Do you often find yourself spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about a particular situation? Do you dissect the ways you could have done things differently in the past? Or spend sleepless nights thinking about all that could go wrong in the future?
If the answer’s yes, then it’s quite possible that you’re prone to overthinking -- i.e. thinking too much without any clear outcome or resolution. It’s a sign of anxiety -- something that has only become more prevalent due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 -- and can feel as though you’re navigating a never-ending maze with no exit.
Ways In Which Overthinking Manifests:
- Spending time dwelling on small decisions without taking any action.
Overthinkers are often also perfectionists -- which means they are afraid of taking any action for fear of a less-than-ideal outcome. They instead mull over problems that are out of their control, or think about how they can prevent one from occurring altogether.
This is based on a belief that thinking about every possibility would give one control over an outcome. This is known as ‘magical thinking’ i.e. the belief that there is a link between overthinking and a particular outcome.
- Experiencing mental fatigue.
Overthinking can lead to intense tiredness, confusion, dissatisfaction, procrastination, and even total avoidance. After all, it is exhausting to explore every possible outcome or to deeply analyze every action -- even those that aren’t our own. For example, attempting to understand the lack of response from someone, or read into a perceived change in tone or emotion.
The only result of delving so deep into every possible situation and interaction is a sense of tiredness which may make overthinkers avoid taking any action altogether.
How Does Overthinking Unfold?
Consider a situation that often makes you anxious . This could be personal or professional. Say, interactions with your boss. This is something that can easily trigger overthinkers. A simple email or text from your manager, which may seem like nothing out of the ordinary to anyone else, may induce a sense of fear in you.
Why? Because you feel like the interaction could take a negative turn and the discomfort you feel can be about not having control over the outcome. It’s not a good headspace to be in -- and once you’re in it, it may seem impossible to get out. Thankfully though, there are some ways in which you can manage and deal with overthinking.
How To Deal With Overthinking?
Practicing meta awareness:
There are times when our mind and our actions are on autopilot -- say when reading a book. You may realize ten minutes in that you’ve read 3 pages, but not processed a word. Overthinking can be the same -- you may get lost in a sea of thoughts which don’t lead to anything concrete. It’s important then to take a step back -- imagine yourself literally taking a step back from a cloud of your thoughts -- notice, and pay attention as you feel yourself drifting away and pull yourself back in the present. Similar to mindfulness, this kind of intentional awareness takes some practice.
Inculcating radical acceptance:
Observe if you are trying to fight something unavoidable -- e.g. feelings of unpredictability and uncertainty. Then tell yourself that you cannot be in control of everything. Yes, it’s terrifying, but it’s a reality that we all need to accept. Acknowledge that you are strong enough to deal with the fallout of a stressful situation -- tell yourself till you believe it. Here are the broad steps involved in radical acceptance:
- Remind yourself that the unpleasant situation is present and cannot be changed
- Understand that there are causes for the situation
- Accept the situation through self-talk, relaxation, and mindfulness techniques
- Observe the bodily sensations that arise through the process and focus on your breath to center yourself
If you find yourself struggling with this practice, it’s always advisable to seek professional help. Meet a therapist who can guide you through the process and help you deal with your negative thought patterns.
Scheduling time to reflect:
That’s right! Set aside 10-20 minutes of the day to dwell on what’s bothering you. Try to keep the focus on how to solve the problem (if at all it is in your control). And try to notice when your mind starts spiralling. Once the designated period is up, move on.
While it’s easier said than done, a good way to approach it is by busying yourself with something- be it watching a show, cooking dinner or just calling a friend to chat.
In our constant quest for control, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overthinking. The silver lining is though, that it’s never too late to get out. Practice these tips in your daily life and seek help when needed, and you’ll eventually free yourself from this endless loop of negativity and ‘what ifs’.
Credits - Dr Divya Kannan, Clinical Psychologist, Cure.fit