How to Stop Overthinking Part 1: The 4 Subconscious Reasons You Overthink Everything

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In this video we’re going to talk about the subconscious reasons you overthink everything and how to catch yourself when you do it. This video is all about learning to recognize your thinking patterns, then in the next 5 videos in this series you’ll learn really practical skills to stop overthinking and rumination.

I had a client who made a mistake at work. Let’s call her Layla. Now, her mistake wasn’t catastrophic, but she spent the next week worrying about it. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t focus on anything else. She just kept rehashing this problem around in her brain over and over and over. 

It made her stomach hurt. She couldn’t enjoy anything, and all she could do was think about her mistake just over and over again. 

She just kept thinking, “I am so stupid.” She would imagine handling the scenario like 50 different ways, and she just couldn’t stop rehashing it in her mind. 

Does this sound familiar? 

What Is Rumination?

Let’s talk about overthinking. It’s also called rumination, and it’s basically when your mind won’t shut up. You think about things over and over and over again. Even the most happy or exciting things in your life can be tainted by rumination. 

So thinking, “I’m excited for this date tonight” turns into “I wonder if they liked me” and then into “Why did I say that thing?” and “I am such an idiot. I should have said this thing instead.” 

But overthinking is super common. Research suggests that 73% of 25- to 35-year-olds chronically overthink, along with 52% of people ages 45 to 55. 

In this video we’re going to talk about the unconscious reasons you overthink everything and how to catch yourself when you do it. 

This video is all about learning to recognize your thinking patterns. And then in the next five videos in this series you’ll learn really practical skills to stop overthinking and rumination. 

What Are the Signs of Overthinking?

So here are seven signs that you’re an overthinker.

Number one: You have a hard time sleeping. So the minute you lay down you start to go over everything you did wrong. You obsess over everything you said. Your brain won’t shut off. 

Number two: You struggle to make decisions or you second-guess them. 

Now, just as an aside, confident people aren’t more likely to be right; they’re more willing to make imperfect choices. 

You spend a lot of time thinking that you might be happier if you’d taken a different job or wondering why you didn’t leave a situation earlier. Self-reflection leads to action; rumination leads to stagnation. 

Number three: You relive embarrassing moments in your mind repeatedly. So you constantly rehash conversations or you dwell on unpleasant experiences. 

Number four: You ask a lot of “what if” or “why me” questions. 

Number five: You have trouble concentrating. You’re so busy with your thoughts that you can’t focus on the person in front of you. 

Number six: You always try to read between the lines. You make assumptions about what other people mean. When your boss calls, you assume that it’s something bad. Or you seek constant reassurance. You’re always asking, “Are you mad at me?” Or you bring up the same topic with a trusted friend over and over again, like “Am I annoying?” or “Do you think my husband loves me?” 

And lastly, how you know that you’re overthinking is because overthinking is unproductive. It just doesn’t help anything. 

So for example, you can worry over and over again about a test, or you can study and prepare for a test. Layla can spend all week thinking about how stupid she is, or she could talk with her boss about how to fix the problem. 

What Are the Different Types of Overthinking?

You might think that overthinking is healthy or helpful, but Amy Morin, the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, said, “Overthinking is also different than self-reflection. 

“Healthy self-reflection is about learning something about yourself or gaining a new perspective about a situation. It’s purposeful. 

“Overthinking involves dwelling on how bad you feel and thinking about all the things you have no control over. It won’t help you develop new insight.” 

In my opinion, there’s four types of unproductive overthinking. There’s depressive rumination — so this is just only thinking about negative events, chewing it over and over and over again. Depressive rumination says things like, “Why is life so awful? Why am I such a failure? Why is this world so cruel? Why can’t I ever be happy?” things like that. 

The second type of overthinking is anxious rumination or worry. You might analyze past situations and imagine future catastrophes. You might think, “What’s gonna happen? Is World War III coming?” or “What if I did the wrong thing?” 

The third type of overthinking is decision paralysis or choice fatigue. You overthink decisions until you’re frozen in inaction. You’re afraid to take the wrong action, so you take no action at all. But even making the wrong decision is better than making no decision at all. 

