The downsides of overthinking

Overthinkers are deep thinkers, looking beyond the surface to work on truly understanding the world around us. There can be upsides to the traits of overthinkers, but the hold they have on our daily lives can inhibit us.

Coming to terms with being an overthinker and the impact it has on your life can be intimidating, but it is the first step towards taking back control of your mind. Some of us are so accustomed to overthinking that we don’t even see the destructive hold it has on our lives. We are so used to being controlled by our thoughts that we don’t see that there is another way to live.

If this list resonates with you or you relate to any of the examples, take the time to process your thoughts. Remember that you do not need to work on things alone, one of the best decisions you can make is to see a therapist and work through what you are feeling and find a path forward.

Replaying coversations

As overthinkers, our brain is constantly trying to analyze and make sense of the world around us. While that is not always a bad thing, when our brain goes over events that have already taken place we get stuck thinking about something over which we have no control. We replay the scene and think of how it could have gone differently. Or maybe we replay it and latch onto small details trying to figure out if they have meaning. It leaves us unable to move forward because we feel unsatisfied, confused, or unhappy with the true reality of how things unfolded. It doesn’t even need to have been a bad or emotional conversation, if it deviates from what we are used to or what we planned for, it can make us unable to let go until we make sense of it.

Personal life example
After leaving a friend’s house you replay the conversations you had throughout the night trying to figure out if you talked too much or too little. Did you remember to ask about their new hobby? Did it sound weird when you didn’t know what to say when they asked what you have been up to? Had their body language changed since the last time you saw them?

Work life example
After getting out of a meeting you replay the conversation you had about the new project. Did you sound like you didn’t know what you were talking about? Did you ask dumb questions?

The reality
Replaying conversations is not beneficial and adds stress and worry to our life. Finding ways to train your brain into letting go or focusing on something else is key. The first step is to realize when you are doing it. For us overthinkers, it’s easy for even these negative traits to feel normal because we have done them for so long. But, being aware that you are stuck on words from the past can help you find ways to stop those thoughts before they go too far. Our attention to detail can lead us astray when we pick apart past conversations. Our brain is looking for things that weren’t right or signs that something is wrong. The reality is that often times most of the details we pick up on are ones our brain made up. It’s likely that others involved in the conversation have already moved on and are living their life.

Unable to make a decision

Even the smallest decisions can feel like an ordeal when you are an overthinker. Whether it’s picking out what pants to wear or deciding if we should take a job offer, decisions can paralyze us as our brain works to analyze each possibility and every conceivable outcome. We can have a fear of making the wrong decision or can see too many possible outcomes which leaves us unable to decide. We end up in a infinite loop of possible choices and their consequences.

Person life example
At the grocery store you are trying to decide between getting apples or oranges as a snack for the week. You like both, but which one is the right one to get? Apples sound good, but is that what you really want? Oranges are easier to take with you on the go. Maybe get some of each, but how many? Or should you just get mango because it is on sale this week?

Work life example
You’re asked if a picture should be included on the cover of the annual report, or if it should stay minimalistic and just have the title. You think that a picture could make it more interesting, but having just the title keeps it clean and simple. What if you choose the picture and it doesn’t go over well? What if you choose to keep just the title but others don’t like that you’re not taking a chance?

The reality
Many of the decisions we are faced with throughout our life do not have a huge impact. It may feel at the time that every decision is incredibly important, but your brain is lying to you. If you choose cereal A over cereal B, it is unlikely to drastically affect your life. Sure, you might not end up liking cereal A as much as you like cereal B, but that’s not the end of the world. The goal is to work on figuring out which decisions are worth your time, and which simply are not. Too many decisions about things with minimal impact take up too much of our brain space. There are better things we could be doing with our time and helps to remind ourselves of that.

Overanalyzing situations

As overthinkers we are good at taking in details of the world around us. We are constantly trying to make sense and understand the situations we are in. While it can be beneficial to be aware of our surroundings, our brain can become overwhelmed with all the information it is trying to take in. We may end up trying to attribute deeper meaning to gestures, words, or tones that are not truly there.

Personal life example
You text a friend and they don’t text you back until hours later and they give a short answer. You go back and read the text you wrote trying to figure out if you said something wrong. Did you say something rude? Did they misinterpret what you said? Are they mad at you?

Work life example
You write an email to your supervisor with a question and draft of a document. When they email you back they CC one of your coworkers but don’t specifically mention why. Is the coworker taking over the project? Should you have reached out to them?

The reality
Our brain makes lots of assumptions about situations and adds details that are often not true. We end up worrying about situations without knowing the full details, or adding in false details. Of course our brain doesn’t make situations appear more positive than they are, we always assume the worst. The important thing to remember is that our thoughts are not always based in reality. When a situation doesn’t play out how we expect our brain tries to figure out what we did to mess it up. The truth is often that we didn’t mess up, simply that things happened different that we thought it would. As overthinkers we want to go inside our head and try to figure it out. In reality often the simplest solution is to have a conversation with others to remove doubt and better understand the situation. If you don’t understand something, asking questions helps us see what is actually happening instead of us putting our own possibly wrong assumptions into the situation.

Planning without starting

Overthinkers can be very good at planning. We like to think things through to understand exactly how to proceed so nothing unexpected happens. When we have projects and hobbies that we want to pursue, before starting we take the time to do research and make a plan. The problem comes when we stay in the planning stage and never move forward into actually doing. Maybe we feel we’re not ready and don’t have all the information to make an informed decision about how to move forward. Maybe we are scared that we won’t do it right. Maybe we don’t feel confident in our own skills. Whatever the reason we can easily get stuck planning and never end up doing.

Personal life example
You want to learn Spanish and start looking into the different ways you can learn. You find online courses, apps, workbooks, YouTube videos, even classes at a local community center. You start to question what the best way to start would be. Should you pay money to buy some books and flashcards? Maybe getting an app on your phone would be better because then you could practice anywhere. But what app to get? You tell yourself you will definitely get an app after you have done research into which one is best. But, how to know when your research is done?

Work life example
You are tasked with putting an annual report together to go up on the company website. This is a new project and you are starting from scratch. You start looking into reports that other companies put out to get ideas. The more research you do the more ideas you get but the more you hesitate starting. What if the report you make isn’t as good as the ones you’ve seen? Where do you begin? How do you organize it? You don’t want to just copy what another report has done but you don’t know how to make it your own. You keep researching hoping that inspiration will hit.

The reality
There are many reasons why we have a hard time starting things, but we often convince ourselves that we will start eventually, just when we’re ready, or that we will have a clear sign that the time is right to start. The reality is that a lot of things in life need to be started before we are truly ready. There is only so much preparation we can do before we need to jump in and figure out what else we don’t know. But, that’s a scary thought and that can keep us from starting. When we find ourselves having a hard time starting, it’s time to get to the root of what is stopping us. Whether that’s writing down our thoughts, talking to a friend, or speaking to a professional, learning the reason why helps us find a path forward.

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