Overthinking is something we all do at some point. Everyone worries at least once about school grades, financial matters, or relationship troubles with friends or family members. However, if you are getting lost in your thoughts often, it may signify you have the overthinking disorder, otherwise known as a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The overthinking disorder is marked by excessive worry about things that are entirely out of one's control. It can include obsessions, compulsions, intrusive thoughts, or a combination of all three. Over time, it becomes hard to focus on anything but your obsessive thoughts, and you may experience chaos in several different aspects of your life.
First, know that you are not alone. Therapy can be a great way to understand why you are overthinking so frequently, identify what may be causing your overthinking, and figure out ways to stop. On top of that, a therapist may help you improve your overall wellbeing, from anxiety and stress to sleep patterns—which can all contribute to overthinking.
The good news is that overthinking disorder is treatable. If you're experiencing unwanted, disruptive, and pervasive thoughts, there are ways to get them under control. It can be hard to feel like your mind is working against you, but there is hope. Keep reading to learn about the signs and symptoms of the overthinking disorder and your possible treatment options.
Overthinking Disorder - What is it?
Technically, Overthinking Disorder doesn't exist. However, there are many kinds of anxiety disorders where an individual engages in overthinking or rumination. When someone cannot stop obsessing and worrying over things, it can interfere with their quality of life.
You may be wondering, "what conditions cause overthinking?" Some mental health diagnoses where a person can't stop their brain from rumination are OCD, PTSD, trauma, agoraphobia, panic disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, substance-induced anxiety disorders, or it could potentially be a symptom of some other mental health disorder. Only a medical professional can accurately diagnose the overthinking disorder or any other mental health disorder.
When it comes to anxiety disorders, many of them have to overthink as a symptom. For example, a person with panic disorder might ruminate and overthink when they have a panic attack again. They obsess over what will set off their attack. Not only are they anxious, but they now also have meta-anxiety, which is anxiety about being anxious. Overthinking their panic attack made it feel more daunting while also increasing their chances of having another one.
Overthinking is common. You don't have to have an anxiety disorder to engage in constant rumination. You might say it's part of the human condition. We all overthink things at times: You may be overly concerned with what you said or did to somebody. You may be worried about performing at school or work. You might be concerned about how others see you. These are all examples of how you might engage in overthinking.
Other examples of overthinking include:
- When you are obsessing over what you should have said or done
- Performance anxiety, or worrying about how you measure up to others at work
- Engaging in "what-if" scenarios where you consider what could happen in a variety of circumstances
- Catastrophizing or thinking the worst will happen
- Worrying about having a panic attack unexpectedly
- Intrusive or obsessive thoughts
Overthinking is pervasive, but there's help for the condition. Many people obsess and worry about things that are out of their control. A common treatment for this type of anxiety is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT helps people challenge their negative or irrational thinking and change their thoughts into productive, positive ones. Getting therapy or counseling for anxiety can make a huge difference for someone with overthinking. You can work with a therapist in your local area or with one of the trained mental health professionals here at BetterHelp. Online counseling is an excellent place to work on anxiety and start learning coping skills to manage it.
Many people are familiar with the term anxiety disorder (and millions of Americans live with some sort of anxiety disorder every day). Still, we tend to overlook a major symptom of anxiety disorders, which is overthinking.
The definition of overthinking is to ruminate or obsess about something. A lot of people, when hearing this definition, might believe they are overthinkers. Who doesn't go a single day without overthinking something? We wonder if we're making the right choices, from small things like picking the fastest route on our commute that morning or selecting the right restaurant for dinner to things like our children's wellbeing and our family's safety and security. Those worries are normal. It's common to worry and overthink to some extent.
However, the harmful effects are overthinking can have on a person mentally and emotionally. When overthinking is the direct result of an anxiety disorder, the excessive thoughts cause one to experience anxiety, stress, fear, or dread. It's not just thinking too much about something— it's obsessing about something so much that it affects one's ability to function in their life.
