Overthinking can happen for several reasons. Here are a few to consider.
Not Being Solution-Focused
Overthinking is different from problem-solving. Overthinking is about dwelling on the problem, while problem-solving involves looking for a solution.
Problem-solving can lead to productive action. Overthinking, on the other hand, fuels uncomfortable emotions and doesn’t look for solutions.
Experiencing Repetitive Thoughts
Ruminating—or rehashing the same things over and over again—isn’t helpful. But, when you’re overthinking, you might find yourself replaying a conversation in your head repeatedly or imagining something bad happening many times.
Dwelling on your problems, mistakes, and shortcomings, increases your risk of mental health problems. As your mental health declines, you are more likely you are to ruminate on your thoughts. It’s a repetitive cycle that can be tough to break.
Your Brain Won’t Shut Off
When you’re overthinking you might feel like your brain won’t shut off. When you try to sleep, you might even feel as though your brain is on overdrive as it replays scenarios in your head and causes you to imagine bad things happening.
Research confirms what you likely already know—rumination interferes with sleep. Overthinking makes it harder to fall asleep.
Overthinking impairs the quality of your sleep too. So it’s harder to fall into a deep slumber when your brain is busy overthinking everything.
Difficulty falling asleep may contribute to more worrisome thoughts. For example, when you don’t fall asleep right away, you might imagine that you’ll be overtired the following day. That may cause you to feel anxious—which may make it even harder to fall asleep.
Making Decisions Is a Struggle
You might try to convince yourself that thinking longer and harder helps you. After all, you’re looking at a problem from every possible angle. But, over-analysing and obsessing actually becomes a barrier. Research shows thinking too much makes it tough to make decisions. If you’re indecisive about everything from what to eat for dinner to which hotel you should book, you might be overthinking things.
It’s very likely that you are wasting a lot of time looking for second opinions and researching your options, when ultimately, those little choices might not matter so much.
Decisions are Second-Guessed
Overthinking sometimes involves beating yourself up for the decisions you already made.
You could waste a lot of time thinking your life would be better if you’d only taken that other job or not started a business. Or maybe you get upset with yourself for not seeing red flags sooner—because you believe they should have been obvious!
And while a little healthy self-reflection can help you learn from your mistakes, rehashing and second-guessing is a form of mental torture.
Overthinking can take a toll on your mood and may make it even more difficult to make decisions in the future.
It is important to remember two things here.
1. At its root, overthinking is an automatic self-protection mechanism. What do you tend to overthink about? The likelihood is that you are focusing on real issues like finances, health, work, relationships, and meaning. Feeling in control of these different domains can afford a sense of well-being and, of course, you want the best for yourself. However, the key here is that thinking about these areas in an unproductive way does little to improve them.
2. We do not overthink on purpose. Thoughts are most often automatic and habitual, meaning that overthinking becomes a habit – we don’t lie down at night and think to ourselves, “Okay, time to ruminate for the next two hours instead of falling asleep.” Your brain simply does what it has done in the past.