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Anxiety and Overthinking Everything

Anxiety and overthinking tend to be evil partners. One of the horrible hallmarks of any type of anxiety disorder is the tendency to overthink everything. The anxious brain is hypervigilant, always on the lookout for anything it perceives to be dangerous or worrisome. I’ve been accused of making problems where there aren’t any. To me, though, there are, indeed, problems. Why? Because anxiety causes me to overthink everything. Anxiety makes us overthink everything in many different ways, and the result of this overthinking isn’t helpful at all. Fortunately, anxiety and overthinking everything doesn’t have to be a permanent part of our existence. 

Ways Anxiety Causes Overthinking

An effect of any type of anxiety is overthinking everything. There are common themes to the way anxiety causes overthinking. Perhaps this generic list will remind you of specific racing thoughts you experience and help you realize that you’re not alone in overthinking everything because of anxiety.

Over-thinking everything is a horrid part of anxiety disorders. Over-thinking everything creates more anxiety. This tip helps stop over-thinking. Check it out.

  • Obsessing over what we should say/should have said/did say/didn’t say (common in social anxiety)
  • Worrying incessantly about who we are and how we are measuring up to the world (common in social and performance anxiety)
  • Creating fearful what-if scenarios about things that could go wrong for ourselves, loved ones, and the world (common in generalized anxiety disorder)
  • Wild, imagined results of our own wild, imagined faults and incompetencies (all anxiety disorders)
  • Fear of having a panic attack in public and possibly thinking that you can’t leave home because of it (panic disorder with or without agoraphobia)
  • Worrying about a multitude of obsessive thoughts, sometimes scary ones and thinking about them constantly (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Thinking — overthinking — a tumbling chain of worries, vague thoughts, and specific thoughts (all anxiety disorders)

Result of Anxiety and Overthinking

With anxiety, not only are these thoughts (and more) running through our brains, but they are always running through our brains, non-stop, endlessly. Like a gerbil hooked up to an endless drip of an energy drink, they run and run and wheel around in one place, going absolutely nowhere. Day and night, the wheel squeaks.

Anxiety and overthinking everything makes us both tired and wired. One result of the thinking too much that comes with anxiety is that we are often left feeling physically and emotionally unwell. Having these same anxious messages run through our head everywhere we go takes its toll.

Further, another dangerous result of anxiety and overthinking everything is that we start to believe what we think. After all, if we think it, it’s real, and if we think it constantly, it’s very real. Right? No. This is a trick anxiety plays. Anxiety causes overthinking, but with anxiety, these thoughts aren’t always trustworthy.

You have the power and the ability to interfere in anxiety’s overthinking everything. It’s a process that involves many steps, but a step you can take right now to slow down that gerbil is to have something with you or around you to divert your attention. Rather than arguing with your thoughts or obsessing over them, gently shift your attention onto something else, something neutral. By thinking about something insignificant, you weaken anxiety’s ability to cause you to overthink everything.

I explain this further in the below video. I invite you to tune in.

Let’s connect. I blog here. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. My mental health novels, including one about severe anxiety, are here

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges as well as a self-help book on acceptance and commitment therapy. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

56 thoughts on “Anxiety and Overthinking Everything”

  1. hi ,
    I tend to overthink and always think people are talking about me
    for example i can be standing somewhere some school kids can be in a group near me this happens with some people ive had trouble with before
    and anything i kind of hear them say , if they laugh and if they look at me i kind of think that they are talking about me
    ive been wrong before
    but im wondering if its because ive had trouble with some people before and thats why i tend to believe they are always talking about me when they are around me

    1. Hi Elle,
      Anxiety can come from many different sources. A very legitimate cause of anxiety is past experiences. Prior negative experiences with people can cause you to lose trust in what people are up to now. Many things can help with this. Working with a therapist can be great because he/she can help you figure out if your thoughts are accurate (as in based on real events and actions of others), and they can help you overcome anxiety about what others are saying/doing. There are good self-help books, too. For this type of anxiety, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are particularly useful. It’s definitely possible to overcome this anxiety!