When you wander or worry about yourself, your life, your family, your friends, or anything else, and you don't have an overthinking issue, your worries go away after some time. You might continue to worry at times, but you don't constantly ruminate, and you don't find the worry interfering with the rest of your life. When it comes to overthinkers, however, the worry is all the person can think about. Even though they may not obsess about the same thing all the time, they're always concerned about something.
If you believe you are experiencing overthinking due to anxiety, you may have gone through one or more of these situations:
- Difficulty following along with and contributing to a conversation because you go over potential responses or statements time and again until the conversation has either ended or the window of opportunity for speaking was lost
- Continually comparing yourself to the people around you and how you measure up to them
- Focusing on worst-case scenarios either involving yourself or the ones you love
- Reliving past failures or mistakes over and over again and being unable to move past them
- Worrying about future tasks and goals until they feel almost impossible to accomplish
- Reliving a past traumatic experience (such as abuse or the loss of a loved one), leaving you unable to cope with it
- An inability to slow down the racing of vague thoughts, worries, or emotions
No two people will experience overthinking in the same way. However, those who experience it will find that their quality of life is compromised by their inability to control negative thoughts and emotions effectively. It can make it more difficult to go out and socialize, enjoy hobbies, or be productive at work as their mind spends a disproportionate amount of time and energy on specific lines of thought. There's a sense that they don't have full control over their minds or emotions, which can be very damaging to one's mental health.
Making friends or keeping them can be difficult with overthinking because you struggle to communicate when something is wrong, or you might communicate excessively. It can be extremely difficult to talk to friends or family members in your life because you're concerned about what to say or to do. Someone who overthinks may struggle even to carry on general conversations or to interact in a normal environment. They may have difficulty even going to the store or an appointment.
The truth is overthinking can affect anything and everything about your life. It can affect the way you work with others, impact your social life, and take a toll on your personal life. What that means is it can start to wear away at you and at the relationships you have with the people around you. Overthinking can create serious problems in your life.
How to Stop Overthinking
"Stop overthinking things!"
You may have heard this said many times, and it's quite unhelpful. You can't just flip a switch and stop overthinking. Being told to stop overthinking often does the opposite; you end up overthinking even more. It's a vicious cycle. Although the people who use this phrase mean well, you need practical tips and tricks to help stop the cycle. You should try out different techniques to find what works best for you. Since every person is different (various personalities, needs, wants, etc.), not all tools to stop overthinking will work equally for everyone—and that's okay. It just takes one or two methods that work to help curb your overthinking habit.
Teaching yourself not to overthink is a long process that involves re-training your brain. Let's look at some common reasons why you may overthink and ways that may help you stop.
Overthinking at Bedtime
When you can't sleep, your mind can race, and you may have obsessive thoughts about getting sleep. Often, this overthinking comes when insomnia strikes and then continues into the next day. You may feel tired, and your brain is less focused. You may have negative and obsessive thoughts about not being able to sleep.
Insomnia is called a vicious cycle for a reason. When you have it, it's hard to stop overthinking about not sleeping. Here are a few ways you can reduce that when you're having trouble sleeping.
Another reason why people overthink is because of decision-making. Sometimes, the decision is something big. Other times, people worry about matters that can seem small to a brain that doesn't struggle with overthinking.
Thinking about decisions before acting on them is a good trait to have, but there's a clear difference between being thoughtful and thinking too much. You can waste a lot of valuable time thinking too much, so you should choose which decisions deserve your attention the most very wisely.
Here's how to finally overcome decision-making anxiety:
Anxiety and Overthinking
Many mental illnesses can lead to overthinking, and the connection between anxiety and overthinking is obvious. Those who have anxiety have a hard time living in the present. Parts of the brain always worry about what is happening next, and extreme anxiety and overthinking can make it hard to take the next step. Here's how to stop anxiety and to overthink when your anxious brain tells you no:
Anxiety and overthinking are two things that go hand in hand, but there are ways to manage them that will make it much better.
