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Article: Perspectives by Barbara Gassaway
Published 09/04/2019

Think too much? Do you often consider every possible avenue, approach, response, or path?

We wonder, and wonder, and wonder… and wonder some more. The cycle may drive us crazy when in reality, these thoughts are not rational.

Overthinking can misconstrue circumstances, cause unnecessary angst, and defeat our goal of happiness. The habit of overthinking is dangerous. It leads to a constant questioning of our ability to make sound decisions and leads to the doubting of our actions. Regret of an action, remorse over a word or tone, or the demise of life as we know it via the daily news… is often tied to overthinking.

Research shows that overthinking can seriously affect our mental health and overall wellbeing. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, authored “The How of Happiness, in which she describes this phenomenon:

“Many of us believe that when we feel down, we should try to focus inwardly… evaluate our feelings, …our situation in order to attain self-insight and find solutions that might ultimately resolve our problems and relieve unhappiness. Numerous studies over the past two decades have shown… overthinking ushers in a host of adverse consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative. Moreover, although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic perspective on their lives.”

Following are suggestions to help us alleviate overthinking and curtail our desire to obsess about life:

Remember overthinking does not lead to insight: You can never fully understand how something feels until you have experienced it for yourself; getting married, ending a relationship, changing career paths are all changes that require action instead of thought to gain real insight.

Stay active [and engaged].  One reason we overthink is because we have the time to do so [or are bored with our current circumstance]. Consider keeping yourself busy with thoughts of worthy goals. Contemplate… things that are good for your health… exercise.

Consider things from a wider perspective.  Ask yourself, “Will this matter in 1 year? In 5 years?” Questioning will add clarity to the problem you are overthinking and help you gain perspective… focus on situations that matter.

Seek social support. Research has shown the extreme effectiveness of social support in stress reduction. This can also give you a fresh perspective on the topic and keep you from ruminating around several of the same thoughts. Plus, spending time around others who do not overthink things will cause you to do it less as well. 

Ask yourself:  What is the worst that could happen? This will keep you from getting lost in vague fears that are not just unrealistic but minimal in the scheme of things. We tend to think things are much worse than they really are, but when reminded that the potential outcomes are not really as disastrous as we thought, we are able to relax.

Establish short time limits for decisions. Setting deadlines allows you to make a quick decision and spring to action. This will keep thoughts from circling around in your mind all day and give you virtually no time to overthink. Before you know it, you are on to the next topic. 

     

“Worrying about how things might go wrong doesn’t help things go right.” –Karen Sahlmanson  

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