The fourth type of overthinking I think is a subset of social anxiety: “What did she think of me?” “I should have responded this way.” “I am such an idiot.” “What did he mean when he said whatever he said?” So this fourth type is all about worrying about social situations.

Why Do I Ruminate?

Rumination is the technical term for overthinking, and it literally means chewing the cud. 

I grew up in an agricultural society, and in case you didn’t know, cows will regurgitate their food into their mouth, chew it, swallow it, and repeat. And they’ll do that over and over again, and then it’s going to go through four different chambers of their stomachs. They spend a third of their day ruminating. 

If you’re a cow, that’s great. It helps you process your food. But if you’re a human, ruminating can harm your mental health. Overthinking is associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. But it’s a chicken-and-an-egg situation, right? Overthinking causes anxiety and depression, and anxiety and depression can contribute to overthinking. 

But overthinking is not your identity. It’s not who you are. It’s a habit you learned. It’s something that you do, but it’s not a permanent trait. You can learn the skills to stop overthinking, and when you practice them, you can change your brain. 

So if overthinking is so harmful, why do we do it? When it comes to our minds, we keep doing things that we accidentally reward. We keep overthinking because we get some short-term benefit from it. So here’s four rewards you may get from overthinking. 

The first one is a false sense of control. You might believe that if you analyze a situation to death, you might be able to control everything about it. 

The second one is you convince yourself that you can avoid any chance of messing up by trying to be perfect instead. So you have to think over and over and over again about how to be perfect. 

The third way that overthinking is rewarding is you can’t tolerate uncertainty. You’re addicted to reassurance and knowing outcomes, or at least trying to control outcomes by thinking about every possible outcome. You think that if you plan out every single detail you can make everything perfect. 

Now, if you look carefully at these rewards, they’re all about avoiding fear. There’s something deep down that you’re scared of, and you think that if you just compulsively think about it that you can control it and keep yourself safe when instead, that backfires. 

The fourth reward that comes from overthinking is you imagine that overthinking is some kind of important work. You feel like you’re doing something when you’re thinking about something.

What’s the Difference Between Problem Solving and Overthinking?

Obviously, overthinking backfires in the long run. It messes with your sleep. It messes with your mental health. But even if we convince ourselves that overthinking is working for us, it probably isn’t. So first we need to get really clear: What’s the difference between harmful overthinking and problem-solving? 

Overthinking focuses on the negative. It’s fear-based. It also focuses on the things you can’t control. 

So for example, let’s say you’re worried about an upcoming test. Productive stress can help you take action, to study harder, to work a little bit more on the project and maybe reach out to classmates to form a study group. Productive stress might make you sleep a little less, but you’ll use that time to prepare for a situation. 

Overthinking, on the other hand, is all about spending a lot of time worrying about what questions will be on the test or pondering your parent’s reaction if you fail. Both of these things are things that are out of your control, and they lead to catastrophizing thoughts like, “Why am I such a failure?” “Why can’t things ever go my way?” “Why can’t I handle this?” 

If you actually have a problem you need to face, like you’re considering an important life decision, you may need to spend a lot of time considering your options or reviewing your memories. But never worry in your head. 

Productive thinking makes things more concrete and actionable. So set a time limit for yourself, and then write it down, say it out loud, diagram it on a piece of paper, make a pros-and-cons list, explore all the aspects of a situation, but not just the negative or the compulsive. 

You can also combat shame by telling someone. You can combat cognitive distortions by asking for someone’s perspective. But the whole purpose of this is to not let these thoughts, these overthinking thoughts stay vague and cloudy in your head all day. 

If you think that you need overthinking to be successful, you might need to ask yourself, “How much time am I spending on this? Is it actually helping me?” And then let’s get honest about how it may be negatively impacting you. These are areas like sleep, work, relationships, your physical health, stress, tension headaches, stomachaches. 

The truth is that overthinking actually makes you less creative and less likely to solve problems. 

There’s so much we can learn about overthinking. I started writing one video about it, and I ended up writing six. So in the next video I’m going to teach eight strategies to stop overthinking. These are some really practical things you can do to change how you think, to change your bad habits and uh find a lot more sense of peace and calm inside of your brain. So stay tuned. 

Another resource I have is my Quick Start Guide to Anxiety. You can download this free resource below. 

Thank you for watching, and take care.

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