Bipolar Disorder and Overthinking
When one thinks of bipolar disorder, they think of the mental health information they know about. People with bipolar disorder tend to be either depressed or manic and alternate between the two. These highs and lows are like mood swings that come and go regularly. Those with bipolar disorder have a hard time with their mood, but they may also have a hard time overthinking.
With bipolar disorder, overthinking, upsetting or distressing thoughts can happen with both sides of the coin. When they are depressed, they might overthink past mistakes or worry that their depression will keep them from doing good things in the future. They may also worry about the side effects of the medication they take. When experiencing a manic episode, they might have trouble paying attention to their thoughts, making it harder to challenge the thoughts and reframe them into something positive. Rumination is common, and it can feel impossible to quiet one's mind. It can also be more difficult to separate reality from fiction during a manic episode.
If you have or suspect you have bipolar disorder, you must seek the help of a therapist either online or in person. Online therapy works especially well for mild to moderate cases. A therapist can help you pay closer attention to your thoughts so that you can reframe them. They may teach you about CBT or use some other method as treatment.
Sometimes, your bipolar episodes can last for different periods, and your thoughts can make them worse. For example, if you can only focus on negative things, it may prolong and worsen the symptoms you're experiencing. Bipolar disorder or negative, uncontrollable thoughts that pop into our minds tend to worsen the problem. Seek help if you need it.
OCD and Overthinking
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD is characterized by repetitive, unwanted thoughts known as obsessions. It is known as the doubting disease and makes people distressed because of their constant doubts about something specific. People with OCD also engage in what are known as compulsions to try and alleviate their worries and doubts. Although double everyone checks, does research to make sure of something or performs routines occasionally, people with OCD are heavily impacted by their condition. Treatment is available to help symptoms, but there is no cure for OCD, and it is a lifelong condition.
Those with OCD engage in overthinking to the extreme. They might fear germs, have intrusive thoughts about taboo topics, or need to have things arranged perfectly. They may excessively clean or wash their hands, organize their home or belongings in a specific way, or constantly check the door is locked. People with OCD cannot control their thoughts or compulsions and spend a lot of time on them. This is why it becomes so disruptive to daily life.
Common techniques used to treat overthinking may be less effective for those living with OCD. Other therapy options like exposure and response prevention (ERP), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are effective treatments. Only a mental health professional can diagnosis OCD with accuracy. If you suspect your overthinking points to symptoms of OCD, seek the help of a therapist or doctor for further information. Help is always available.
Hypochondria and Overthinking
Overthinking is linked to a condition known as hypochondria. Hypochondriacs fear they have an illness whenever they experience certain symptoms. They might believe they have cancer, a brain tumor, or a terminal illness. Their overthinking usually begins after visiting Google or WebMD. In many cases, they visit the doctor to be informed that they are fine and just overthinking. Those with generalized anxiety disorder are more prone to be hypochondriacs.
You can be a mild or extreme hypochondriac. Extreme hypochondriacs will meet with their doctor frequently. However, no amount of discussion with the doctor makes their anxiety go away. No matter how much you try, you still think you're sick.
Your doctor may recognize that you have hypochondria if you're seeing them a lot. If not, you may have to seek out help for the condition yourself. Over time, you'll become more comfortable with uncertainty and won't be tempted to believe you are sick whenever something feels off in your body.
Thinking Positive Thoughts
You may wonder how to stop overthinking. One way is to think more positive thoughts. It sounds obvious, but it isn't always easy to shift from a negative to a positive mindset. You probably would have done so a long time ago if it were that easy. However, science backs up that positive thoughts and more positive thinking patterns are the keys to success. Health benefits of positive thinking include a longer life span, lower levels of depression and stress, a lowered risk of developing heart disease, and an increased ability to cope during hardships.
To think more positively, you have to know how to identify negative thoughts. Below are just a few common negative thought patterns that can hijack your brain and make it hard to think clearly:
Now that you can identify negative thought patterns, you can explore how to reframe these thoughts. If you want to think more positively, here are some ways to do so:
Mentally Strong People
Mentally strong people are less likely to overthink. Think of your brain as a muscle. The more you train it, the more mentally strong you'll get. Increasing your mental strength is especially important as you age. Mental health declines with aging, but with the right health information, you can train your mind.
