Overthinking is a problem that many of us have.
It's when you repeatedly analyse something, and it's more common that you might think. It can be hard to stop overthinking when you're worried about something or trying to find a solution to a problem. However, it's important to remember that too much thinking isn't always good. In fact, it often leads to unhappiness and stress.
Many people think that more thinking will lead to better results. However, this isn't always true. Overthinking can have negative effects on your mental health and well-being. In this article, I'll explain various ways in which overthinking can affect your life negatively.
Turns molehills into mountains.
When you overthink, your mind is often going through the process of imagining all the possible ways in which a situation could go wrong and then trying to prepare for each one. However, this process can cause you to focus on the worst-case scenario rather than what’s realistic or likely to happen.
Overthinking also tends to magnify small issues into far bigger problems than they actually are. In fact, it sometimes makes us feel like we have no control over our lives at all. That's because when we start thinking about everything that could potentially go wrong in any given situation and how damaging those outcomes would be, we become fearful and worry about what might happen if things don't go as planned.
Overthinking can also make us feel overwhelmed because it causes us to focus on all the things that could go wrong instead of what we are grateful for or proud of. By taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, you'll see that your fears are often exaggerated and not based on reality.
Tricks you into thinking you're in control.
When things don't go as expected, over-thinkers are quick to blame themselves, believing that they have somehow caused the negative outcome. This is why overthinking often leads to more anxiety and low self-esteem: if something goes wrong, it's because of your thoughts or actions.
Unfortunately, this can have a very real effect on an individual's level of happiness and overall mental health. Overthinking is often a response to feeling powerless. When we feel out of control, we try to regain that sense of control by thinking about every possible outcome and trying to plan for all potential outcomes.
When you overthink, you are constantly looking for ways to explain the world around you. You want to make sense of things, but there is no sense to be made when it comes to random events. Trying to find a reason why something happened or what caused the outcome will only lead to more anxiety and stress.
It's a defence mechanism.
Overthinking can be a defence mechanism, a way of avoiding the fear of failure or rejection. You know what it’s like to overthink things: you become immobilised by your own thoughts and emotions, unable to make decisions because you keep going back and forth on whether or not they are 'right' or 'good enough' for whatever situation you are in.
You might be afraid that if you don’t get it right on your first try then people will think less of you or judge you harshly. Or perhaps there's another reason why you feel like doing it right is so important for the situation. Overthinking is a way of avoiding these uncomfortable feelings. You may be afraid that if you don’t get it right on your first try then people will think less of you or judge you harshly.
Not only can it be a form of self-sabotage, but it’s also a way to avoid pain. Even though avoiding pain can feel very beneficial, it becomes harmful when it enables us to avoid the truth.
Leads to irrational decision making.
Despite our best intentions, overthinking can lead to irrational decision making.
Unsurprisingly, this is a common problem for people who are prone to overthinking. The more we think about something, the more likely it is that we'll make an irrational decision—particularly when the stakes are high or if the decision carries serious consequences.
This is because our brains aren't designed to think rationally when they're overwhelmed with too much information or data at once. Instead, they go into survival mode by defaulting to whatever feels right in that moment.
In fact, overthinking is often a product of our brain's fight-or-flight response kicking in when it perceives a threat to its well-being. This response is designed to help us make quick decisions that will keep us safe in dangerous situations, but it doesn't always serve us well when we're trying to make rational choices.
In other words, when we overthink something, our rational minds become overwhelmed with all the possibilities and variables at play. It's as if they shut down temporarily while our subconscious minds make the decision for us without consulting with our conscious brains first.
Prevents you from enjoying the present.
You can't be present if you're not in the moment. Being present means not thinking about the past or future, but focusing on what's happening right now. Overthinking commonly forces us to delve back into our past or contemplate imaginary outcomes in our future.
