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Signs of Overthinking. How to Curb it?

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

Thinking too much about things isn’t just a nuisance; it can take a serious toll on your well-being.

Thinking about something in endless circles — is exhausting.

While everyone overthinks a few things once in a while, chronic over-thinkers spend most of their waking time ruminating, which puts pressure on themselves. They then mistake that pressure to be stress.

Research finds that dwelling on your shortcomings, mistakes, and problems increases your risk of mental-health problems. And as your mental health declines, your tendency to ruminate increases, leading to a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

Overthinking can take many forms: endlessly deliberating when making a decision (and then questioning the decision), attempting to read minds, trying to predict the future, reading into the smallest of details, etc. If you consistently focus on ruminating and make it a habit, it becomes a loop, And the more you do it, the harder it is to stop.

Research finds that dwelling on your shortcomings, mistakes, and problems increases your risk of mental-health problems. And as your mental health declines, your tendency to ruminate increases, leading to a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

Studies also show that overthinking leads to serious emotional distress. To escape that distress, many over-thinkers resort to unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol or food.

If you’re an over thinker, you likely already know you can’t sleep when your mind won’t shut off. Studies confirm this, finding that rumination and worry lead to fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality.

Signs of Overthinking

If you’re wondering whether overthinking is a problem for you, consider the following questions based on a test developed by David A. Clark Ph.D. :

  • Are you easily aware of what you’re thinking at any given moment?

  • Do you often question why you are having certain thoughts?

  • Do you often look for the deeper meaning or personal significance of your thoughts?

  • When feeling upset, do you often focus on what you are thinking?

  • Do you have a strong need to know or understand how your mind works?

  • Do you feel it’s important to have strict control over your thoughts?

  • Do you have a low tolerance for spontaneous, unwanted thoughts?

  • Are you often in a struggle to control your thoughts?

If you answered yes to many of these questions, it’s possible you have a tendency to overthink. 

There are two dangers to this. If you are overthinking many of the important issues in your life, you can get stuck in indecision, avoidance, and procrastination. If you are thinking about your relationships, health, career, self-identity issues, and the like needs to spend time in thoughtful reflection, but we need to keep in mind too much time in the head can be costly. We all have negative, intrusive thoughts that are best left alone. Spending a lot of time on these particular thoughts can lead to very significant personal distress and problems.

How to Curb Overthinking

If you strongly feel you are overthinking, there are several steps you can take:

  • Know your triggers. Even the most strongly affected over-thinkers don’t do it all the time. Probably there are particular thoughts or issues that are more likely to trigger overthinking. If you’re a worrier, for example, thoughts about the future may be more likely to trigger overthinking. For another person, it may be thinking about their competence or whether they are liked by others. Whatever the case, it’s important to know the “hot topics” that trigger your overthinking.

  • Be aware of overthinking. To reduce overthinking, you need to know when it’s happening. What are the telltale signs that you’re overthinking? Is it when you’re trying to interpret the meaning of an intrusive thought when it probably has no hidden meaning? Is it when you’re trying too hard to control or suppress the thought? Or is it when you become frightened or anxious with the thought? There may be other signs that indicate you’ve slipped into overthinking.

  • Fully embrace its futility. You won’t be able to curb overthinking as long as you believe it has value. Review your past experiences with overthinking and write down how it helped. Did the overthinking result in any meaningful solution or revelation? Were there more positive or negative consequences associated with it?

  • Disengage. When people are “too much in their head,” this signifies over-engagement with unwanted thoughts. The opposite approach is to disengage from the thought. So, the best way to curb overthinking is mindful acceptance in which we observe but don't evaluate our unwanted thoughts. A second approach is focused distraction, in which we shift our attention to another train of thought or activity, without engaging in an attempt to resolve or understand the unwanted thought we’re overthinking.

Overthinking can be harmful to our emotional health, especially when it’s directed at unwanted, spontaneous, negative thoughts, images, or memories. Fortunately, we can learn to curb this unhelpful way of thinking through greater self-awareness and the practice of mental disengagement.

Download the complete guide to stop overthinking and guide you through exercises that have empirically proven to be helpful.

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