How to Overcome your Overthinking Once and For All

Your brain is built to think, just as your eyes are designed to see and your ears to hear. Productive thinking leads to actions, decisions, and answers, whereas overthinking is often recurring and gets you nowhere. This article explains several types of overthinking, why the human mind overthinks, and how to break the habit.

Helpful Thinking as opposed to Overthinking

When you spend a lot of time thinking, it is common for a creative solution to present itself. Perhaps you planned vacation, a wedding, or a career change and received an excellent return on your thought and effort investment. It is not overthinking when thinking leads to a specific, doable action. It’s about problem-solving and life-affirming in these circumstances. Thinking is beneficial in such cases.

It’s likely that you’ve also had times when plenty of thinking didn’t work and actually harmed your life. Maybe you spent the night replaying an earlier argument. When thought-making causes anxiety or generates negative emotions, it’s known as overthinking, which is useless. If your thinking starts with a purpose but then devolves into more and more speculating that doesn’t result in a solution, it’s overthinking.

Overthinking is often a result of sensations and events in the world around us that we cannot control. However, there are ways to manage our thoughts, so they don’t take over our lives. By working with our thoughts instead of against them, we can learn to stop overthinking.

Common Signs of Overthinking

  1. You always second-guess your decisions
  2. You keep reliving embarrassing moments in your mind
  3. You obsess over what another person said or did
  4. You keep weighing the pros and cons of something and never making a decision

Types of Overthinking


What-if issues are generally the easiest way to express worries: What if my kid gets behind the wheel drunk after a party? What if my spouse is secretly seeing their ex? What if my project fails and the firm withdraws its support? When you’re afraid, you’re constructing a scenario in your head and picturing an awful ending.

Worry is fruitless and only keeps you awake at night. Predictions from a place of worry are not based on reality or fact but rather from a place of fear. And worrying about something doesn’t help the situation or solve any problems.


Rumination is repetitive and negative thinking that can make a problem seem bigger, not smaller. We can distinguish two types of rumination: depressive rumination and angry rumination.

Depression rumination is characterized by negative, reiterative self-focused thinking. For example, you go to a work-related dinner and realize that you are dressed more informally than the other attendees. You begin criticizing yourself on the inside.

When you focus on how bad and awkward you are, your thinking turns inward- this causes distorting thoughts about yourself, creating a negative feedback loop.

Anger is a common emotion that many people experience. It’s about who else screwed up and their blunders rather than your own mistakes. When you’ve had a squabble with your spouse and keep reciting the words in your head, it can inspire rage. It causes violence, bitterness, and incorrect perceptions of others.

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are errors in thinking that cause excessive or unwarranted emotional responses. They may take many forms and become apparent when conventional ways of thinking, known as overthinking, get in the way of making a fair judgment about a circumstance.

For example, if you believe that someone paid less attention to you at a party than you wanted, you may try to correct the problem by thinking that he or she found you uninteresting. Because we can’t read people’s minds, and there’s no true value to that notion, this is an incorrect train of thought. It’s easy to overthink things; magnify our mistakes; assume the worst, or blame ourselves when something goes wrong.

These sorts of thoughts are most likely cognitive distortions since we have no proof for any of them. And none of them will make us happier or more content. Or, if there is, in fact, a problem that needs to be addressed, these reactions won’t aid in its solution.

Why Do We Overthink?


Overthinking is often a way of life developed through our emotions. It starts with fear, which is the oldest survival method known to man. Fear instructs us to avoid hazardous situations by reinforcing us in doing so. If you see a car approaching on the street and have a fearful reaction, you’ll instinctively leap back to the sidewalk.

This is referred to as negative reinforcement because your reaction avoided a bad result—you weren’t hit by a car. As a result, you are more inclined to avoid doing so in the future.

The fear-based learning that has evolved as a result of survival is now automated. The process happens in the amygdala—the primitive, survival-oriented section of our brain—for humans. The amygdala employs basic emotional reactions to constantly help us react swiftly to what’s happening around us.

When you feel your hand burn as it comes into contact with an object, you don’t have to worry about it; you just withdraw your hand immediately after. This is what the amygdala was designed for.

Humans developed a prefrontal cortex in the last million years, which is the portion of the brain concerned with problem-solving, future planning, and decision-making. The amygdala merely reacts; the prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, responds more sophisticatedly by analyzing what went wrong and how to prevent similar situations in the future.

The problem is that the prefrontal cortex needs accurate information to make sound judgments. However, it does not always wait for correct information, and some types of unpleasant events are considerably more challenging to anticipate than others. Anxiety enters the picture.


Fear is a rapid response to recognizable causes. Fear’s function of avoiding injury as a result of anxiety is an evolutionary learning mechanism. On the other hand, anxiety is typically harmful. When information is unclear, anxiety enters the picture.

Because you can’t be sure what other people are thinking or how they’ll act, you can’t predict if and when you’ll be heartbroken again.

When the prefrontal cortex doesn’t have enough information to make accurate predictions, it spins fearful tales and generates anxiety in an effort to fill in the gaps. This isn’t active planning, problem-solving, or decision-making. It’s overthinking. And it’s a bad habit.

Thinking about alternative explanations for ambiguous circumstances can help you forget your worries for a time, and this makes you feel good. As a result, considering in reaction to a negative feeling has been rewarded.

Only a few instances are required for this to become a habit. Any stress or unpleasant mood will eventually cause you to overthink. Your well-intentioned prefrontal cortex takes what it has at the time, activates your adrenaline system, and begins developing a narrative.

Breaking the Habit

Because so much of our thinking is unintentional and unconscious, it’s simple to unintentionally reinforce poor thinking habits, which get worse when we are under pressure, fatigued, or have cognitive strain. To modify a habit, you must first change the situation in which you engage in it.

When you overthink, it’s not just the content of your thoughts that matters but also how attached you are to those thoughts and the emotions and physical sensations associated with them.

Keep in mind that being smart isn’t the root of overthinking. Rather, it’s a behavior that anyone can develop. At its very core, overthinking is a type of escape. We’ll return to this general rule multiple times throughout this class: face your thoughts instead of running from them.

Avoidance may provide a welcome reprieve, but you never resolve the problem or move forward. You never truly alter or confront the original problem. Problems continue to escalate and fester. The answer to overthinking is to face it head-on and pay attention in a new way to those ideas you want to avoid.