Overthinking: How Much Is Too Much?
Overthinking has the potential to ruin you, but when do you know that it’s overthinking? Thinking too much can definitely have its downsides, and when you’re spiralling into overthinking tendencies, here’s what a psychologist has to say.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky in 1864 wrote, ’To think too much is a disease.’ Overthinking has long been known to be destructive, but what is it really? According to a 2003 Michigan University study, a whopping 73 per cent of 25 to 33-year-olds overthink.
Sometimes, regardless of whether it’s a small or big situation, you may circle around the same thought for hours. While it can be normal to dwell on some topics longer than others, it also has the potential to become an unhealthy habit. If you ‘think’ you might be an overthinker, here is what you should know:
What Is Overthinking?
According to Dr. Shreya Chakravarty, a psychologist at Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad, “overthinking involves excessive, repetitive, and unproductive thoughts habitually about specific events that lead to emotional distress”. It is also known as rumination, brooding, and excessive worry. Many people also say that overthinking kills your happiness over time.
While we all typically worry about specific situations and decisions sometimes, it is only when our normal thinking becomes a habit of overthinking that it becomes a problem. When your thinking tendencies interfere with general functioning and activities, and when it stops you from taking action to resolve the problem, then it’s an overthinking disorder.
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Overthinking can fall into two types: dwelling and brooding upon the past or worrying about the future.
How Do I Know When I’m Overthinking?
Many of those who struggle with overthinking tendencies will not think that their overthinking is anything out of the blue. It is a habit that they have normalised and believe that everyone else does too. Overthinking patterns that repeat themselves, according to Dr. Shreya, are these:
- Repeatedly thinking about an incident or problem without looking for a solution
- Repetitive thoughts that disturb normal functioning, mood, sleep, and appetite
- Struggle in controlling thoughts
- Difficulty in making concrete decisions
- Second-guessing and thinking about decisions
- Constantly expecting the worst to happen
- Unable to let go of things
- Engaging in ‘What-if’ scenarios
Overthinking can be a way for individuals to feel like they have control of a situation, even when they don’t. While it should make them feel more confident about their decisions, it can lead to them spiralling and second-guessing any choice they make. Attempting to predict what will happen or coming up with various situations only tends to increase anxiety and overwhelm you in no time.
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While no one person is the same, specific triggers can cause people to spiral and begin overthinking. For those who have been overthinkers for a long time, every situation or action can make them overthink, but here are some triggers Dr. Shreya says you should watch out for:
- Stress and anxiety
- Any past trauma
- Perfectionist or obsessive tendencies
- Low self-esteem
- Tendency to avoid conflict
- Childhood learning
How Overthinking Changes Your Life
While overthinking is not recognised as a mental disorder right now, it has been associated in conjunction with other mental health disorders. A 2013 American National Library of Medicine study found depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders (including generalised anxiety disorder), and post-traumatic stress disorder are commonly linked to rumination (overthinking).
Long-term overthinking can lead to several changes in your life. According to Dr. Shreya, overthinking can lead to:
- Constant anxiousness
- Disruption in daily routine
- Affects mood and temperament
- Sleep disturbances
- Causes changes in interpersonal relationships
- Leads to headaches, migraines, digestive problems
- Blood pressure changes
- Fosters self-doubts and affects self-confidence
- Affects creative thinking and problem-solving skills
Tips To Get Out Of A Spiral
If you have recognised signs of overthinking in yourself, it’s time to do something about it. When you’re wondering how to overcome overthinking, Dr. Shreya says that it’s important to understand your thinking patterns and identify what triggers you. It can also be useful to stop fighting or distracting yourself away from your thoughts. Journalling can help you put things into perspective and make them coherent. Practicing mindfulness can also help gain clarity on the situation. If nothing works, getting expert help can aid you in learning the right thinking patterns.
According to Arjun Verma, certified AcroYoga teacher and CBT practitioner, the STOPP strategy is ideal to get out of an overthinking spiral. The moment you notice that your mind is becoming triggered, you need to tell yourself, ‘STOP.’ It will help you take control of your thoughts regardless of what’s triggered you. Taking a deep breath and practicing your breathing techniques can also help you gain control over your excessive thinking.
Enjoy Your Life Without Destructive Thought Patterns
‘’I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it’’ was said by American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, and it has a ring of truth to it. Overthinking can cause destructive thought patterns and prevent you from being happy in your daily life. Even mundane situations have the potential to be something much more when you think more than you should.
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Recognise the warning signs and get yourself out of a spiral when you feel yourself slipping. You are entitled to enjoy and live life in the present without constant overthinking struggles.