We all do it, especially when we are stressed or worried. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, loss, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, attachment disorder etc often have overthinking as a symptom.
So what is overthinking?
Overthinking is defined as thinking about something for too long or analysing it in a way that is more harmful than helpful. Very often it has a repetitive quality, someone with social anxiety for instance may overthink how they were in a social situation, what they did or said and will repetitively do this for most, if not all sociable experiences.
Why do we do overthink?
It is often because we care, we care about what someone else thinks, we care about what will happen next, and we care about how others see us. This caring leads us to be concerned about the outcome of a relationship, a conversation or result. So our ever ‘helpful’ brain decides that if it analyses all the possible outcomes we can be prepared, it’s so good at this it will even analyse an event, meeting or result BEFORE it’s even happened. There are two main issues with our brains doing this:
- Our brain cannot possibly compute every outcome
- Our brain is influenced by any biases we have whether they are positive or negative. (If we are worriers or have a mental health issue this is usually a negative bias, but in mania, and some other conditions it can manifest as a positive bias.)
How do we experience overthinking?
We can experience overthinking as:
- Not being able to think of anything but the subject/person we are worried about.
- It interferes with our ability to function.
- It can cause insomnia.
- It increases stress levels.
- Things can feel bleak.
- You may avoid situations you are worried about.
- Conversely if you have a positive bias you may get into situations that are risky or more complicated than you had imagined.
- We may have difficulty eating or may eat too much in a bid to feel better.
- In excess, overthinking can sometimes lead to self-harming.
- Overthinking can become anxiety.
So what’s normal?
We all worry at times. We get nervous about things that matter to us like exams, job interviews, going on stage etc and during these periods we may experience overthinking. Overthinking becomes a problem when it doesn’t end after the specific event is over, when it becomes more generalised and we do it everyday. If overthinking is taking over your life, you should seek help.
What we can do about overthinking?
In Overthinking part 2 we will look at interventions, tips and advice to help with overthinking, and who to turn to if you need more help.
Love and light