The truth is everyone overthinks sometimes. Overthinking is a common issue, we usually feel that we can’t relax, it’s like our brain won’t shut off or we can’t stop thinking about how life could have been better if we had done things differently.
I believe the link between overthinking and mental health problems is like a chicken or egg type question. It means, it’s likely that overthinking causes your mental health to decline and as your mental health declines, you are more likely to overthink and that’s a vicious downward spiral.
For me, overthinking depended on where I have been in life, when I felt stuck in an unfulfilled situation, I would overthink the past and go over the decisions I have made that had led me to where I was now. I would ask myself if I should have studied something else in college or how things would have been if I had moved somewhere else or surrounded myself with a different group of people.
I would also overthink the future, like I would see images in my head of myself five or ten years down the line and still sitting on the same chair and I would be terrified, wondering if it was too late to change paths, worrying about where I would end up, what will happen if I stay, what will happen if I leave and regret it, what if I stay and regret it. It got to a point where these questions were present throughout the day, everyday and it went on for months.
Many of those questions were valid but what came apparent to me was that I wasn’t productively overthinking in a situation and it is often difficult to make a distinction in productive and unproductive overthinking and it’s one that I am still learning how to identify. These are some ways which I personally found very effective and it will help you identify unproductive overthinking and consciously work to change it.
Debunking the fear
Fear only exists to you in your mind, it is just an illusion and yes, there is a purpose for fear. Fear protects you from the unknown, it is trying to help you not die. Basically, anything new, unknown or uncomfortable is going to be scary because you do not know what is going to happen.
“There is nothing to fear but fear itself”, it means that it’s not the thing that you are afraid of but it is the actual fear that’s holding you back. You shouldn’t be afraid of that horrible situation that might happen, you should be afraid of that fear because the fear will hold you back more than the hypothetical situation ever will.
I personally go through my fears and ask myself, “ What’s the worst that could happen?”. If this fear were to come true, what is the worst case scenario?! What would I do? Or what could I do to bounce back from it? So, I made a plan on how I would deal with that and if this were to happen, will I survive? Still breathing and alive? And if the answer is yes, I can still move on in life, I can be resilient, I can pick myself up and try again. This whole exercise will make you realize that even if this worst case scenario happens, it is not the end of the world. You realize that at the end of it, you will be okay. You will survive, so it is worth pursuing it, regardless of the risk and scary parts about it.
Choose your thoughts
When you notice yourself having negative thoughts and doubting yourself in the moment, ask yourself, “are these thoughts evidence based or am I just thinking irrationally?”. Remember that we always have the power to choose our thoughts. When we overthink, we are so focused on negative thoughts, we focus on what we don’t want to happen or we are focused on not believing in ourselves. When in reality, there are so many positive thoughts, which can support you and so much evidence to support that you are capable.
So, realizing that overthinking in a negative way is just one option out of many positive options out there for you to choose from. We should hone our mind and choose the thoughts which make you feel confident, like wearing a good outfit which makes you feel like you can take on the world and support you. Similarly, wear that thought.
Action dissolves the fear
I believe when you are in action, you are moving, working and doing things in the external world. This takes your mind off of what’s going on in your mind. When you're doing nothing but only thinking, you allow your thoughts and fears to run your over analytical brain and tell you how you should feel about yourself. You let the fear be strong and powerful when you are not taking action.
So, think about it this way - when you are not taking action, you are living more in your mind. It’s all in the what ifs or fears or insecurities, self doubt. But when you are taking action, you're more focused on the external world than the internal world. Focusing on taking action will help in dissolving your fears.
Transform limiting beliefs
We all have limiting beliefs that we have carried with us since our childhood. Maybe our parents told us things, society told us something and we believe it to be true. So, start to become aware of what beliefs you have, what things you think are “true” that might be holding you back. Some people believe that people who have wealthy parents succeed in life and try to rationalize their limiting thoughts by saying they don’t have wealthy parents, hence cannot succeed.
You see how those beliefs, even if we are not doing it on purpose, they are holding us back. The first step to change is believing it’s possible. What we need to do is to start catching ourselves whenever we have a limiting belief, when you notice yourself telling something negative which is or can hold you back. It’s not always clear but once you become aware of self-talk and your thoughts. You will start to see patterns and be able to pick them out.
After noticing what limiting beliefs you have, you can write them down or make a mental note of it and repeat it to yourself or rewrite the limiting belief into a positive one. If you wish to take a step further, you can find examples in real life to prove your new positive belief. Take for example, I believe that anyone can succeed no matter what background they come from. In fact, a lot of successful people come from difficult upbringings, just look at _____ and _____, then fill in those places with your examples and role models. I can see how they did it and learn from them, and I know that I can succeed.
Now, perhaps you will end up realizing that out of all those thoughts, there is only one that matters or even more than one, it is the piece of information that you didn’t have previously and hopefully you make good use of it.
Now as always, I would love to hear your thoughts on overthinking and do we have any underthinkers? Comment down below!