If you have found this blog post, the chances are high that you get caught up in your head a lot. You will probably only know all too well what it’s like to be paralysed and exhausted by overthinking things. Welcome to the club! You are not alone. Overthinking is something we all do from time to time and overthinking past mistakes or the future on a daily basis is much more common than you might think (pun not intended). First of all, we’d like to acknowledge how hard it can suck when you get stuck on the same thought loops over and over and over again. It’s not an easy habit to break. Some even go as far as calling overthinking an addiction. It’s certainly disadvantageous to your mental, emotional and physical health. If you are tired of keeping yourself stuck through overthinking, read on. We are not only looking at what qualifies as overthinking as well as what causes it but also give tips and explore practices that will help you break this vicious cycle.
What is Overthinking?
According to scientists we think over 6000 thoughts a day. That’s roughly six thoughts per minute. Most of these thoughts will come and go without us even becoming fully aware of them. Their impact on our day and state of mind is fleeting at best. However, sometimes we get triggered by certain thoughts, pay them way more attention than others and follow them down a rabbit hole of either rumination – when we dwell on the past – or worrying – when we obsess about the future.
Overthinking can be defined as thinking about an action, a problem or a situation far too much and too long. We overthink – in an attempt to find meaning or solutions – when we lose ourselves in “could haves” and “should haves”, overanalysing real or imagined dilemmas and problems, imaginening worst-case scenarios and worrying ourselves sick over them as well as second-guessing decisions we have already made and maybe even acted upon. The perverse thing about overthinking is that we are treading water, losing momentum and eventually come to a standstill. We might end up more confused and at a loss than we were before. Furthermore, overthinking can lead to insomnia as well as physical ailments (in extreme cases) and wreaks havoc on our mental health. Anxiety and depression are very common among those who ruminate and worry most of their waking hours. Bottom line: Overthinking creates suffering, makes us prisoners of our own mind and is a very destructive habit.
Why do people overthink?
According to an article from Forbes Health, research suggests that “73% of 25- to 35-year-olds chronically overthink, along with 52% of people ages 45 to 55.” Overthinking can cause anxiety and depression. It can also be a byproduct of anxiety or depression or be rooted in insecurities, core beliefs you hold about yourself or other deeper emotional issues. Eating or substance use disorders as well as chronic pain tend to make people prone to overthinking, too. Nobody is born an overthinker – even though it may feel like it for some people. It’s a learnt defence/coping strategy that is supposed to distract us from difficult thoughts and feelings. Some people find it (a lot) harder to deal with all the things that are outside of our control. In fact, the only person we ever have any sort of control over is ourselves – and that leaves ample of space for unpredictability. We overthink in an attempt to find answers, reassurance or solve our problems in our own heads. So especially when we are facing uncertainty in our lives, when we feel vulnerable about something that happened in the past or might happen in the future, we can easily fall into the trap of overthinking. Instead of helping us, though, it negatively impacts our capacity for empathy, our curiosity and makes us generally less aware of what’s really going on outside of the stories we tell ourselves.
What causes Overthinking?
As hinted at above: Overthinking is learned behaviour, a pattern that becomes a bad habit over time. While the exact process of overthinking is not entirely clear to researchers, rumination often starts by engaging with thoughts that start with “Why…? What if…? How…?” It is fear-based and engages not only the logical but also very much the emotional centre of the brain. It is a vicious cycle: The more we worry about something, the more we engage our brain in thoughts around the matter and activate the part of our brain that causes our muscles to tense up and our heart to pound faster.
As overthinkers we also tend to over-identify with our thoughts. We assume that we are our thoughts – which isn’t true. We are the ones who witnesses our thoughts and we have the power to break the habit of overthinking everything.