  2. Hello I am 15 years old and I had social anxiety for atleast 4 years. It all started with people being judgemental about my looks. People would call me ugly and wierd looking and many other names. This is the reason that I became depressed and sucidal. I know it’s stupid to have these thoughts and feelings about my looks, but I can’t help but dwell and over think about it. It confuses me so much because their was this kid who was my best friend (Who was called ethan) he was so judgemental about my looks for as long as he was my friend for, but their were some times where he would be nice to me. He would call me not ugly and avarage looking, and most times he would hate me. But I dont know why. he was so negative towards me it made me want to be alone and it made me hate going past people because I didn’t want to be judged by them. He and many others has made me think life as pain and unfairness and I either want to hurt them and torture them or just hang myself. Please help me I am trying to be confident but Its so hard.

    1. Hi Jack,
      I’m sorry that you have been going through this. I’m sure it is very hard to stay confident, and no, you aren’t stupid for any of this. It sounds like you were stuck in a very toxic friendship and others jumped on board with the name calling, etc. I have something for you to think about. People act this way because of their own insecurities and problems. (And let’s face it, there are people who are just jerks, and they’re that way to everyone — but it feels like you’re the only one they treat horribly). I say this confidently because I’ve been in high schools as a teacher and counselor and as a human I’ve experienced horrible treatment. You’ve been dealing with this for an incredibly long time, and it makes sense that you are feeling the way you do. The important part, and the part that shows how much stronger you are than the bullies (seriously, people who act like that are pretty weak because that’s the only way they know how to make themselves feel better or to deal with problems in their life). There’s a big difference between having these thoughts and feelings and acting on them. I’m going to give you a link to a list of hotline numbers and other resources. There are people who can talk to you and help you figure out your next steps. Using these resources will help you move forward and live the life you want to without these bullies and toxic people stopping you. It’s very possible for you. You’ve already reached out so you’re past the first step. You’ve got this, and you’ll come to believe it. I sincerely wish you the best.

  3. Hi, I’ve suffered from PTSD turned into Agoraphobia for almost 10 years.

    Thank you for writing this, it helps a little. I still can’t stop myself overthinking, and its driving me to the brink of insanity. I ruined a perfect chance at a relationship today, over a minor tiny detail that i couldn’t stop obsessing about. I try constantly to find way to distract myself, but i can never do it. My mind just takes control, and i have no control over it.

    I really appreciate people who write things like this!

    1. Hi Grant,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate knowing that this was a little helpful (or at least something you could relate to and see that you’re not alone). I understand the feeling that your mind takes control. I have personal experience with that feeling! Does it help to know that you really can develop control over your mind’s overthinking? I do continue to overthink, but I don’t listen anymore. (Oh, and I’m sorry about what happened with your relationship. Maybe you can try to reconnect??)

  4. Hello Tanya!
    I don’t know how to start. Because I feel like I have so much to say that I cannot organize all of my thoughts. I need help, I feel so hopeless, I don’t understand myself. In my last year of middle school I used to feel so confident, so sure, it was my best year, I felt so much prettier, happier, so grateful for life and everything, I’d never overthink because I would be so sure, but then, when I started high school two years ago I decided to be immature, stop being grateful, I know it sounds so stupid. It is, and it was the worst decision ever, I don’t even know why I did that. I thought they were going to be the years that would do make mistakes to be better, but I already was good enough, enough to think that I could better myself being good enough (idk if that makes sense). I regret it and I tried to change it but know I feel like it has become a habit that I can’t change. So I just feel, confused, I don’t know how to feel because sometimes I feel so sure/confident but later I feel so crappy like I don’t know, so weird, so insecure about myself but at the same time I feel like Im not. In some way I just don’t know why and what to feel, even what to think. I think I overthink my feelings and I don’t know what to do so then I just feel like depressed. Anything you could say would really help me.

