Everyday, multiple situations tip us into a spiral of thinking too much and running through consequences over and over again. A study found that 73% of adults between the ages of 25 and 35 overthink, as do 52% of those between 45 to 55 years. The advice we get about it – “just stop thinking.”
When done in the right amount, overthinking is productive. It helps us become better problem solvers because we look at multiple perspectives and possibilities, says psychologist Marny Lishman. It helps us avoid repeating the mistakes made in the past. But the catch here is ‘the right amount’. Overthinking as a habit, or without being checked, has detrimental effects. For starters, it makes the problem bigger than it actually is. You know it. Go back to the last time you thought your manager or colleague was avoiding you. Maybe s/he was having a bad day, but how much did you ruminate about what you did wrong?
Besides amplifying the problem, overthinking impacts our well-being. Here’s how:
- We’re unable to take action. Though overthinkers might believe that cycling through their thoughts is a good thing, it could actually freeze them in their tracks. This is also known as analysis paralysis. “You could get stuck in potential consequences that may not even happen, just worrying about outcomes, and that can paralyze us or freeze us from taking an action,” says Rajita Sinha, the Director of the Yale Stress Center.
- We’re more prone to mental illnesses. Ruminating is the first step towards developing anxiety or panic. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology reports that dwelling on your shortcomings, mistakes, and challenges, increases your risk of mental health problems. It can set you up for a vicious cycle that is hard to break. It begins with increased rumination. And then leads to fewer hours of sleep as we tend to toss and turn. Our mind is constantly aroused, our blood pressure high. Less sleep = more stress = more anxiety.
- We eat haphazardly. Have you heard of the term ‘stress eating’? Grabbing a bag of chips or craving for high-fat food? It is fueled by overthinking and anxiety, because we feel like our mind is going out of control. We try to soothe ourselves with junk food. That’s why there is a whole category of foods called ‘comfort food’ (doesn’t include vegetables). This worry-eating habit leads to weight gain, blood sugar changes, and cholesterol issues.
At this point you might wonder how to curb overthinking. And you know the answers – exercising regularly to disperse the negative energy that comes from stress, writing down your thought patterns, talking to a therapist, and meditating. What stops you from doing it?