When we overthink, we tend to get stuck in this cycle:
- We have an idea or experience something new (for example, a great conversation with a friend)
- Our brains make connections between this new thing and our past experiences (such as how similar it was to another conversation)
- Our brains then create assumptions based on those connections (maybe this conversation will end badly), which in turn makes us feel uneasy or worried
If these assumptions were accurate, they'd probably help us avoid making bad decisions. But most of the time they aren't true at all; they're just stories our minds tell us because they want our attention. Overthinking won't allow us to just be and enjoy the present.
For more on mindfulness and being in the present, see my article here.
Altering your perspective.
Overthinking is a way of trying to control the future. It's a way of thinking that we can use when we're trying to figure things out, but if we overdo it, it prevents us from being able to just be in the moment. Overthinking can also make us feel trapped: If we're constantly thinking about how things could go wrong, then we may miss out on all the good things that could happen in our lives.
Most people who suffer from overthinking are easily distracted by their thoughts. They can find themselves unable to focus on anything else but their inner dialogue, causing them to lose track of time and space around them. This is detrimental because it means that they're often unable to complete tasks due to the fact that they keep getting sidetracked by their thoughts.
Overthinking is also a form of self-obsession, meaning that it can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with oneself and one's problems. Self-obsession can be detrimental to perspective because it can lead to unbalanced and untrue world views.
Stifles your creativity.
Overthinking can make you feel as though you have no creative potential. It can prevent you from putting yourself out there and trying new things, because every idea feels like it needs to be perfect before it can be shared with the world. Overthinking also leads to analysis paralysis—the inability to make a decision because you're too busy thinking about all the possible outcomes.
Overthinking creates perfectionism, and perfectionism stifles creativity by making us afraid of failure, fear of success, fear of change (or any other unknown), and fear of being judged by others for our work.
When we spend too much time overthinking something or worrying about what other people might think about our work (or anything else), we end up getting stuck at square one: immobilised by doubt about whether our decision is good enough by itself or good enough for other people.
It can be harmful to your mental health.
Overthinking can lead to mental ill health. If you find yourself spending more time in your head than out there actually living your life, then chances are that it’s taking a toll on both your mental health and physical health.
It can also cause you to miss out on opportunities. It's a habit that can prevent you from taking action in your life, which can lead to missed opportunities for success that negatively affect your self-esteem. If you're always thinking about how the world around you works and what could go wrong next, then it's unlikely that you'll be able to take advantage of any chance opportunities that present themselves.
There are many ways in which overthinking can be bad for your mental health by leading to depression and anxiety. If you're not careful, you could let overthinking get in the way of your happiness and well-being by becoming trapped in a cycle of self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.
In short, overthinking can be a major problem.
When you’re constantly thinking about things that haven’t even happened yet or are unlikely to ever happen, it’s hard to enjoy the present moment. It’s also difficult to form new memories, so you have trouble making good decisions and building stronger relationships with others.
Overthinking is almost a form of procrastination. Instead of making a decision and moving forward, you are constantly rehashing the same thoughts and fears repeatedly. This doesn't actually help to solve the problems that face you in life, but rather delay the opportunity to find a solution.
It’s time to stop overthinking.
Yes, you have a lot of important decisions to make. Yes, your life could change dramatically in the near future. And yes, it’s scary not knowing what will happen next. But the solution doesn't lie in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet.
It’s time to put your happiness first and that begins with changing the way you think about yourself and your life. The more stressed or anxious you become, the more likely it is that you will start questioning every decision and trying to control your future by worrying about all of the possible outcomes.
Overthinking is a habit that can be broken. Eradicating this habit will help ensure that you don't sabotage your opportunities for potential happiness when they occur and you can enjoy life with a much healthier outlook.
For more like this, subscribe to get all the latest content and weekly newsletter delivered straight to your inbox if you're not already a member. This includes further tips on mindful living plus in-depth guides, tips, insights and advice.
Ronin is an entrepreneur, creative, writer and expert in meditation, mindfulness, well-being & yoga, plus founder & CEO of mello, a proactive well-being platform.