overthinking

Overthinking: When Your Mind Won’t Turn Off

by Nicole LaChance, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Overthinking. The irony in writing about this topic, is that I kept overthinking it. What direction should I take? What tips should I offer? Where can I find the best research? What if my post doesn’t hold up against the others?

Overthinking, along with its siblings perfectionism and anxiety, is common in gifted kids. Psychology Today attributes this in part to overexcitabilities and the mind not being able to ever really turn off. Gifted kids also tend to have lots of channels in their brains, meaning more information to mull over and think about, easily leading to overthinking.

As a chronic overthinker, I wanted to explore the reasons behind overthinking, how it can hurt and what we can do to rein it in.

Why do we overthink?

Why does this happen in the first place? Why do our brains run wild? In an article published in Scientific American Mind entitled “Why We Worry”, science writer Victoria Stern did a deep dive into the causes behind chronic worry and overthinking. In summary: it’s all about control.

“Chronic worriers operate under the misperception that their overthinking and attempts at controlling every situation allow them to problem-solve and plan for the future,” said Stern. “Instead their thought pattern hinders cognitive processing and also causes overstimulation of emotion- and fear-processing areas in the brain.”

Overthinking and worrying trick our brains into thinking that we are preparing for any situation, that we can handle any outcome, positive or negative. In reality, while this may work in the short-term, it ultimately harms us.

Dr. Michael Stein, a psychologist based in Denver, attributes worry and overthinking to a fear of being uncertain about the future. When we experience this fear, our brain jumps into “analysis mode” and starts beginning to prepare and think over every outcome. This thinking ignites our minds and creates a temporary comfort to deal with uncertainty.

The Problem of Overthinking

In addition to driving us bonkers, overthinking has negative effects on our mental and physical health.

A study from the Journal of Abnormal Psychology noted that overthinking can cause us to dwell on our mistakes and shortcomings, increasing the risk of mental health problems.  This can often cause the overthinker to fall into a viscous cycle of ruminating more and more while their mental health is declining.

Unsurprisingly, overthinking can also lead to emotional distress. To self-treat that distress, some overthinkiners resort to unhealthy coping strategies, like alcohol, food or addictive substances. It can also lead to a negative mood, anger and irritability.

Additionally, overthinking can have physical effects, as well. Studies have linked overthinking to poor sleep quality, since the mind often won’t turn off even for sleep. It can also lead to increased heart rate and other physical symptoms of stress.

How Do We Stop?

If only I knew! Breaking the habit of overthinking is difficult, but here are some strategies you can try.

  • Take Action
    If you are a chronic overthinker, you probably have a tendency to get stuck in the “analysis” phase of a problem. Taking an initial step to solve the problem, even if it’s small, can help bust the overthinking cycle. For example, if you are overthinking about applying to college, start drafting an essay or working on your resume or even filling out a practice application. The act of doing something can get you out of your thoughts.
  • Mindfulness
    Mindfulness takes practice, but has many benefits, especially for overthinkers. This meditation practice emphasizes focusing on the present moment, not the future or the past, which can help us disconnect from worry. Mindfulness has known to be beneficial for the gifted in calming intensities. Try bookending your practice with a quick calming yoga routine.
  • Busy Yourself
    Sometimes simply redirecting your attention can do the trick to calm a thinking mind. Absorb yourself in a hobby, whether that be exercise, crafting or playing with your family. Or get some household chores done to engage your mind elsewhere. Even getting lost in a book or movie (especially if it’s theme is disconnected from your worries) can help.
  • Rename Your Thoughts
    Rename your thoughts with what they really are: self-doubt, anxiety, fear. This may help you to realize how much you are exaggerating your negative thoughts and bring your thinking down a level to really focus on the actual problem at hand.

Like this post? Sign up for our email newsletter to receive more stories, information, and resources about gifted youth straight to your inbox.

This post is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop: Overthinking. Please click the image below to keep on hopping!

overthinking

Share: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+Email this to someone
13 Comments
  • Gail Post, Ph.D.
    Posted at 06:09h, 01 May Reply

    This is a great summary of overthinking and how to manage it!

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 11:46h, 01 May Reply

      Thanks, Gail! Enjoyed your post this month, as well.

  • Emily
    Posted at 09:23h, 01 May Reply

    Thank you for a wonderful post — great article links, and I love these coping tips! I am looking forward to reading more from your blog. Thank you!

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 11:46h, 01 May Reply

      Thanks for reading!

  • Jessie Mannisto
    Posted at 14:55h, 01 May Reply

    I’m glad to see the discussion of mindfulness and yoga linked to overthinking. This is precisely why I took up mindfulness – while I had real challenges in my life, overthinking definitely made them worse. My experience with mindfulness is that for overthinkers, it will be harder than for anyone, but it’s in making the effort that the benefit lies. You don’t have to get “good” at it (whatever that looks like; my mindfulness instructor clued me in to the fact that no one is really “good at” shutting down his or her brain), you just have to make some effort. There’s a lot to be gained even through imperfect practice!

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 15:35h, 01 May Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s great mindfulness has worked so well for you!

  • Aurora Remember Holtzman
    Posted at 15:59h, 01 May Reply

    Great suggestions for battling disruptive overthinking! I myself definitely relate to the sleeplessness part! Even when they are good thoughts they can steal my sleep. I tend to move more toward the busy myself strategy during the day, but that leaves the mind racint when it finally sits down to rest. I definitely need to practice mindfulness more – I’ve fallen out of practice.

  • Paula Prober
    Posted at 20:43h, 01 May Reply

    Nicole. I’m overthinking this comment. Um…. What shall I say that’s meaningful and distinctive? Um…. Maybe I’ll skip commenting for now…. 🙂

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 12:58h, 02 May Reply

      🙂

  • Genealogy Jen
    Posted at 01:10h, 07 May Reply

    Thanks for being vulnerable and admitting that overthinking is something that you struggle with as well. 🙂

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 11:06h, 08 May Reply

      Thanks for reading!

  • the-interface
    Posted at 04:16h, 09 May Reply

    Amazing blog it was helpful for us. Thanks for the post.

  • Linda Wallin
    Posted at 16:18h, 11 May Reply

    Nice thinking in your post. I can really identify with the trouble sleeping. Good solutions, too. Thanks.

Post A Comment

18 − fourteen =