Here are some ways to work toward being a mentally strong individual:
Remember that having overthinking disorder doesn't make you a weak person. No one is weak because they struggle with their mental health in some aspect. You should consider yourself strong for continuing to press forward despite your circumstances. It takes time to become mentally strong, so be patient with yourself as you develop a healthier mindset.
Stress and our tendency to overthink go hand in hand. Stress is our body's way to help us when we're in a situation that's threatening. However, our body can't distinguish between real danger and worry about everyday problems, and thus the stress piles on. People tend to find it hard to cope with their stress, especially because it can interfere with work, school, or life at home.
Some stress can be good. Stress associated with positive psychology, which is good stress, tends to challenge you and make you want to do better. Too much stress can make your problems worse, though, including:
Stress can happen to anyone. It doesn't matter if you're a child, in your teen years, or an adult. If you have a habit of overthinking and have stress, here are some simple ways to reduce stress. Anyone can practice these, and they don't require a doctor, either:
While many people are skeptical about motivational speakers, they may be able to help. Reading stories about someone who overcame anxiety can inspire you and is a good way to distract you from your overthinking. More than that, though, these stories can give you hope that tomorrow can be better.
Spiritual psychologist and author Eckhart Tolle provide a good place to start. Tolle has written many books about the here and now, which can help you avoid overthinking. Guy Winch, a psychologist, is a good one to listen to as well. Any author of emotional guidance is worth checking out.
When it comes to mindfulness, read all the health information you can get. Some books are short and don't take a lot of time to read. Others do take a lot of time, but the information they give is worth it. Some self-help books will surprise you with how much they can help with healing, rejection, guilt, failure, and other problems. When it comes to overthinking, it's essential to consume all the mindfulness content you can. Mindfulness is the key to getting the help you need. You can also ask your therapist for content recommendations. Sometimes, they can offer better advice than an Internet search or book will be able to.
It's worth mentioning that how we think and how the brain works is still a mystery in some regards. Many clinical trials, both clinical, social, and beyond, may teach us more about the mind. However, these clinical trials are just that: trials.
Overthinking is a behavior that could occur at any time and is especially common for those with any type of anxiety disorder. The worry you have about different situations and obstacles in your life can quickly turn into overthinking and wondering about what you should do or how you can stop bad things from happening. The truth is, you can't stop all bad things from happening, and you can't stop yourself from making every bad decision. What you can do is get help.
How BetterHelp Can Support You
If you've been struggling to stop overthinking, it may be helpful to seek professional treatment. You can find help in many ways, but a convenient and private place to start is via an online counseling site like BetterHelp. There, you will find access to licensed counselors ready to help you overcome your struggles with the overthinking disorder. You don't have to stop your thoughts by yourself.
With online therapy, you'll be able to communicate with a licensed, confidential mental health provider without having to worry about going to a facility or even being seen by anyone but the therapist themself. You can feel more comfortable because you're in a setting that you feel best in your home. All of this can make it easier for you to open up and start your healing journey alongside your therapist.
According to a study at Berkeley Well-Being Institute, 98 percent of clients made significant progress through BetterHelp. Many of the counselors at BetterHelp specialize in treating anxiety disorders, including overthinking disorder. Many therapists at BetterHelp have had clients like yourself who can't get rid of their ruminating thoughts. No matter how hard they tried, their thoughts of shame, rejection, and guilt just didn't seem to go away. However, through therapy, they were able to develop new ways of coping and move past their anxious tendencies. The same can happen for you. Take the first step and trust an online therapist to guide you toward healthier thinking about your life.
A therapist can give you:
If you're living with any type of anxiety, there's hope. Therapists have experience and training to treat generalized anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and other ailments associated with overthinking. You can work with a licensed mental health counselor who can help you develop the coping skills to manage your anxiety and live a fulfilling life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Do I Stop Overthinking Everything?
