Do you find yourself constantly trying to stop overthinking things? Turns out you’re not alone.
A study of 2,000 people discovered that 68% of adults admit to overthinking. Another found that overthinking is especially problematic for young to middle aged adults. 73% of 23-35 year olds and 52% of those aged 45-55 overthink.
But what exactly are we overthinking?
The first study found that close to 4 out of 10 adults overthink how to get out of plans. It also discovered that almost 1/3 of people worry that coworkers misinterpreted their office banter. Meanwhile, 32% of people overthink financial choices, like how much to spend on a gift or how to ask someone to repay the money they borrowed.
If you’re single, you may have even more to overthink …
Nearly 2/3 of single people overthink their dating profile. 30% will even lie or misrepresent themselves so that they seem more attractive on their profile … and in real life.
When it comes to the matter of the heart people overthink things like:
- What kind of impression they’re giving to a potential mate
- What to say on a date or phone call
- What to wear
- Whether to go for a ‘number two’ at their date’s house (this is a much bigger issue for women (51%) than men (29%).
- What to say on a text (the average time it takes to draft a text is 9 minutes)
- When to send a text response
Top 30 Things You’re Most Likely To Overthink
- How to get out of a plan you don’t want to go to
- What clothes to wear to a particular occasion
- If you’re making the right financial choices e.g. savings accounts vs. investing
- If your attempt at banter may have caused offense
- How to ask someone for money they owe you
- The wording of a text or WhatsApp message from a friend
- Why someone hasn’t responded to your text message straight away
- What your friends think of you
- How much to spend on a gift
- Why your friend never called you back
- What to wear on a date
- How to decorate a room (e.g. what colour it should be)
- If you are in the right profession/ career
- How to break up with someone
- What to order from the menu when out for a meal
- Why someone didn’t pick up your call
- If you seemed appreciative enough when you received a gift
- What to message a love interest
- What to cook for dinner
- What food to buy in the supermarket
- What to watch on Netflix or similar
- When to first say “I Love You” to someone
- What the boss’s email meant
- Why your boss gave your colleague praise and not you
- Why your partner paused before responding to a question
- What your excuse is for being late
- How much to tip in a restaurant
- Who to go on a date with
- Why someone canceled a meeting
- If you can have seconds at dinner
But what exactly is causing us to overthink …
Why People Overthink
Some people believe we overthink because we’re stressed out or anxious. Others believe overthinking is what causes the stress and anxiety.
Before you start to overthink this “which came first” scenario … there may be a more straightforward reason for why you do it in the first place.
1. You Learned It As A Child (Or An Adult)
If you had to deal with scary or difficult situations as a kid, you may have developed the habit of overthinking.
Consider a child who has an alcoholic parent. Chances are they spent a lot of time thinking about how to stay out of harm’s way if their parent came home drunk. This safety response can build a habit of overthinking that seeps into other areas of their life as they get older.
It’s also possible that life experiences may have lowered your self-esteem or increased your self-doubt. Both of these can also lead to overthinking.
2. You Want To Feel In Control
Life is full of situations that can make us feel helpless and out of control. It’s possible that one of these moments (or a combination) have made you feel the need to contemplate every situation in great detail. Sometimes overthinking works out … other times it won’t.
Regardless, overthinking can help you feel like you’re in control of a situation. Once you make a decision, overthinking provides a feeling of certainty. That’s because you feel like you’ve thought out every possible scenario.
3. You’re A Perfectionist
Like control, perfectionism isn’t about achieving perfection … it’s about feeling perfect. After all, we all know perfection is a moving target. The real problem is some people have a lower tolerance for feeling imperfect.
If you’re a perfectionist, you may overthink to help distract from the fact that you can’t be perfect. By convincing yourself there’s more to think about, you don’t have to confront feelings that you aren’t perfect.
4. You Assume That Thinking Is ALWAYS A Good Thing
Because thinking things out serves you well in some areas, you may believe you should do it for everything.
For example, in-depth thinking and problem solving for a project at work and school can go a long way. But when it comes to conflicts with your spouse or grieving over the death of a loved one, too much thinking can make the problem worse.
Thinking is a great tool. But weighing out the pros and cons for every decision you make (like where to eat) can be overwhelming.
5. You Hate Confrontation
Most people don’t like confrontation. That’s why they’ll do what they can to prevent it. But problems arise when you avoid it too well.
The more you avoid conflict, the less confident you’ll be in your ability to deal with it. This will make you more likely to avoid it in the future. Suddenly all conflict, healthy or otherwise, becomes too much to handle.
As a result, you’ll spend a lot of time overthinking so you can find the best way to avoid the conflict.
These are just some of the many reasons you may be overthinking. While some may need a little more TLC, many people can use simple tricks to stop overthinking.
How To Stop Overthinking
If you’re an overthinker, here are 5 ways you can help yourself stop overthinking.
1. Pay Attention To When It’s Happening
Overthinking can become so habitual you may not even notice when it’s happening. But if you’re aware of when it’s happening, you can help do something about it.
Pay attention to the way you think and if you notice that you’re overthinking, remind yourself that it isn’t productive. Also consider what happened beforehand to cause you to overthink. You may be surprised to discover you have specific triggers.
2. Focus On The Solution
Instead of dwelling on the issue at hand, refocus your attention on the solution.
If it’s something you have some degree of control over, think about how you can prevent the issue from happening or what you can do to fix it.
If it’s something outside of your control, consider strategies you can use to cope with it or reduce the negative outcomes.
3. Challenge Your Thoughts
When we overthink it’s easy to get carried away, especially with negative thoughts. A classic example for overthinkers is calling in sick to work.
In your mind, somehow a legitimate sick day turns into your boss firing you. That thought leads to the belief that you’ll lose everything you own because you’ll have no money. Meanwhile your employer and coworkers are probably happy you kept your germs at home and are hoping you feel better.
When your thoughts start to spiral, acknowledge that they’re overly negative. Sometimes this acknowledgement is enough to stop you from overthinking.
If you need an extra push, consider the evidence that you have that proves your thoughts are true. Then think about the evidence you have that proves what your thinking may not be true. More often than not, you’ll realize that your reason for overthinking is in your head.
4. Do Something Else
If I told you not to think about a pink rabbit, you’d probably think about a pink rabbit. The same thing can happen when you tell yourself not to overthink. Sometimes you’ll keep overthinking.
In these situations, one of the easiest ways to stop overthinking is to do something else.
- Find an activity that distracts you from stress
- Have a conversation with a friend about something totally unrelated
- Burn off some energy doing an exercise you love
Distracting your mind from the problem at hand can help stop the negative thoughts. As an added bonus, not thinking about the problem can sometimes open your mind up to a solution.
5. Try Mindfulness
Overthinking is usually the result of one of two things. The first is ruminating, which are thoughts focused on the past and what we did wrong or could have done differently. The second is worrying, which are thoughts focused on what will happen in the future. In both situations, the thoughts are usually negative.
Practicing mindfulness can stop us from dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. That’s because mindfulness is a form of meditation that helps us focus on the present. It helps you become more aware of what’s happening in the moment so you can stop overthinking.
Take A Break From Overthinking
Overthinking can seem harmless but it can have a huge impact on our lives. Chronic overthinking is associated with depression, anxiety and mental health disorders. It can also impact your relationships with other people.
These solutions may not solve your overthinking problem overnight. But with time, they may decrease your need to overthink. And that will have positive impacts on all areas of your life.