What Is Overthinking

What Is Overthinking?

Overthinking means an excessive and repetitive process of dwelling on thoughts and concerns to the point where it interferes with daily functioning and well-being. 


Considering situations and problems is a natural human tendency; our brains are built for analysis. But when this thought process becomes unproductive and overwhelming, the natural function crosses over into overthinking. Overthinking is a common phenomenon, and it does not discriminate. People from all walks of life, including those with and without mental health struggles, overthink. 


But overthinking can be particularly prevalent among people dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. And in these cases, the constant cycle of negative thoughts and worries can worsen existing struggles and delay recovery


When is overthinking a problem?


While occasional bouts of overthinking are normal, it becomes a problem when it consistently interferes with your daily life and well-being. If you find that overthinking is preventing you from taking decisions, maintaining relationships, or getting adequate sleep, it may be time to address the issue.


What are the effects of overthinking?


While overthinking is a common mental process, its consequences can be profound. Dwelling excessively on our thoughts and feelings, especially when they’re negative, can worsen existing struggles as well as introduce new challenges – ultimately affecting many areas of our lives.


When we spend so much time analysing our problems, we often end up feeling more lost than when we started. Persistent overthinking can lead to a range of experiences, including difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently in the middle of the night, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and low energy. These symptoms can, in turn, trigger further thoughts, creating a vicious cycle of overthinking.


One major consequence of overthinking is increased stress levels. Continuously dwelling on worries or uncertainties can trigger the body’s stress response, leaving people feeling anxious, tense, and on edge. Overthinking that involves analysing past mistakes, revisiting bad memories, and using negative self-talk can erode confidence and self-worth. Long-term, negative overthinking can contribute to chronic anxiety and depression. (This can create a vicious cycle, as people who struggle with anxiety and depression are more prone to overthinking.)


Decision-making often becomes a struggle for overthinkers, regardless of the significance of their dilemma. Overthinking in the form of constant analysis of every possible outcome can contribute to missed opportunities and a sense of being stuck.


Overthinking also often contributes to procrastination. People become so preoccupied with their thoughts and planning that they delay taking action, hindering efficiency, accomplishment, and work satisfaction, and fueling self-criticism.


Overthinking symptoms


Overthinking is like a storm that clouds your thoughts, shakes your mental and physical health, and erodes the foundation of your relationships and hinders your potential. Identifying overthinking is the first step towards addressing it. 


Here are some common symptoms of overthinking to help you recognise when and why it affects you:


Persistent Worry: You might find yourself worrying about the same issue repeatedly without finding a solution.


Decision Paralysis: You might find yourself struggling to make decisions because you’re preoccupied with analysing every possible outcome.


Physical Symptoms: You might be experiencing headaches, muscle tension, troubled sleep, difficulty relaxing, and digestive issues that can’t be explained by anything else.


Negative Self-Talk: You might have a tendency toward a negative inner voice that constantly criticises you, doubts your abilities, and highlights your insecurities.


Repetitive Thoughts: Your thoughts might loop in a never-ending cycle, bringing you right back to the initial thought you started with, and you might find it difficult to focus on anything else.


How to calm your mind from overthinking


Overthinking can become overwhelming very quickly. The first step in managing overthinking is to get to a place where you feel calm and in control. The following coping techniques can help you calm your mind from overthinking:


Deep breathing: Practise deep breathing exercises to centre yourself and calm your racing thoughts. Inhale slowly for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, and hold for four. Repeat until you feel more grounded.


Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness techniques can help you stay present and prevent your mind from wandering into overthinking territory. Try a guided meditation or simply focus on your breath for a few minutes each day.


Grounding exercises: Engage your senses by focusing on what you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell in your immediate environment. This can help redirect your thoughts away from inner overthinking and toward the external world.


How to stop negative overthinking


Negative overthinking is also known as worry or rumination. For some people, the thoughts they are dwelling on are already negative. For others, the effects of overthinking on their life and relationships may contribute to negative thoughts that get caught up in the cycle of overthinking. To stop negative overthinking, try:


Challenging negative thoughts. Identifying and questioning negative thoughts can be a powerful tool in combating overthinking. When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, it’s essential to challenge those thoughts and reframe them. Ask yourself if your conclusions are based on facts or assumptions. By critically examining your thoughts, you can gain a more balanced perspective and reduce the impact of overthinking.


Example negative thought: “I’ll never be able to finish this project on time; I’m overwhelmed.”


Challenge: Ask yourself, “Have I successfully managed tight deadlines before? What steps can I take to break this project into smaller, manageable tasks?”


Positive reframe: Transform the thought into, “I’ve handled challenging projects in the past, and I can do it again. I’ll create a plan and tackle one step at a time to ensure I meet the deadline effectively.” This reframing empowers you with a more optimistic and solution-oriented mindset.


Practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion is a helpful ally in your journey to overcoming overthinking. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend. Remember that making mistakes is part of being human, and it’s essential to be gentle with yourself when your overthinking takes a negative turn. Self-compassion is especially helpful in breaking the cycle of self-criticism.


If negative overthinking persists and takes a toll on your mental well-being, therapy – whether digital or conventional – can be beneficial. Therapy can provide guidance and support and equip you with coping strategies and skills to effectively manage overthinking. 


How to stop overthinking at night


Overthinking is most common at night. With the distractions of the day – work, family life, entertainment – behind us, our brains often spin in circles around lingering concerns as we try to fall asleep. Nighttime overthinking can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to difficulty falling asleep, interrupted sleep, and fatigue. To stop overthinking at night, try:


Creating a pre-bedtime routine. A pre-bedtime routine can significantly improve your ability to relax and reduce nighttime overthinking. Engaging in calming activities such as reading, gentle stretching, or taking a warm bath signals to your body that it’s time to unwind. A consistent routine can help calm your mind before bedtime.


Writing down your thoughts. Journaling — without intent or judgement — is a practical technique for dealing with nighttime overthinking. Keep a notebook by your bedside to jot down any nagging thoughts or worries that keep you awake. This process can help release these thoughts from your mind and allow you to revisit them in the morning with a clearer perspective.


Limit screen time. Minimising screen time is essential in the hour before bedtime. Screens, including smartphones and computers, emit blue light that can stimulate your brain and exacerbate overthinking. Disconnecting from screens and engaging in calming activities instead can promote better sleep.


How to stop overthinking relationships


Overthinking often focuses on our most important relationships. When we constantly question others’ intentions or fixate on perceived slights, we are more likely to experience misunderstandings, conflicts, and strained connections with loved ones. To stop overthinking  relationship, try tos:


Communicate openly. Open communication is the foundation of healthy relationships and can be particularly effective in managing overthinking. Talk to your loved ones about your tendency to overthink. Open and honest communication can help them understand your needs and concerns, fostering mutual support and understanding.


Set boundaries. Boundaries in any relationship are crucial. They become even more critical in a relationship characterised by one person overthinking about the other’s actions or intentions. Clearly define what is acceptable and unacceptable in your relationship and ensure both you and your loved one respect these boundaries. Doing so can reduce the triggers for overthinking.


Practise trust. Trust is paramount for the well-being of any relationship. Trusting that your loved one cares for you and respects your boundaries can ease doubts and minimise overthinking in relationships.


Overcoming overthinking is a journey, and with patience, practice, and support, you can find a path to a more peaceful and balanced mind.





Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 5+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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