If you find that you're overthinking, don't punish yourself. People with chronic anxiety often find themselves ruminating over various things in their life. It's hard to detach from something you can't control. People with anxiety disorders often overthink, and you can use strategies to stop thinking so much.
One of the most important things to do is to have the self-awareness to know that you are contemplating. Once you know that you're overthinking, you can use techniques to stop doing so. Notice that you're contemplating, and then ask yourself, "Is there anything I can do about this situation?" If you're doing the best you can, and there's no action you can take, you can distract yourself and do something else. Sometimes, we overthink because we feel out of control, and that's normal. Asking yourself if there's anything that you can do and using radical acceptance can curb overthinking.
Another reason we may overthink is that we're worried that something terrible is going to happen. If you find yourself catastrophizing, be aware of that and ask yourself, "is it likely that this situation will unfold?" If you realize that you're engaging in catastrophizing, what can be helpful is writing what you think will happen down on paper. When you see it in front of you, you'll likely realize that these terrible things aren't likely to happen and will be able to put things into perspective. You can then disengage from the thoughts by doing something like going for a walk or calling a friend.
If you can't stop overthinking and it's starting to affect your life, you should seek help from a mental health professional. They can teach you tools and tricks to help with your anxiety and worry. They might also use techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to reduce anxious thoughts with much success.
Why Do I Overthink Everything?
Overthinking is a natural human phenomenon. It only becomes a problem when it starts interfering with everyday life. If you overthink everything, you may have a chronic anxiety disorder. You could be a worrier. It might be part of your personality. Sometimes people who like to be in control obsess over things hoping they'll find a solution and will be able to change them. There are many reasons you might be overthinking, and it is helpful to explore them with a therapist. Just as you learn to overthink by default, you can also unlearn your overthinking and develop new, healthier ways of thinking.
What Does Overthinking Do to Your Brain?
Overthinking takes a physical and mental toll on one's body. Some people develop headaches from overthinking. Other people notice that they become frustrated due to overthinking. You can have physiological symptoms from overthinking. When you overthink, you might become exceedingly anxious; things can start to seem worse and worse, and your thoughts might begin to race. You might experience insomnia due to overthinking, and it could also impact your memory or ability to learn. Due to the distress happening in your brain, you may overeat or undereat and become tired. It's essential to come up with ways to curb the impulse to overthink.
How Do You Break the Cycle of Overthinking?
If you want to break the cycle of overthinking, it's essential to develop strategies to use when you become aware that you're overthinking. Redirecting thoughts and reminding yourself that you're doing the best you can is one strategy. Another thing you can try is giving yourself a plan of action. Sometimes, we overthink because we don't know what to do. You can challenge the thoughts that come into your head and use mindfulness or practice grounding techniques that can help you. You don't need to change your thoughts or shame yourself for them, but you can learn to accept and release them to continue your daily activities. You can focus on finding a solution to the problem, if possible. In many cases, therapy can help break the cycle. A therapist can teach you how to reframe negative thoughts and develop more positive thinking patterns.
How Can I Quiet My Mind?
Mindfulness is a great technique to use to calm your mind down. Meditation can help with calming your mind. You can let thoughts come in without judgment and accept what you can't control. When you practice mindfulness, you are observing your thoughts without trying to change them. You will learn grounding exercises that help you remain in your body and prevent overthinking. Mindfulness activities can include things like:
Is Overthinking a Symptom of Anxiety?
Yes, people with anxiety often experience overthinking as one of the main symptoms. When you're constantly worried about what's going to happen, you may overthink and consider different scenarios in an attempt to control the worst-case outcome. Unfortunately, overthinking isn't a solution and is unlikely to solve any issues, so it's important to talk to a licensed therapist and develop coping techniques for overthinking.
How Do I Stop Overthinking and Anxiety?
Try to reframe your thoughts rather than putting a stop to them completely. Getting to this point means you'll need to practice self-compassion and be nonjudgmental toward your thoughts. Don't assign meaning to your thoughts. Instead, let them come and go. If you try to stop something, it's likely to come back full force, so it's about working with rather than against it.
