Published by Malay Mail & New Straits Times, image from Malay Mail.
Overthinking is a pesky habit that can be perilous to our well-being and mental health.
All the memories, thoughts and emotions stored in our brains are intertwined together in webs of connections. These associations upsurge our capacity to think, but it also makes us susceptible to overthinking.
Whether we are dwelling on the mistakes that we have done, or regretting excessively on something or fretting on how tomorrow is going to be — overthinking of everything can be debilitating.
According to therapists, the common sayings that they received during treatment are “I cannot relax,” “My brain cannot shut off” and “I cannot stop thinking about how my life could have been better if I had done things differently.”
Their minds are so exhausted that they try to knock themselves out of this endless loop but to no avail. Instead, they are left with more ruminations that consume most of their energy.
A study reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease outlines that women overthink more than men do, due to their brains having more activity. Blood flow was found out to be higher in women’s brains, meaning they are more likely to empathise, be collaborative, be intuitive and be more focussed.
Nevertheless, this also increases their chances to develop anxiety, depression, insomnia and eating disorders.
As for age range, research from the University of Michigan found that 73 per cent of adults age between 25 to 35 are most likely to overthink.
What are the signs of an overthinker?
Have you ever asked yourself a lot of “what if…” questions? Have you ever spent a lot of time thinking about the “hidden meaning” of what others have said or events that happened to you? Have you ever felt anxious about what people will interpret on your posts and updates in your social media?
If you have ever encounter with any of these signs — yes, you are a classic overthinker.
Ashley Carroll, a psychologist with Parkland Memorial Hospital, says when we ruminate on certain thoughts, it can snowball into bigger, more extreme negative thinking. It is not just thinking too much about something — it is obsessing about something so much that it affects one’s ability to function in their life.
Interestingly, research showed that overthinkers believe they are doing themselves a favour by cycling through their thoughts. However, what they do not know is, overthinking is a dangerous game that can have a lot of negative consequences on their well-being.
Technically, when you are overthinking, the unconscious parts of your brains misread which is reality and what are thoughts. Thus, when these thoughts stress you, your body registers that threat as real.
Experts point out that although overthinking initially seems soothing — as anxiety levels fall because we believe we are well prepared — but, the more we do it, the more our anxiety levels increase.
And as our anxiety levels escalate, our happiness tumbles.
As overthinkers create many choices and scenarios, they turn out to be an indecisive lot. Psychologists call this situation as “analysis paralysis” where the mind of the overthinkers are stuck in potential consequences that are not yet happening and worry about certain outcomes –which paralyse them from taking action.
Generally, when parts of your brain and cognitive processes are quiet, you are more creative. However, scientist discovered that overthinking cause “mental rut” which causes your mind to get trapped and run out of ideas or new solutions, and even make it challenging for you to think outside the box.
Simply put, overthinking and obsessing extremely put a cap on one’s inventiveness as well as creativity.
How do you escape from overthinking?
Luckily, overthinking is not permanent as this mental habit can be broken with the right ways.
Overthinkers should practice mindfulness. Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor and breathe in calmly. Bring your attention to the sensations in your body and listen to your surroundings.
Pay attention to how it feels.
It is a practice to focus your attention on the present moment and declutter your mind. Mindfulness is now being examined scientifically and has been found to be the main element in reducing stress due to overthink and increase overall happiness.
Next, identify all the bad habits that rob your happiness and causes you to overthink.
For instance, feeling not good enough, feeling sorry for yourself or resenting other people’s success are just a few of the bad habits that you need to eliminate.
Instead, count your blessings and show gratitude towards everything that happens to you, even as simple as be able to sleep on the bed or drink your favourite coffee.
Studies show that when you make gratitude a habit, your brain will physically change and attract more joy into your life while increasing your inner peace.
For all the thoughts that you keep on ruminate, replace those ruminations with positive thoughts that will produce a positive outcome. For instance, instead of telling yourself that “I hate my job,” tell yourself a better thought like “I want a job where I feel more engaged and happier.”
Then make plans to expand your skills, enlarge your network and look for opportunities for a better job.
If overthinking is ruining your life, consider talking to a mental health professional who specialises in anxiety disorders. For more information, visit psychiatry-malaysia.org as it provides useful and practical information and knowledge about mental health as well as how to manage and deal with the disorders.
Also, get your copy on the bestseller self-help books like The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and Poke the Box by Seth Godin. Some readers claimed that these books help them to take back control of their mind and live life the way it is meant to be experienced.
All in all, do not get lost in thoughts and learn how to stop spending time in your head is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Stop worrying, set your mind free and live your life to the fullest.
In the realm of politics, perhaps let us collectively stop overthinking on whether Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin can do the job and instead wish him all the best in running the country.
Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.