Directing a huge portion of our cognitive energies into something is not really bad. However, unnecessary overthinking can be detrimental to our well-being. In fact, one study suggests that overthinking not only impedes our ability to perform cognitive tasks, but also keeps us from reaching our creative potential as well.
Overthinking takes place when you stop acting and simply engage in thinking. When you analyse, comment and repeat the same thoughts over and again, instead of acting, you are overthinking.
A lot of people are prone to overthink than they will admit. While sometimes the thorough and methodical approach to problems and tasks can be beneficial, the mind can race away and starting working against itself and goals.While most people overthink things once in a while, some people find themselves constantly preoccupied with racing thoughts. This is when overthinking takes place. Essentially, this involves ruminating and worrying.
Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions. While worry refers to the thoughts, images and emotions of a negative nature in a repetitive, uncontrollable manner that results from a proactive cognitive risk analysis made to avoid or solve anticipated potential threats and their potential consequences.
Dr Berney Wilkinson and Dr Richard Marshall discuss strategies for battling negative thoughts with intentional, purposeful and positive action.
Tips on how to overcome overthinking
- Recognise triggers – By becoming aware of our thought process we can identify our anxiety triggers. For instance, are you rehashing a previous situation, or overanalysing your mistakes? Assess these these and try to identify their root cause so you could avoid them in the future.
- Express yourself in writing – Expressive writing, also known as written emotional disclosure, is the act of expressing ourselves through writing. This can be a very effective way of processing your thoughts, and can help us in finding ways overcome those thoughts
- Overcome your fear – When we commit mistakes or something disastrous happen we fear the consequences. But just remind yourself that however disastrous the situation might seem, it’s not the end of the world.
- Distract yourself – If you find yourself in a situation where you constantly overthink situations, you might benefit from distracting yourself. There are healthy and positive forms of distraction: such as going to the theatre, enjoying crafts, gardening, swimming, etc. The key is to find things or activities that you enjoy and that could calm you down.
- Take action – If you find yourself stuck in a corner due to overthinking try to taking small steps forward and concentrate on getting one small step done at a time. Is it overwhelm, fear of failure, anxiety, and a host of of blocks, thoughts, and feelings? You might benefit from these tips on how to take simple actions so that you can carry on.
Trying to think things through 500 times might be your way to try to control everything. This could be your attempt to cover every eventuality so you don’t risk making a mistake, fail or looking like a loser. But those horrible things are a part of living a life and those are the things that make us human. We’re all bound to be victims of overthinking, and waste a precious time and energy inside our own brains and can damage our health. The most effective way to avoid this lies in minimising those thoughts and making them as productive as possible so they don’t get in the way of more important things.
Dennis Relojo is the founder of Psychreg and is also the Editor-in-Chief of Psychreg Journal of Psychology. Aside from PJP, he sits on the editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals, and is a Commissioning Editor for the International Society of Critical Health Psychology. A Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society, Dennis holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Hertfordshire. His research interest lies in the intersection of psychology and blogging. You can connect with him through Twitter @DennisRelojo and his website.