Let's face it! Overthinking is very common. We are all familiar with the nagging thoughts that just won't let us sleep. Even if it starts on a positive note, thoughts have the tendency to quickly change course. You may start thinking about what someone said to you, and within no time you might find yourself wondering, where your life is going?
Overthinking on the outside might seem extremely harmless. Because it's just you with your thoughts, right? But when the thoughts become depressing, we move on to self-doubt which can be extremely lethal. Additionally, when we are so bogged by thoughts, it often makes us pull away from friends and family, which only leads to more negative thoughts.
The concept of obsessively thinking has been on the rise especially during the pandemic, as people are locked inside their houses. However, being locked inside the house isn't as bad as having no social life at all. Many of the pandemic induced mental health issues can be traced back to an almost non-existing social life. But even without that, overthinking is now almost an epidemic.
A study conducted at the University of Michigan revealed that 73 per cent of adults between the ages of 25 and 35 overthink. Surprisingly the numbers were lower at 52 per cent for people within the age of 45 - 55 years. This shows, that people from the younger age group are more likely to obsessive over a thought than the older population.
However, it is often that the problem isn't as big as the process of overthinking makes it. David Spiegel aptly puts it as, “There are times when the worry about the problem is a lot worse than the problem itself.”
So why do we overthink?
Overthinking is a habit much like biting nails or shaking a leg. However, all of these responses (including overthinking) stem from an underlying problem, which we often overlook. It could be because of an issue that is bothering us, or a need that we are unable to fulfil. So in our mind, we begin giving it as much attention as possible. Especially, because our mind needs things to think about. That's the food for our brain. But, what we fail to realise is that problems do not go away, or needs are not met by thinking. Especially overthinking, because it is often not solution-oriented thinking but rather a loop of thoughts that wander without a direction.
How does overthinking affect us?
It is understood that overthinking is bad for our mental health. It exhausts our mind, creates fixations and also amplifies our problems. But did you know that overthinking has effects on our body too?
In an earlier article, we had spoken about how mental illnesses and issues create manifestations on the body. Like depression-induced bowel issues, or pains in the body. Similarly overthinking also causes similar effects on you.
You become indecisive: When thinking, we often come up with some ideas to solve the problems at hand. But when overthinking becomes a habit, there are just so many situations and scenarios that we build up in our heads, that it becomes excessively difficult to choose one. “You could get stuck in potential consequences that may not even happen, just worrying about certain outcomes, and that can paralyze us or freeze us from taking an action,” said Rajita Sinha, the director of the Yale Stress Center. Additionally, you become really apprehensive about trying new things. “Your gut feeling or instinct gets overridden because you have so much other input … and you maybe end up not making the choices that are right for you in that moment,” said Laura Price, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Health.
You become less creative: Creativity stems from certain parts of your brain that are responsible for the cognition of problems at hand. However, overthinking often exerts the brain so much that, it is too tired to think "out of the box." This was proven by a study conducted in the U.K. which discovered that certain parts of your brain and cognitive processes are quiet, you’re more creative. However, the "mental rut" caused by overthinking, overrides our creative thoughts.
You are always exhausted: Exhaustion from work is natural. But feeling constantly exhausted, even as you wake up in the morning is a sign that you have been overthinking. However, since you aren't finding solutions from overthinking, all of this mental energy is going to waste. "Mental energy without any sort of physical outlet absolutely can make it fatiguing and make it feel like you’re exhausted because you spent so much time in your own head," says Price. Adding to that Spiegel said, "It’s like running your car in the wrong gear. Your motor’s running but you’re not getting very far."
You may become easily irritable: With the constant thoughts running in your head, it is difficult to keep your calm. Additionally, overthinkers often struggle with falling asleep. Which can hamper your health. It's a vicious circle, if you don't sleep well, you are not well-rested, which leads to you being further annoyed with your surroundings. “If you don’t sleep as well, you have less energy, you get less exercise, then you sleep even worse,” says Spiegel.
You become obsessive: When your mind is obsessively thinking about some things, it is obvious that it shows up in certain conversations. However, when you continue to let your thoughts run your mind all the time, you end up repeatedly talking about the same things. Be it a problem, a person or a situation. This may lead to avoidant behaviours from people as it is hard for them to relate to the same.
Thinking is an important function that the brain serves, however when the thinking goes out of control, it begins to affect our daily life. It is important to nib the habit as it starts, because, like any other, the rut of overthinking is a difficult habit to get rid of.