What Is Overthinking Disorder?

By Sarah Fader |Updated March 29, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tanya Harell, LPC

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.

Overthinking

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.

  • Meditation and mindfulness apps. These help you live in the present moment, discarding any thoughts or emotions you may have that are intrusive. Besides the fact that mindfulness can train your brain, it can calm you down and make it easier to sleep.
  • Get out of bed if you can't fall asleep. If you're in bed and you can't fall asleep, it feels like it's impossible to pass out. Your brain associates your bed with restlessness. Get out and do something relaxing. Don't spend time on social media or do something stimulating. Instead, relax. You can read a book, journal or listen to soft music.
  • Realize that lack of sleep isn't good for you, but it won't kill you. While your fear and anxiety tell you that you can't fall asleep, most cases are temporary. An occasional bout of insomnia is nothing to worry about. If the problem persists, however, it's time to see a doctor or therapist.

Decision Making

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:

  • Put a time limit on your decision-making. This time limit doesn't have to be so short that you feel rushed, but it should be short enough to help stop overthinking.
  • Many people, especially the big decision-makers, schedule their thinking times and end up distracting themselves in the meantime. Having certain times to think can prevent overthinking anxiety. Consider writing down your thoughts and decisions so that everything isn't ruminating around inside your brain. A trusted friend can hold you accountable for making your decisions in a timely manner.
  • Again, mindfulness and living in the present moment can help. The present moment should involve the logic behind making the decision, not the baseless fears you may have.
  • In some cases, you can change your mind on a decision. Realizing this can make it easier to make a decision. Not everything has to be permanent, and most things are not.

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:

  • Set small goals. By setting goals too big, your anxious mind may overthink things. Anxiety and overthinking make it hard for you to set bigger goals. By setting smaller goals, you can work your way up.
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. It's good for many mental illnesses, especially when it comes to anxiety and overthinking. Meditation can pull you back to the present moment and calm down your body should take an anxiety strike.
  • Figure out what causes your anxious brain to overthink. Certain things will make your mental illnesses worse, and spending time writing down what causes your anxiety and overthinking makes it easier to manage.
  • Distractions are always important in anxiety and overthinking. While you should always pay attention to your problems, distractions can help lower your anxiety, stress, and other issues. Try watching a movie or working on a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Start to notice when you're having rumblings of an anxiety attack. Then, take steps that you know will calm you down. Often, anxiety and overthinking can be prevented, especially if you know what places, people, or situations make their flare-up.
  • If your anxiety and overthinking are too much and take up all your time, it's time to see a professional.

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:

  • Emotional reasoning: If you think or feel something, you assume it has to be true, no matter how far-fetched or inaccurate it might be. Remember that your mind and heart can be deceitful, so try not to believe every thought that comes to mind. If you start to challenge your thoughts more often, you'll quickly find that many of your thoughts have no basis in reality.
  • Magnification or minimization: When you make a mistake, you feel as if it's the end of the world. Or, on the other hand, when you do something well, you minimize your achievement. Try to hold yourself to reachable standards, and don't be so hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. No one is perfect.
  • Jumping to conclusions: Even though you can't give concrete evidence that things will go badly, you are still convinced they're headed in that direction. You might also feel like other people don't like you without proving why you feel that way or checking out the validity of those feelings. Try not to jump to conclusions without having all the facts in place. Doing so just creates unnecessary stress.
  • All or nothing thinking: Do you tend to see the world in black and white rather than grey? If so, every small mistake can make you feel like a total failure. In reality, no one is a total failure, and everyone messes up at some point. If you practice all or nothing thinking, try to shift to a greyer perspective. The world is more complex than most people realize and there often isn't a black and white answer for every issue that comes up. Taking on a "greyer" perspective will also help you steer clear of any extremes.

