How do I deal with my overthinking?

Overthinking stresses me out. I feel as if I am going nowhere in life. My life stresses me out lately, like I don't know where to start. I cry sometimes because I can't handle everything at once. I tend to bottle up my emotions (which I am aware of it not being a smart thing to do), but I have things on my daily life that trigger my overthinking and it drives me crazy. It's so much that I wish I could just scream my heart out. How can so many things make me feel so depressed. It's just thoughts, and my own thoughts make me feel the most horrible. I don't feel proud of myself, and I wish I could just make it go away at the snap of a finger, but I can't. My current living situation doesn't really help at all. I always say if I lived somewhere else, I'd be better off, but financially I can't just move out on my own. I've been thinking about joining the military for the longest time. To me, I'd be so happy to just up and leave and do my own thing. Here I am though, asking for help on how to deal with these things I can't handle.
Asked by Solana

Thank you for reaching out for support and for submitting your question. I am very sorry that you are experiencing challenges and difficulties in your life right now.

You mention overthinking is a big concern for you. Thinking is something all of us do. And it can be a good thing for us to engage in. It can be vitally necessary in many instances. In fact, there are many times in our life when taking the time to be thoughtful, to think more than we might normally, helps us tremendously and is vitally important.

But overthinking?

That most definitely can become problematic and can indeed get in our way. It can keep us stuck in place. It can stop you from taking action and keep you from getting things done. It can wreak quite a bit of havoc on your emotions and bring down your overall mood. It can impair your relationships, both personal and professional. It can make you feel overwhelmed and stress you out. It can also lead to muscle and body aches, tension, and overall general chronic pain in the body. Some may experience headaches or digestive issues because of it. In chronic, long-term cases there can be issues with premature aging, a compromised immune system, heart disease and other conditions. It really can do quite a number on your emotional and physical health if left unchecked. So it is vital to notice this pattern and cut it off. 

Overthinking makes thinking productively and clearly much, much harder – if not nearly impossible. Maybe you worry a lot about the future and what may or may not come to pass. Often, this means making predictions, usually catastrophic ones, which quite likely will never happen. Or you get trapped ruminating and dwelling over the past. Perhaps you do both.

Overthinking can be a symptom of anxiety, stress, or depression. It can absolutely be a challenging habit to break. But you can get reduce your overthinking tendencies and things can certainly improve. Practice will be helpful as you won’t change this pattern right away. Practice AND patience will be key.

Being aware that you have a tendency towards overthinking is actually a really great place to be and is a good first step. After all, you cannot change something you don’t acknowledge. Before we can change a habit we need to be aware it even exists. Catching yourself when you get caught up with overthinking is a moment of awareness that will help facilitate change.

Often, our overthinking can be deeply rooted in fear. We begin getting very focused in on all the many things which could go wrong. Our imagination can truly get the best of us. And when that occurs we find that we get stuck. We can’t seem to take action. We get paralyzed by the endless loop of thoughts. We get frozen in place.

The next time you notice that loop of overthinking settling in over you, consciously hit the pause button. Notice if you are thinking about all that could go wrong. Are you having lots of negative worries flooding in? Take that moment to switch over to using your powers of thinking to come up with all that could go right and all the positives. Find some alternatives. Switch gears, so to speak.

One option is to give yourself some scheduled worry and thinking time. Set a boundary around it. During the time you can think and mull and stew and ruminate all you’d like. You are not going to overthink and worry all day non-stop. Pick maybe 20 minutes where you will sit and process things. Get some pen and paper. Or sit at your computer. List out all the things which need to be thought about. Write about them. What are they? How do they make you feel? What can you do about them? What is out of your control? Get it all out and when your time is up then it’s time to move on. It can be a good idea to plan an enjoyable, relaxing activity after your get-out-your-thoughts session. If you begin to overthink during your day outside your scheduled time, just remind yourself to get back on the task at hand and make a note if need be that you will get to think about things later.

Try to challenge the negative thoughts you have. We all have them. Many are untrue. So check in and see how many of yours could be false. Consider the thought. Ask – is that true? How do you know it’s true? What is the evidence for and against it? What else could be true? Try your best to take a more balanced approach.

Feeling unworthy and disappointed in ourselves is a something many others find themselves struggling with. It just simply means you’re human. We all experience it at some point and to varying degrees. Again, you’re not alone in this. And it’s a normal thing to have happen. However, it sometimes can become too much to manage and it becomes overwhelming. That sounds like what is happening for you. If it’s impeding your ability to function well in your daily life, causing emotional upset, holding you back, and causing difficulties in relationships, there is much you can do to begin to feel better. You do not need to continue to live in such a way.

Learning to be kinder to yourself and working on increasing self-compassion can be helpful. As can practicing gratitude – savoring what you have and who you truly are. You can begin with finding something small to be grateful for. Begin paying more attention to what is good – or even what is just okay.

A lack of happiness oftentimes can be the result of us not having a clear sense of meaning and purpose. Working on this will require a bit more time and effort. You’ll want to become more aware of your values and passions. You might want to consider your current qualities versus which ones you may want to develop further. All of this can come about from self-reflection and asking lots of questions. You can do this alone or working with a therapist can be helpful. 

It sounds like this has all become a heavy burden for you. And it doesn’t have to continue to be this way. None of these feelings have to continue to control you or get in the way of you leading a joy filled, productive life. Working with a mental health therapist to explore what led you to this place is something worth considering. Together with your therapist, you can set goals and eventually find yourself digging out of what can feel like a dark hole you’ve been stuck in. This is something you can make great progress with. I encourage you to seek support so that these feelings don’t continue to limit and/or overwhelm you.