surprisingly, bringing a perfectionist attitude to every situation can lead you to neglect your work and responsibilities. Chasing achievements entirely for the approval of others can be frightening. Maybe you’ve learned to avoid completing projects to stave off failure and rejection.

Maybe you’re so scared of failing that you can’t commit to a particular approach. A fear of making mistakes often carries over into your relationships, leading you to break off relationships before anything can go wrong.

 

4. Perfectionism emphasizes the negative.

Perfectionism generally functions by constantly scanning your horizon for gaps and hurdles. Rather than focusing on all the time and work you put into a project, you see what could be better.

Perfectionism’s eternal scanner doesn’t turn off even when you’ve done a good job—you still see how it could have gone differently, weighing the outcomes of each scenario that didn’t happen.

 

5. Perfectionism burns you out.

It makes sense that if fear, avoidance, and low self-confidence eat at your dinner table, sleep in your bed, and follow you to work every day, you’re probably feeling pretty tired. You might even feel guilty and ashamed.

You can’t seem to turn your bad thoughts off. Rather than focusing on what’s going right, you feel weighed down by what isn’t happening. You’re no longer present.

 

woman obsessively cutting grass with shears

Perfectionism Also Leads to Low Self-Esteem

It can result in the ability to feel satisfaction for one’s efforts because things may never be perceived as good enough. Perfectionism prevents success vs. leading to excellence.

Due to not feeling good enough, perfectionists can be dependent on the validation of others to boost their self-esteem. The trouble with this is that it is temporary.

You have to work extra hard to get the self-esteem boost, and then feelings of inadequacy return just as quickly. This perpetuates low self-esteem.

People who pursue excellence in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in working to meet high standards. Alternatively, people motivated for perfection may be driven by self-doubt and fears of disapproval, ridicule, and rejection.

The high producer has drive, while the perfectionist is driven.

Over time, this can become a trap. Lack of satisfaction, decision-making struggles, and an endless pursuit of trying harder can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of depression.

 

 

Who Decides What is “Good Enough”?

Both overthinking and perfectionism make you question if anything is ever good enough, especially you. But who actually decides?

In these low moments, it’s not you. Instead, it’s everyone else, like your:

  • Parents and Siblings
  • Teachers and Coaches
  • Friends
  • Romantic Partners
  • Bosses and Co-Workers

Then, of course, there’s the Internet. Is there any more pervasive factor for our collective self-esteem…or lack thereof? The smartphone in our pocket is a 24/7 pull toward validation.

Our quest for likes, shares, and reactions has warped our inner compass. By social media standards, nothing is ever good enough. (Perfectionism + Overthinking) x Social Media = A Very Dangerous Mindset

 

So, What’s The Alternative?

Overthinking and perfectionism are so closely related because they both feed on feelings of inadequacy.

This means that if you’re trapped in an emotional cycle that requires regular confidence boosts from successes at work or at home, getting off that hamster wheel can be really difficult.

You can take small steps to a happier you by practicing—practice authenticity, practice self-compassion, and practice enjoying rather than racing through your day.

It is most helpful if you take some time to observe your own perfectionist patterns. Once you have accomplished that, choose a few of the strategies outlined here.

Keep working at it until you understand what you need to do to accept your imperfections and humanness.

 

 

5 Things to Do if You Never Feel “Good Enough”

No matter who started this pattern, it’s your job to fix it. So, here are a few ways to undo these patterns and move you closer to feeling like the person you actually are.

 

1. Practice Gratitude

Instead of waiting for fulfillment, we can and must appreciate the present. Practicing gratitude for what’s “good” now is a realistic option for those seeking inner peace.

The desire for future validation (or, at least, avoidance of embarrassment) takes us away from the joys we are living right here and now. Gratitude teaches us new, fluid definitions of success.

It also teaches us to see ourselves for the incredible, resourceful and accomplished people we are. You have made it to this moment, and that is something to be grateful for.

 

2. Take Regular Tech Breaks

The research is in. Our tech obsessions are impacting our mental health in an ugly way.

Yes, certainly, there are myriad positives connected to such devices. However, as we all know, there’s far more to life than the perfect selfie.

Turn off your phone—power down your laptop. Bask in the glow of face-to-face interactions.

Recharge in the warmth of some solitary daydreaming.

 

3. Define What Matters to You

No one can ever be good enough at everything. If there is a secret formula for self-esteem, it’s all about following your bliss. Discover what lights you up and aim your focus there.

Where you focus goes, your energy will flow. Don’t let anyone else define what matters to you.

Make that choice for yourself, stay open to personal evolution, set boundaries with others, and take pride in the victories you experience on your chosen path.

 

man plugging ears

4. Revel in Diversity

When your sink is clogged, you call a plumbing expert. Life is richer — and far more efficient — when we each pursue our own passions. This results in us becoming “good enough” at what matters to us.

For everything else, we can happily reach out to whoever chose that life path. You don’t have to be great at everything.

 

5. Learn to Laugh at Yourself

Best of all, enjoy the process. Grasp every opportunity to laugh — especially if you choose to have a chuckle at your own expense.

Pride goes before the fall, right? So, the more elastic this concept becomes, the better you will feel.

 

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

 

Free Yourself From Overthinking & Perfectionism

Removing your mind from the clutches of overthinking is a process; the same goes for perfectionism. At the core of each of these thought patterns is a lack of self-esteem and an abundance of self-doubt.

So, all of our tips will revolve around fortifying your internal valuation system and belief in yourself.

 

Create a Support Network for Yourself

Develop relationships with people who aren’t perfectionists, who specialize in the beauty of failure. Encourage your support network to not be rigid or moralistic in their attempts to keep you on an honest course.

Look for people who forgive and forget when mistakes, failures, offenses, or backsliding occur. Ask them to tell you when they think you are being rigid, unrealistic, or idealistic in your behavior.

Ask them to give you positive reinforcement for any positive change, no matter how small. Seek out people who have a sincere interest in your personal growth.

Spend time with people who will gently let you know that you are being a bit obsessive or overthinking something more than it’s worth.

 

Create a Support Network friends sitting around table

 

Do Some Self-Exploration

It’s a lot harder to question everything all the time when you feel good about who you are and what decision you made. Knowing that you are a palm tree, bending and adjusting as the storm rages around you, will get you through situations with your mental health and well-being firmly intact.

Overthinking thrives on doubt, so does perfectionism. Learn who you are using the following questions in your journal, make some notes here, or discuss them with a trusted friend or professional counselor:

  1. Where do you see perfectionist behavior in your life?
  2. How do these behaviors create problems for you?
  3. What perfectionist beliefs do you have?
  4. How do you think these beliefs will affect your ability to change your behavior?
  5. What do you need to do for your beliefs to become less perfectionistic and more relaxed and compassionate?
  6. How can you use your support system to help yourself manage perfectionistic beliefs?

 

Identify Alternative Behaviors

Make a list of specific perfectionist behaviors that you want to change. For each one, think of something specific you could do instead. For example:

  • Perfectionist behavior: I expect my teenage daughter to pick up the clothes off her floor and make her bed every day.
  • Alternative behavior: I can expect my daughter to clean her room every Saturday, and I will close her door every other day.

Another example:

  • Perfectionist Behavior: I need to work out seven days a week. Anything less is a failure.
  • Alternative Behavior: I can be gentle with myself if my schedule only allows me to get to the gym 4-5 days a week. I have a lot going on right now.

 

Lower Your Expectations

It is very important to understand that it is unrealistic to expect to change your behavior (or someone else’s) immediately or completely.

Good habits take time to develop, and Rome was not built in a day. If you can’t flip a magical switch and change your whole life to be more like that thing you saw, it’s okay.

Respect the space between gradual change and unrealistic expectations.

List the Advantages and Disadvantages of Being Perfect

You may find that perfection is too costly. Perhaps you will discover that relationship problems, endless working, and other compulsive behaviors (eating disorders and substance abuse problems) are too great a price for the results you gain from your perfectionist way of being.

And for overthinking, you might notice the loss of time, energy, and mental space for things that really matter in your life.

 

Pay Attention to Your Behavior and Attitudes

When you overthink something, you feel it. Make a note of those feelings when they come.

In the beginning, just observe yourself. Keep a log if it helps you see your behavior more clearly. You don’t have to make any changes until you have a good idea of your specific behaviors and thoughts.

 

Try Some New Thoughts and Behaviors

Begin to substitute the alternative behaviors. If possible, ask someone from your support network for feedback. Observe your feelings and thoughts as you try new things.

Try something that simply feels better when you fall into those old, costly habits. If you notice you are being too hard on yourself, what do you want to do, and how is it different from what those feelings call you to do?

 

Review Your Goals and Make Sure They Are Realistic

By having achievable, realistic goals, you will gradually see that less-than-perfect results are not as disastrous as you thought they would be.

 

Set Strict Time Limits for Your Projects

When the time is up, move on to another task or take a break.

Make Friends with Criticism

Many perfectionists take criticism personally and respond defensively. If someone criticizes you when you make a mistake, the easiest thing to do is to simply admit it.

Remind yourself that you are human, meaning you will sometimes make mistakes. The people who never make mistakes are no longer learning or growing.

Learn to re-frame criticism and see it as information you can learn from.

When you let go of the fantasy that humans must be perfect or know everything to have value in this world, you are less likely to feel angry or embarrassed when you make a mistake. You will see that criticism is information that you can learn from, and you will no longer need to avoid it.

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. To get started now, give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

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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