You may wonder: Am I really overthinking this? Is my overthinking things slowly becoming a problem? Here are some symptoms of otherthinking that you can look out for:
- Chronic Anxiety and Depression
- Trouble Concentrating
- Digestion problems
- Loss of energy
- Muscle tension
- Binge drinking or eating
- Obsessing over or getting stressed about what other people think of you
- Negative self-talk
- Paralysis: Analysing options in your head to the point where you take no action at all.
Tips on How to Stop Overthinking
Become aware of your overthinking
The first step is awareness. You will probably catch yourself overthinking many a time. Recognise your patterns. Don’t beat yourself up about it, though. There’s no need to be hard on yourself. It’s human. Acknowledge and remind yourself regularily that overthinking is not actually helping you. Ask yourself: What thoughts trigger my overthinking? Just like you don’t have to answer the doorbell when it rings or like you don’t have to reply to a text message or email immediately or at all, you can choose to not engage with a particular thought. If you are an overthinker, this might not come easily to you – breaking a bad habit rarely is. So, be patient with and kind towards yourself while you unlearn this behaviour.
Claim back your power by scheduling a time slot for rumination and worrying every day
This might sound a bit counterintuitive but hear us out on this one: It is within your control to stop your thoughts turning into hour-long ruminations or worry-marathons. Many overthinkers feel helpless when they get triggered by a thought, situation or memory that sucks their brains into overdrive. Remember that you are in charge. It can help to schedule a 30 or 45 minute time-slot sometime late afternoon or early evening (not before bedtime, though!) for dedicated rumination and worrying. Whenever you catch yourself into overthinking-mode, just postpone it until later. By then you might already think or feel differently as our thoughts and emotions are much more fleeting than we realise.
Challenge your thoughts and change the stories you are telling yourself
Most people can’t bear uncertainty. It’s not even a conscious thing, just something that causes underlying feelings of unease and anxiety. That’s why we come up with stories. Without even noticing we have a constant narrative, an inner monologue running in our heads in an attempt to make sense of what is happening around and to us. Beware of the stories you tell yourself, though. So many of them are based on assumptions, fears, insecurities and pure fiction. Others are based on limiting beliefs you hold about yourself. Again, it’s very human. We all do it. The key is to challenge your thoughts and question the stories you are telling yourself. Are they really true? How can you be sure they are true? What are the facts? Are these stories serving you or are they holding you back, keeping you stuck? Open up to a trusted friend to get help with a reality check when you feel in need of one.
Be present – ground yourself in the here and now
Overthinkers don’t live in the present moment. They spend most of their time and energy analysing the past – which cannot be changed – or trying to anticipate the future – which cannot be predicted with any real certainty. The only person you have any power or control over is yourself in the present moment and how you choose to respond to what’s happening inside and around you. There are various practices like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, doing sports, cold water swimming that can help you become more grounded in the here and now. The goal is to get you out of your head and into your body. Research has also shown that spending time in a tranquil environment and close to nature not only calms down the nervous system but can also sharpen your mind. It is basically a reset button when you feel you’ve been running around in circles in your head for too long.
New Life Portugal is a mindfulness retreat and wellness centre located in the heart of the Serra da Estrela natural park. We offer a wide range of therapeutic elements that are rarely found all in one place – ranging from meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practices over counselling, life coaching, and personal training to workshops, the restorative benefits of being in nature, and a supportive community. Our highly qualified, experienced and caring team of experts can help you choose the right path within our unique program. Each path can be adjusted to your individual needs and what you specifically want to work on during your stay. You will be both – challenged and nurtured. You will also have plenty of opportunities to rest in beauty and quiet, or alternatively, be active and engaged. We are here to support you in finding the perfect balance, so that you can make all the right shifts, in all the right places, for your specific goals.
Our work and services are dedicated to those who wish to cultivate sustainable wellbeing. If you struggle with overthinking, anxiety, depression, burnout, would like to explore different mindfulness modalities and experience first hand how you can benefit from them or are simply looking for a place to recharge your batteries, you will find that New Life Portugal will be able to suit your needs. If you have any questions or are looking for additional information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.