Writing by Connie Tran // Photograph by Wendy Sama
Okay. Right. I am going to write an article about overthinking. Where to start…should I do a step by step guide? No, it should sound more conversational…but I don’t want it to be a whole slab of paragraphs. Maybe I should insert a pun in the title or something. Readers dig puns. But I’m not a very punny person. Why am I not witty? Now everyone is going to skip my article because I don’t have a funny, pun-filled title.
That was just a small snippet from the running commentary that is my mind. Take it from me, I am a chronic overthinker.
Overthinking is a common mental habit many of us engage in at one point or another. This habit can be beneficial, such as when it allows a person to thoroughly analyse a problem from all sides and subsequently develop a suitable solution. More often than not however, we take it way too far and end up imagining the situation to be far worse than it needs to be. Dwelling too long and too hard on past events (called ruminating) impacts our daily life, and may result in difficulty sleeping, stress, and fatigue. Research has also indicated that rumination can further lead to depression and anxiety.
But how can you tell if you’re overthinking too much? When planted with that little seed of doubt, we often tend to seek out information to confirm our initial suspicion, whether it be real or imagined. Sometimes we read a little too deeply into signals/signs from people that aren’t actually even there, replay events in our head repeatedly, or just mull deeply over an issue with no end in sight.
It seems silly as I’m typing it out now and maybe even to you as you read this, but these are all things that I and so many other people do.
Overthinking is an extremely destructive habit that isn’t doing us any favours, and may even turn into a dangerous cycle. Because of this, it’s important to recognize when you are overthinking, and to take action before it escalates. Here are some tips to cope when you catch yourself in a cycle of overthinking.
Irrational thoughts. Learn to recognize whether your thoughts are rational or irrational. Though not impossible, it’s highly unlikely the worst case scenario you’re envisioning will come true. It’s very easy to delve too deeply into your own mind—sometimes you just need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture to get gain some perspective. Then you may realize your problem might not be as significant as you initially thought it to be.
Take things at face value. It’s extremely likely that no, there was no underlying tone of malice in your conversation with that person. And chances are that thing you accidentally screwed up at work isn’t at the top of your boss’ mind. You’re probably the only person thinking about what happened and worrying about an issue others have barely given a second thought to.
Distractions. Distractions are a great way to temporarily keep the mind busy and make you feel better. Listening to music is a good way to distract you from your thoughts, as is immersing yourself in a TV series or movie. Exercising even at home is highly recommended as it produces endorphins which reduces stress. I recently took up yoga to help counteract my negative thought patterns. Has it helped? It’s a bit too early to tell, but I can assure you it’s extremely difficult to dwell on any issues when you’re trying to hold a sideways plank for ten seconds.
Thinking will get you nowhere. Action will get you somewhere. Stressed about an upcoming test on a difficult topic and overthinking about all the ways you’re going to fail? Instead of sitting and thinking, take some form of action (such as seeking help from a friend/classmate) to actively reduce the problem. This will not only alleviate those damaging mental thoughts but will also increase your level of productivity, thereby keeping you motivated. (Yes I’m aware—much easier said than done!)
From what I’ve noticed: some people are more prone to overthinking than others. Like everyone, I have my good days and my bad. Even some of the most positive, optimistic people I know have their off days—after all, we are all human. All I ask is that you make sure to take care of yourself, look out for your friends, and know when to seek help if necessary!