What Is Overthinking Disorder?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

“Overthinking disorder” may not be an official diagnosis, but overthinking can be a symptom of various mental health disorders, particularly anxiety disorders. Stress, anxiety, perfectionism, and negative thought patterns can all contribute to overthinking. If you’d like to gain control over overthinking, you might start by practicing mindfulness, challenging negative thoughts, engaging in self-care, practicing positive self-talk, and spending time with friends and family. Therapy, whether in person or online, can be a way to get personalized insight and guidance regarding how to overcome overthinking and any underlying mental health disorders.

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Break the cycle of overthinking

The negative effects of overthinking on mental health

Overthinking may be a common mental health challenge that can negatively affect your emotional and physical well-being. When you become excessively preoccupied with your thoughts, it may lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. This could also manifest as physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach upset. 

Overthinking may interfere with your ability to make decisions, enjoy the present moment, and have a good night's sleep. It tends to be a good idea to learn how to manage your thoughts and emotions so you can break the cycle of overthinking and improve your overall mental health.

Understanding the causes of overthinking

Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are likely to be two of the most common causes of overthinking. Stress can further amplify the cycle of overthinking, as worrying tends to breed more worrying. Try to recognize when your mind begins to spiral downward and take measures to prevent it from taking control.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism can be another major factor in overthinking. By attempting to control every detail and outcome, you may get caught up in thinking about things that cannot possibly be controlled or are outside of your power. Once you can break free from what might seem like an endless cycle, it can help to remind yourself that striving for perfection is usually unrealistic and impractical.

Negative thought patterns

Negative thinking patterns may contribute to overthinking as well. If you have experienced trauma in the past or have deeply ingrained negative beliefs, it may take time and effort to break the habit of overthinking. Practicing mindfulness and challenging negative thoughts can combat these thought patterns.

Generalized anxiety disorder

Overthinking could also be a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder, which is a mental illness characterized by constant and uncontrollable worrying, even when there’s no reason behind it. Generalized anxiety disorder may also occur alongside other conditions such as social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. Treatments for this mental health condition might include relaxation techniques and talk therapy.

Strategies to break the cycle of overthinking

Simple strategies, like getting enough sleep, exercising, and keeping the mind active, can nurture brain health. In the case of breaking the cycle of overthinking, it can be helpful to practice mindfulness techniques so you can focus on the present moment. This may involve meditation, deep breathing, or paying attention to your senses. By focusing on the present moment, you may be able to let go of your worries about the past or the future and find a sense of calm.
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Another strategy for breaking the cycle of overthinking may be to challenge negative thoughts and reframe them in a more positive way. This may involve questioning the evidence for your negative thoughts or finding alternative, more realistic perspectives. 

Talking to someone you trust about your worries and challenges may help you feel heard and understood, and it may offer perspective and encouragement as well. Practicing self-compassion and self-care may reduce the negative impact of overthinking. 

Engaging in activities that nourish your mind and body, such as exercise, good nutrition, and relaxation, may help you feel more grounded and resilient. Finally, seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist can be invaluable in breaking the cycle of overthinking.

Coping with triggers that may lead to overthinking

To effectively break the cycle of overthinking, it may be helpful to identify common triggers that may lead you to overthink. This may include certain situations, people, or emotions that tend to set off your worrying thoughts. Once you have identified these triggers, you may develop a plan to cope with them. This can involve finding ways to avoid or minimize exposure to the trigger or developing strategies to manage your thoughts and emotions when you encounter the trigger.

Some of these strategies might include

  • Practice mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, and paying attention to your five senses.
  • Challenge negative thoughts and reframe them in a more positive way
  • Engage in activities that nourish your mind and body, such as exercise, good nutrition, and relaxation
  • Identify common triggers that may lead to overthinking and develop a plan for coping with them
  • Take time out of each day for self-care activities such as journaling, reading, listening to music, etc.
  • Practice self-acceptance and forgiveness
  • Practice positive self-talk and recognize when you have unrealistic and irrational thoughts
  • Set goals that are achievable, attainable, and motivating
  • Spend time with friends and family who support you and help you stay positive
  • Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions
  • Take breaks from the activity that is causing you stress or worry and take time for yourself
  • Seek professional support, if necessary, such as counseling or online therapy
  • Focus on the positives in life and practice gratitude

The physical health consequences of overthinking

According to studies, overthinking may increase your risk of experiencing physical health issues like headaches, stomachaches, and sleep disruptions. These physiological symptoms can occur due to the tension and anxiety that frequently accompany overthinking. 

Over time, overthinking may also impair your immune system. Your body's stress response is typically triggered when you're anxious or stressed out, potentially generating substances like cortisol, which can weaken your immune system. This can mean that you may become more prone to disease and ongoing health issues.

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Break the cycle of overthinking

Online therapy for overthinking

Consulting a mental health professional, like an online therapist, may be helpful in breaking the cycle of overthinking. If you frequently overthink various aspects of your daily life, then the process of scheduling and attending a therapy session in person may seem daunting. With online therapy, you can attend sessions from the comfort of your home or any location with an internet connection where you feel at ease. 

In addition, you may not need to worry about rearranging your schedule to fit in therapy sessions, as online therapy platforms frequently allow for sessions scheduled outside of typical office hours.

Recent research has shown that online therapy may be an effective way to treat overthinking and the anxiety that may be leading to this symptom. For instance, one study stated that online therapy can be effective in treating various mental health concerns, particularly anxiety and the effects of stress.

Takeaway

Overthinking can come with consequences for your physical and mental health, but it may be controlled with the right methods. You might find inner peace by practicing mindfulness, letting go of unpleasant thoughts, identifying triggers, and taking care of yourself. Online therapy can be an effective method for treating overthinking by reducing negative thinking and improving psychological well-being. Understanding the causes of overthinking and using these approaches can make it possible to break the cycle of negative thinking and enhance your mental health.

Work through personality disorder symptoms

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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