The Paralysis of Analysis: Stop Overthinking Everything

Reviewed Mar 14, 2017

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Summary

Overthinking:

  • Does not solve problems
  • May cause depression
  • Can be changed

If you have a hard time turning off your mind from a constant churning over just about everything, you may suffer from “overthinking.”

In Eating, Drinking, Overthinking, author Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, explains that you are an overthinker if you frequently:

  • Roll potential decisions over in your mind again and again
  • Question motives in yourself and others
  • Rehash past events and try to find meaning in them
  • Analyze your moods or personality
  • Think about your thinking
  • Feel you need to notice, fix, and control "what's wrong"

Consider these examples of overthinking

  • Jan’s friend Lisa hadn’t returned her phone calls for several days. Jan couldn’t recall any problems, but she spent a considerable amount of time each day replaying recent conversations with Lisa in her mind. Jan created scenarios in her mind that pointed the blame at herself, and she became convinced the friendship was over.
  • After waiting for the price of flat-screen televisions to go down, David finally purchased one. But then, he began to fret and think repeatedly that maybe he should have waited longer, shopped around even more, saved the money for something else, etc.

The problem with overthinking

You may wonder, “So what if I overthink?” Overthinking rarely accomplishes what you hope it will. Consider what typically sets overthinking in motion:

  • A stressful event
  • Something you believe needs fixing
  • A desire to be in control
  • Uncertainty
  • A negative emotion

Since what prompts overthinking is usually negative, your thought process will likely be negative. Your thoughts tend to snowball into confusion or anxiety. This interferes with good problem solving and makes you less likely to take positive action. Nolen-Hoeksema’s research, cited in her book, Women Who Think Too Much, identifies additional problems with overthinking, such as an increased risk of:

  • Depression
  • Substance use disorder
  • Problems with relationships

How to stop

At this point, you may see your overthinking habit as a problem that needs fixing. You might even be examining your thoughts and feelings right now—overthinking your overthinking. How do you get relief from this?

For starters, try out this attitude: overthinking is not beneficial. Until you can see that mentally rehashing events does not solve problems and makes you feel worse, you’re not likely to want to change. Once you agree that overthinking is not worthwhile, other steps you can take are to:

  • Catch yourself overthinking
  • Stop the thought process with a healthy distraction:
    • Exercise
    • Listen to uplifting music
    • Pursue a hobby
    • Count your blessings
  • Trust in your mind’s “back burner”: In You Can Be Happy No Matter What, author Richard Carlson, PhD, explains that stepping back from a problem allows a quieter part of your mind to find a solution, if needed.
  • Practice mindfulness: shift your attention to the sights and sounds around you or focus on taking slow, deep breaths
  • Set a timer: if you simply must overthink something, allow yourself a limited time to do so, then STOP!

If these steps don’t bring you relief or if you feel overwhelmed by negative or repetitive thoughts, consider getting help from a mental health professional. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler, PhD and Tony Hope, MD. Oxford University Press, 1995; Women Who Think Too Much by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Holt Paperbacks, 2004; You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson, PhD. New World Library, 1997; Eating, Drinking, Overthinking by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Holt Paperbacks, 2006.

Summary

Overthinking:

  • Does not solve problems
  • May cause depression
  • Can be changed

If you have a hard time turning off your mind from a constant churning over just about everything, you may suffer from “overthinking.”

In Eating, Drinking, Overthinking, author Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, explains that you are an overthinker if you frequently:

  • Roll potential decisions over in your mind again and again
  • Question motives in yourself and others
  • Rehash past events and try to find meaning in them
  • Analyze your moods or personality
  • Think about your thinking
  • Feel you need to notice, fix, and control "what's wrong"

Consider these examples of overthinking

  • Jan’s friend Lisa hadn’t returned her phone calls for several days. Jan couldn’t recall any problems, but she spent a considerable amount of time each day replaying recent conversations with Lisa in her mind. Jan created scenarios in her mind that pointed the blame at herself, and she became convinced the friendship was over.
  • After waiting for the price of flat-screen televisions to go down, David finally purchased one. But then, he began to fret and think repeatedly that maybe he should have waited longer, shopped around even more, saved the money for something else, etc.

The problem with overthinking

You may wonder, “So what if I overthink?” Overthinking rarely accomplishes what you hope it will. Consider what typically sets overthinking in motion:

  • A stressful event
  • Something you believe needs fixing
  • A desire to be in control
  • Uncertainty
  • A negative emotion

Since what prompts overthinking is usually negative, your thought process will likely be negative. Your thoughts tend to snowball into confusion or anxiety. This interferes with good problem solving and makes you less likely to take positive action. Nolen-Hoeksema’s research, cited in her book, Women Who Think Too Much, identifies additional problems with overthinking, such as an increased risk of:

  • Depression
  • Substance use disorder
  • Problems with relationships

How to stop

At this point, you may see your overthinking habit as a problem that needs fixing. You might even be examining your thoughts and feelings right now—overthinking your overthinking. How do you get relief from this?

