overthink: person with black cloud coming out of the top of their head

Overthinking can stop you from focusing on the bigger picture, explains Carole Spiers

Overthinking is thinking about a problem too much or for too long. You have something on your mind; you continuously think about it; the thought gets deeper, and you start worrying about circumstances, events and potential possibilities. Then you could end up with conflicting thoughts racing through your head. Unfortunately, to overthink is a natural part of life for many of us, even when we are not aware that we are doing it.

Of course, it is vital that we all think constructively. Reflecting upon the past can be good for us – having the memories that we like to hold on to – but equally as important is letting go of those more painful ones. There is also nothing wrong with pondering your current career and life goals, then planning how to achieve your aspirations.

Thinking Back

There will be times when you will regret missed opportunities and bad decisions, and we are all guilty of that sometimes. Or you may be worried about the future – your family, your income, your health or your career choice. However, you need to avoid a ‘thinking overload’ whereby information goes around and around in your head with no resolution. It is similar to revving the car engine without it being in gear – the vehicle remains stationary and just wastes valuable fuel.

When we overthink, it often means that our brain leads us to make erroneous assumptions, which in many cases can be negative.

Overthinking at night is largely due to the brain processing what has happened to us during the day. Our days may be filled with so many things, and because of that we take in huge amounts of information that need to be processed. However, we don’t stop long enough for that to happen, and so we start to do it in the quiet hours of the night.

How to Stop Overthinking

Breaking the cycle is not easy, as, unlike our computer, there is no ‘off’ switch, so perhaps the following 3 tips might be of help:

1. Career

Do you consistently overthink your career? If you are unhappy with where you are or what you have done to date, then you need to become proactive and start to explore other options.

2. Relationships

If you think you might have upset someone or have done something embarrassing, then contact whoever was involved to determine whether you need to apologise. It may be that the incident was inconsequential and has long been forgotten by the other person, but it is still at the forefront of your mind – so now might be an opportune time to make a determined effort to stop thinking about it. Or maybe the reason why a particular friend or colleague has not contacted you is because they are busy and not because they don’t like you.

3. Challenge your personal beliefs

Our beliefs can be either real or imagined, and it is all too easy to exaggerate these to ourselves. Our inner voice may well be making incorrect negative assumptions, and by challenging them, we can lessen such incessant overthinking.

Be Patient

Breaking a cycle of overthinking does not happen overnight but, with practice, it is certainly possible. The first step is to recognise that you have a mindset that often goes into a negative overthinking mode automatically.

When you overthink a problem, the chances are that you lose focus on the bigger picture. To overcome this, you may possibly need a therapist or other professional help – but it will be well worth it because it is important that your mind learns how to switch off and focus on those issues that will take you forward and make a measurable difference to your life.

Key Points

  • We all need peace of mind to work efficiently
  • Breaking a cycle of overthinking is important
  • Overthinking can stop you from focusing on the bigger picture

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Carole Spiers FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE is the Chair of the International Stress Management Association (ISMAUK) and founder of International Stress Awareness Week. She is an acknowledged authority on corporate stress and CEO of the Carole Spiers Group (London ... (Read More)

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