    1. Hi Sofia,

      I’ll start with something important: No, what you described does not sound stupid! Your feelings aren’t only normal for being a teenager and in high school, they are very okay. When asked, most adults say they would never go back to high school if they could, and there are good reasons for that. This stage of development involves a lot of exploration, testing out different ways you want to be, finding independence yet still wanting to belong to groups like friends and family (and sometimes not wanting to be part of all that!). We grow and change and explore all throughout life, but in high school its particularly intense because this is the first time you’re doing it on a more mature level. It’s not simple. So please go easy on yourself. From what you wrote, it sounds like you used to have more self-assurance, and you liked that. It also sounds like you want to have that again and maybe make some changes how you see yourself or choices you make. These are great and signs of maturity — if someone is immature, they can’t self-reflect on this level. Because you can visualize this, and because you want this, you can make changes. You’re right about behaviors becoming a habit. It probably does feel like you can’t change, but that is just an illusion, a false belief (we all have them — it’s part of being human). Just because your mind tells you you can’t change doesn’t make it true. When I get confused or anxious or stressed and start overthinking things, getting caught up in regrets, feeling insecure, I do three things that are really helpful: first, I stop paying attention to my thoughts and emotions. They’re still there, I just don’t follow them. Next, I figure out what I want in my life right now — what’s important to me? Then, based on that, I decide on some actions, little things I can do every day to work toward what I want. I push thoughts of what I don’t want out of my mind and keep acting toward what I want. Taking little steps, some action, actually increases my confidence as it moves me forward. Feel free to try this if you want to. Doing this is a way of life rather than a quick fix, so be patient with yourself. Truly, you sound like a strong young woman with a lot going for her. Your level of self-awareness is great. I bet there are a lot of other great things about you. Think more about those than you do the very human mistakes. 🙂

  5. I have social anxiety, since i was at school, I am now 27. I tend to spend too much time thinkinng, i get a persistent racing thoughts most of the time, especially when i’m stressed or anxious. I also have aspegers, which i think may contribute to my thought. The thoughts i tend to get are very unusual, like sometimes i can think about something that i have just done but exactly how it happened, like as if im reacting it in my head, or sometimes i often get a intrusive thought where i think i don’t like something when really i do. I also occasionally, but most often don’t, get unintentional sexual, self harm, harming my parents or my cat. I do quite often get anxious thoughts such as worrying thoughts like someone is going to say something that will stress me out or at times i can worry about things that will happen. But because I’ve had them for such a long time they have progressively gotten worse, due to not having the right help i need, but stress and my anxiety has made it worse and because i focus on them too much, which i find extremely difficult to resist them. I’m not sure if they are partially related to my autism as well as my anxiety but sometimes i question if some of the thoughts i get like the unusual one’s are related to my anxiety or my autism, as these thoughts are really odd. I very often question if there’s something wrong with my brain or if i have slight mental retardation, sorry for using that term, because i can’t think of anyone with anxiety or austism who experiences this. I have tried a lot of medications, therapists and psychologists but nothing has ever worked. Please be completely honest even if you think it is a intellectual disability or something that i haven’t heard from, as it would help me understand why i get this going on in my head?

    1. Hello Julian,
      Having intrusive thoughts is frightening and frustrating for many people who experience them, and they do contribute to anxiety. I would never minimize who you are or what you’re experiencing by trying to diagnose you online and based on just a little bit of info. That wouldn’t be helpful! I am wondering though, if you have had anyone mention obsessive-compulsive disorder to you. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts while compulsions are behaviors done to alleviate the thoughts (like counting, checking things, etc.). What many people don’t know is that you don’t have to have both obsessions and compulsions to have OCD. Having both is the most common, but you can have one without the other — you can have intrusive thoughts like what you’ve described without having compulsions. Again, I’m definitely not in a position to make a diagnosis. I’m just mentioning this as something to possibly think about and ask a therapist or psychologist about.

  6. Tanya thank you ! This has been plaguing me for so long now, this morning was one of the worst, I was just walking around the house like a maniac trying to find something to keep my mind diverted. Worst thing is there was no reason for me to be freaking out, nothing is happened/going-on right now that could generate this type of panic. But your advice is fantastic. Focussing on a mute object and thinking about the way it’s shaped or what it’s made out of. It’s calming to think about something that has no effect on my bigger picture. Thank you for this, saved me a lot of stress.

    1. Hello Destin!

      Thank you for your feedback. I’m so happy that this was helpful to you in the moment. I overthink things and tend to create all sorts of problems that feel very real but aren’t at all. Using an object has helped me a great deal — now it’s just automatic. I’m glad it’s useful for you, too!

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