Is Overthinking Bad for Your Mental Health

Is Overthinking Bad for Your Mental Health?

Overthinking is a natural function of the brain – but there is a point at which it becomes bad for mental health. 


When we get caught in a loop where we can’t stop replaying past events, imagining “what ifs,” or worrying about things we can’t control, overthinking becomes a problem. But to better manage our overthinking, we need to understand what’s behind it.


Why you can’t stop thinking


Overthinking usually starts because we naturally want to figure out what’s going on in our lives – the experiences we have, the people we know, the choices we make. The brain is built to find patterns and answers, but sometimes it goes a bit overboard. When thinking turns into non-stop replaying, second-guessing, and endless worrying, that’s when overthinking starts causing trouble.


When overthinking becomes a problem


Not all thoughts are cut from the same cloth. Some thoughts, when we dwell on them and consider them repeatedly, help us grow. Or, they help us to solve a problem, as we break down a situation or choice in different ways and think through different ideas or outcomes. In both of these scenarios, our thoughts might churn for a while on one thing before we eventually move on.


But other, negative thoughts drag down our mental health the more time we spend with them. These thoughts catch us in a loop that plays over and over, without really getting anywhere. And they cause us to feel negative emotions like fear, panic, anxiousness, sadness, anger, or shame.


How overthinking affects mental health


When we think deeply about the same thing, repeatedly or constantly, that’s when overthinking starts harming our mental well-being. 


At this point, overthinking tends to cause us extra stress, not clarity. Our overthinking, and the emotions it causes, leaves us feeling mentally drained, gets in the way of our productivity and daily function, and can strain our relationships. It’s like we’re stuck in a negative loop, unable to fully enjoy what’s happening now. 


Overthinking that focuses on replaying past events without moving us closer to closure is known as rumination. Rumination is a characteristic of depression. While not everyone who ruminates becomes depressed, it is a pattern of thought that puts us more at risk of depressive feelings and depression.


Overthinking that focuses on the unknown future or negative possibilities is known as worry. While everyone worries at various points in life, worry is a characteristic of anxiety. Consistent, repetitive worried thought patterns put us more at risk of anxious feelings and anxiety.


How do I know if I am overthinking?


Escaping overthinking mode starts with tuning into our own thoughts. What patterns do you notice in your overthinking? Here are three common examples of overthinking:


  • Self-critique loop: We can’t stop replaying past events in our minds, picking apart every single detail, and beating ourselves up over what we think went wrong.
  • Social overanalysis: After a chat or any social interaction, we replay every single word or gesture, convinced we messed up somewhere.
  • Uncontrollable worry: Sometimes we get stuck on things we have no control over, or focus on the worst-possible outcomes.

Overthinking usually happens when things aren’t clear – when our minds are on a quest for answers. If it’s difficult to understand events of the past, or the future is uncertain, our brains can go into overdrive, generating many more thoughts than needed, all in an effort to feel more in control.


What to do when you can’t stop thinking


Non-stop overthinking can contribute to anxiety and depression – and having those conditions can feed overthinking. Therefore, managing overthinking can be a big help in feeling mentally and emotionally healthier. Essentially, managing overthinking is like breaking a cycle of bad thoughts that add fuel to the emotional fire, helping us to feel better and have peace of mind.


When you can’t stop thinking, try the following:


  • Recognize the pattern: First, make a point of noticing when you’re overthinking. Pause and ask if your thoughts are going anywhere, or if they’re stuck on repeat.
  • Look for evidence: Take a closer look at your circular thoughts and challenge them. Are they coming from real events and experiences, or from guesses and assumptions? Look objectively at what evidence there is related to your thoughts – does the evidence support or disprove them?
  • Focus on solutions: Now, ask if all that thinking is really helping to fix a problem, or just turning up the stress. If it’s just adding stress, then shift fears to find actions within your control that will help you feel better about the situation.
  • Seek therapy: Therapy, either digital therapy or conventional therapy, becomes important when overthinking starts to disrupt daily life, relationships, or emotional well-being. If your efforts to challenge your negative overthinking seem futile, seek out professional guidance for techniques that break the cycle of overthinking and foster personal growth

How therapy can help with overthinking


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a well-recognized method to manage overthinking. It’s about recognizing and rewiring negative thought habits and swapping them for healthier ones. Other therapies like mindfulness-based approaches, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) are also effective in handling overthinking and related emotional challenges.


Everyone overthinks. And many of us require help to escape our negative thought loops, whether it comes from an article, a loved one, or a therapist. By tackling our overthinking habits head-on and with support, we can take charge of our thoughts, prevent or ease anxiety and depression, and enjoy a calmer and more balanced mind.



Read more about overthinking and mental health:


Vidula V Sawant (M.A., M.Phil., CRR No. A80980) is a clinical psychologist with  4+ years of experience and a passion for understanding the complexities of our minds and behaviours.


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