Develop an awareness of your thoughts. If you're a perfectionist, wanting things to be a certain way can impact you in such a way that you ruminate over wanting things to go a certain way. You can't control the future, but you can be responsible for what you do right now. A mental health professional can always help you with overthinking, and anxiety should you reach out to one.
What Are the Side Effects of Overthinking?
As mentioned above, you could experience physiological symptoms. You might have memory issues; you may become stressed out and get headaches, migraines, body aches, have trouble focusing, and face chronic sleep issues. It's essential to recognize overthinking so that you can stop it from negatively impacting your mind and body.
Can We Control Our Thoughts?
In short, we don't have complete control over all of our thoughts. We may be aware of a small fraction of the thoughts that pop in our head, but it's a dismal amount compared to everything we think about throughout the days and weeks. This is good news for overthinkers. Once you realize that your thoughts aren't very controllable, it can be easier to release them.
Part of overthinking is wanting to control a situation or your thought patterns. That's why it's essential to let go of the thoughts rather than trying to control them. Mindfulness is a great technique to help you let go of attempting to control the uncontrollable. If you find that you're swept away in your thoughts and can't seem to strategize to stop overthinking, talking with your therapist can be a great tool to help you.
What Is Overthinking a Symptom Of?
Overthinking is a major symptom of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders refer to a group of mental illnesses characterized by mental distress affecting people's daily activities and lives.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorder is more than tentative fear or worry but worsens over time. Thinking, overthinking, vague thoughts, worries, and specific thoughts are all symptoms of anxiety disorder. Of course, many other mental health disorders could be causing someone to overthink. Only a mental health professional can give you an accurate diagnosis and start you on the best treatment plan.
Is Overthinking a Symptom Of ADHD?
Technically, overthinking is not a symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it could be depending on the person. According to the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR), ADHD is an extremely common psychiatric condition among those struggling with addiction.
However, overthinking becomes worse when you have ADHD. Overthinking leads to frustration and severe depression in ADHD patients. On several occasions, it may result in unpleasant feelings and other mental health illnesses. More common symptoms of ADHD include:
How Do You Treat Overthinking Disorder?
The overthinking disorder may affect your relationship with the people around you and your daily activities at home and work. If you have an anxiety disorder, you are at a high risk of having an overthinking disorder. When it occurs, the best way to get it treated is via therapy. Find a therapist for professional help. Your ability to find a therapist may help you deal with your irrational thoughts and worries. There may even be a need for tests to show how critical your condition is. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is a common treatment method for overthinking and may be recommended by your therapist or doctor.
How Do I Stop Overthinking and Thinking Negatively?
Excessive rumination may be problematic and leave you confused, mentally stressed, or depressed. Spending much time thinking about negative things may cause damage to your well-being, affecting your sleeping and eating. You should learn to recognize when your overthinking has reached an unhealthy level and know what to do to stop it. The following are ways to stop overthinking and destructive thought patterns:
How Can I Stop Thinking at Night?
Sometimes, you may find it difficult to sleep at night due to troubling or persistent thoughts that you cannot keep your mind off. The following tips can help you sleep more soundly:
What Is the Root Cause of Overthinking?
Everyone thinks. It's a mental activity that determines how things physically manifest concerning decision making and action, among other things. People don't think the same, which explains the big differences in individual living choices. Thinking can go beyond normal limits. You may ruminate excessively on issues, resulting in dread, fear, depression, and anxiety.
There are factors responsible for thinking too much. Some of these may include:
How Do I Stop Worrying About Everything?
Too much worry about everything can interfere with normal life by affecting your feelings, eating habits, and sleeping patterns. You must learn to stop worrying about everything and begin to experience an inner peace that consistently places your mind at rest. The following are ways you can begin to stop worrying about everything:
What Are the Side Effects of Overthinking?
When you subject your brain to excessive thinking, it comes with side effects that may affect your mental health. Overthinking may result in the following medical challenges: