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Whether lying awake in bed at night, going over various scenarios, or being paralyzed by indecision at work, overthinking can become a significant problem. Not everyone who overthinks is anxious, but overthinking and anxiety often set up a vicious cycle where anxiety causes overthinking, which in turn exacerbates anxiety, leading to even more overthinking.

What is Overthinking?

Overthinking is the process of excessively analyzing or dwelling on a particular situation, problem, or set of thoughts. It often involves repetitive and unproductive rumination, where an individual gets stuck in a loop of worry and doubt without reaching a constructive conclusion.

Examples of Overthinking:

  • Worrying that you said something foolish and replaying the situation repeatedly.
  • Before making a decision, imagining every possible outcome, especially the negative ones.
  • Regretting and second-guessing past decisions, thinking, “If only I had chosen the other option, things would be better” (despite not knowing this for certain).

Overthinking goes beyond normal, healthy contemplation and leads to unhealthy levels of anxiety and stress. It is an attempt to keep you safe, but by making you feel unable to take action, it can do the opposite by causing you to stay in a bad situation or avoid taking necessary action.

Why do we Overthink?

There is no simple explanantion but in my experience our brain’s survival mechanism and lack of confidence play a huge role.

Biology

Our brain has a significant biological drive to stay alive, prioritizing survival over happiness and relaxation.  I often explain this as “Your brain’s job is not to make you feel happy – it’s to keep you alive”.  The amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for monitoring threats, can be more active in some people due to trauma or genetics. While it’s essential to have awareness of threats or danger if your amygdala is overactive you can be in a constant state of red alert looking out for the next danger where there is none.

Low Self-Esteem

People with low self-esteem are more likely to doubt their abilities and skills, leading to less confidence in handling situations.  The less confident you feel that you will be able to cope if things don’t go according to plan, the more likely you are to get stuck in an overthinking loop.

How to know if Overthinking is getting out of control

While everyone thinks a lot sometimes, especially regarding significant decisions like moving house or changing jobs, there are signs that overthinking might be a problem:

  • Sleeplessness: Not being able to sleep at night due to worrying about a situation.
  • Difficulty Making Decisions: Even “small” decisions feel overwhelming.
  • Overconcerned with Others’ Opinions: Excessive worry about what others think of you.
  • Regretting Past Decisions: Spending a lot of time overthinking past mistakes, which worsens low self-esteem and anxiety.

If you recognize yourself in these descriptions, don’t panic. Overthinking is common, and you are not alone. As a past overthinker, I understand how it feels, and I have helped many people regain control over it.

Woman lying in bed looking worried

Self-help for Overthinking

1. RAIN Meditation: RAIN meditation is a form of mindfulness that can help ground you in the present moment and break the cycle of overthinking. [Here’s a link to a guided RAIN meditation to try out!]

2. Timed Worry Sessions: By setting a timer for 5 minutes and jotting down your worries, you’re giving yourself permission to worry within a set time. This technique has proven to be effective in breaking the cycle of overthinking, so trust in its process.

3. Dance: Close the curtains, play music, and dance. This is another form of mindfulness that brings you into the present moment. Exercise and enjoyment can boost neurotransmitters in the brain that make you feel good.

4. Grounding Techniques: When you notice overthinking becoming overwhelming, say to yourself, “I am safe.” Feel your feet firmly on the ground and hug yourself—anything to soothe and calm you in the present moment.

 

Remember, this is your personal journey of self-discovery. The key is to experiment and find what techniques work best for you. Everyone is unique, so what may be beneficial for one person might not be as effective for you.  That’s perfectly fine – just keep trying until you discover something that truly helps you manage your overthinking.

Conclusion

Overthinking can trap you in a cycle of anxiety and indecision, but there are effective strategies to break free. By practicing mindfulness, setting boundaries for worry, engaging in physical activity, and using grounding techniques, you can regain control and reduce the impact of overthinking on your life. Remember, you are not alone in this; help is available to guide you towards a more peaceful mind.

If you would like further support in managing your anxiety check out some of my other blogs with practical tips for managing anxiety, or click the book now button below to schedule a session.

Sessions are available face to face in Chester or the Wirral or online

For more information please contact me