For starters, try out this attitude: overthinking is not beneficial. Until you can see that mentally rehashing events does not solve problems and makes you feel worse, you’re not likely to want to change. Once you agree that overthinking is not worthwhile, other steps you can take are to:

  • Catch yourself overthinking
  • Stop the thought process with a healthy distraction:
    • Exercise
    • Listen to uplifting music
    • Pursue a hobby
    • Count your blessings
  • Trust in your mind’s “back burner”: In You Can Be Happy No Matter What, author Richard Carlson, PhD, explains that stepping back from a problem allows a quieter part of your mind to find a solution, if needed.
  • Practice mindfulness: shift your attention to the sights and sounds around you or focus on taking slow, deep breaths
  • Set a timer: if you simply must overthink something, allow yourself a limited time to do so, then STOP!

If these steps don’t bring you relief or if you feel overwhelmed by negative or repetitive thoughts, consider getting help from a mental health professional. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler, PhD and Tony Hope, MD. Oxford University Press, 1995; Women Who Think Too Much by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Holt Paperbacks, 2004; You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson, PhD. New World Library, 1997; Eating, Drinking, Overthinking by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Holt Paperbacks, 2006.

Summary

Overthinking:

  • Does not solve problems
  • May cause depression
  • Can be changed

If you have a hard time turning off your mind from a constant churning over just about everything, you may suffer from “overthinking.”

In Eating, Drinking, Overthinking, author Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, explains that you are an overthinker if you frequently:

  • Roll potential decisions over in your mind again and again
  • Question motives in yourself and others
  • Rehash past events and try to find meaning in them
  • Analyze your moods or personality
  • Think about your thinking
  • Feel you need to notice, fix, and control "what's wrong"

Consider these examples of overthinking

  • Jan’s friend Lisa hadn’t returned her phone calls for several days. Jan couldn’t recall any problems, but she spent a considerable amount of time each day replaying recent conversations with Lisa in her mind. Jan created scenarios in her mind that pointed the blame at herself, and she became convinced the friendship was over.
  • After waiting for the price of flat-screen televisions to go down, David finally purchased one. But then, he began to fret and think repeatedly that maybe he should have waited longer, shopped around even more, saved the money for something else, etc.

The problem with overthinking

You may wonder, “So what if I overthink?” Overthinking rarely accomplishes what you hope it will. Consider what typically sets overthinking in motion:

  • A stressful event
  • Something you believe needs fixing
  • A desire to be in control
  • Uncertainty
  • A negative emotion

Since what prompts overthinking is usually negative, your thought process will likely be negative. Your thoughts tend to snowball into confusion or anxiety. This interferes with good problem solving and makes you less likely to take positive action. Nolen-Hoeksema’s research, cited in her book, Women Who Think Too Much, identifies additional problems with overthinking, such as an increased risk of:

  • Depression
  • Substance use disorder
  • Problems with relationships

How to stop

At this point, you may see your overthinking habit as a problem that needs fixing. You might even be examining your thoughts and feelings right now—overthinking your overthinking. How do you get relief from this?

For starters, try out this attitude: overthinking is not beneficial. Until you can see that mentally rehashing events does not solve problems and makes you feel worse, you’re not likely to want to change. Once you agree that overthinking is not worthwhile, other steps you can take are to:

  • Catch yourself overthinking
  • Stop the thought process with a healthy distraction:
    • Exercise
    • Listen to uplifting music
    • Pursue a hobby
    • Count your blessings
  • Trust in your mind’s “back burner”: In You Can Be Happy No Matter What, author Richard Carlson, PhD, explains that stepping back from a problem allows a quieter part of your mind to find a solution, if needed.
  • Practice mindfulness: shift your attention to the sights and sounds around you or focus on taking slow, deep breaths
  • Set a timer: if you simply must overthink something, allow yourself a limited time to do so, then STOP!

If these steps don’t bring you relief or if you feel overwhelmed by negative or repetitive thoughts, consider getting help from a mental health professional. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Source: Managing Your Mind: The Mental Fitness Guide by Gillian Butler, PhD and Tony Hope, MD. Oxford University Press, 1995; Women Who Think Too Much by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Holt Paperbacks, 2004; You Can Be Happy No Matter What by Richard Carlson, PhD. New World Library, 1997; Eating, Drinking, Overthinking by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. Holt Paperbacks, 2006.

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