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:

  • Take a look at your confirmation bias. Negative thoughts tend to linger, and it's usually the opposite when it comes to positive thoughts. Give positive thoughts just as much (if not more) opportunity to stick around in your head as you do the negative ones. Start trusting that the positive thoughts will come true rather than benefit from the doubt to everything going wrong.
  • Start to notice your positive thoughts. When you start thinking positively, write it down. Notice when you're thinking positive thoughts and compile them all.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindful techniques teach you to let go of emotional distress. You'll become more aware of any destructive thoughts and be more present with your emotions. Those that practicing mindfulness are less reactive, more grounded, and aware of their emotional state.
  • Think of all the times you've helped someone or anything that tends to make you feel happy or good about yourself. Release the thoughts that tell you you're a bad person.
  • Some people think that positive thinking means no negative thinking whatsoever. Anything concerning should be ignored, no matter how big it is. This is not true at all. Thinking positive thoughts just means having less negative thinking comparatively. Distressing thoughts will happen, but positive thinking teaches us that emotional distress is temporary and there is a lot to think about that's positive. For every negative thought that comes to mind, try to replace it with at least one positive thought.
  • Try cleaning up your feed on social media. Eliminate the negative people and focus your attention on positivity. Many people are overloaded with negative news, and if you're an overthinker, it's not good for you. Find better things to occupy your time and mind with.

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:

  • Mentally strong people exercise regularly. When you think of exercise, you may imagine strong people lifting heavy weights or running marathons. Note that exercise doesn't have to be this strenuous. You can exercise as little or as much as you'd like and to varying degrees depending on your body and ability. Exercise has many positive side effects on your mind. For example, your brain releases feel-good chemicals that kill pain and help reduce stress hormones. Not to mention exercise helps distract you from your thoughts, making it great if you want to know how to stop overthinking.
  • Mentally strong people try to socialize as much as they can. Try talking to a close friend and getting to know them on a deeper level. If you don't have any friends to talk to, try getting out and talking to someone in a bookstore, cafe, or another place. Thanks to technology, you can also use apps like Bumble BFF to meet new people in your area. When you're talking to new people and trying to make friends, you're more distracted by your newfound friendships and less prone to be captivated by worry.
  • Mentally strong people regularly practice cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy helps you get rid of bad habits and thoughts, and it can be used to treat all sorts of mental illnesses. CBT can improve eating disorders, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and more.
  • Strong people tend to train themselves mentally by mixing it up. Doing the same things over and over can have some negative side effects. Look at an aspect of your life and think about what you can do differently. Try a new hobby, going for your dream job, or just learning something new.
  • Strong people realize that there are going to be times of weakness. There are times where you spend too much time thinking, and then you notice yourself overthinking. It happens. You can schedule a time to let your mind wander about a specific problem, and when that time is up, stop thinking about it. This is something that may take practice but is worth a try.

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.

Reduce Stress

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:

  • Making you fear rejection, guilt, failure, or losing everything.
  • You tend to worry about the things you can't change. Most people realize that they should worry about the things they can change and ignore the things they can't change, but that doesn't make it any easier.
  • Physical stress is a problem with too much stress. Physical stress means that stress has actual, painful effects. Examples of physical stress include headaches, body aches, and stomach aches, among other symptoms.

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:

  • Practice cognitive behavioral therapy. This takes practice, but learning to identify intrusive thoughts and learning to cope with these thoughts is important.
  • Write down your problems and order them from most to least important. Solve the easiest problems first and then get to the hard ones after. Problem-solving can become easier using this strategy.
  • Think of your fear of failure and other everyday fears. Why do you fear this? How does your stress have an impact on you? Do you fear guilt, failure, or anything else? You may be worried about something else entirely and just don't realize it. For example, if you're worried about failing a test, consider that you're just worried about how your parents will react or that you won't get into your dream college. Getting to the bottom of your anxiety can help.
  • Working out can help reduce your stress by quite a bit.
  • Take some time to unwind. See what's happening on your favorite show. Don't spend too much time procrastinating, but instead, take a break and come back with a fresh mind.
  • Don't take drugs or alcohol. If talking to a therapist or psychologist leads them to prescribe medication, take that. Always consult a medical professional before taking any medication.
  • Finally, try working with a counselor. They may be able to help you with your problems.

Seek Motivation

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.

Anything Else?

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:

  • Personal growth. Not just personal growth, but growth in all aspects of your life.
  • Emotional healing
  • Therapy techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy help you with your meditative thoughts.
  • Communication through various mediums. Phone calls, texting, and video chat are just a few ways you can contact a therapist.

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.

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