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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.

  • 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.

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.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.

257 thoughts on “Anxiety and Overthinking Everything”

  1. Idk what I’m doing, but ok, so I’m 19 years old, and I have been living my life with some problems that I try to explain, but can’t. At times I’ve wanted to do some things that I don’t want to mention, but I realize how I always overthink about anything that is not to big of a deal. (for some reason I’m shaking right now) My whole life I’ve been trying to go out and be heard, but I get too shy and feel down when I try. I’m always “on the low,” don’t talk much, always listening to music, by myself, rarely go out, can’t deal with strangers much or crowds. Have tried working as a server twice, but unfortunately got fired twice for the same reason (not showing up, calling “sick”) but went back to delivering. I just don’t know what to say. But I give what I can think of.

    1. Hi Nestor,
      I’m sorry to read about what you’re going through. You mentioned wanting to be out and about but being too shy. I’m wondering about something based on what you’ve written, but I’m definitely not trying to diagnose you. That would be wrong of me and impossible to do with just this little bit of information. Some of what you said reminds me a lot of social anxiety and, beyond that, something called avoidant personality disorder. “Shyness” exists on a spectrum with mild shyness on one end and avoidant personality disorder on the other. Avoidant personality disorder is like social anxiety on steroids. This article will tell you a bit more about this, and if it seems to fit, you can look up some more information: https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/03/social-anxiety-a-spectrum-from-shy-to-avoidant/ Intense social anxiety can be hard to overcome, but with patience and perseverance, things will get better. You can even have a job and a social life.

  2. I have my eyebrows bones little exposed within two weeks of over thinking for the left one it is old one the right eye brows bones it is exposed more recently .

    Is it cause by anxiety ?because I have many issues .

  3. I‘m only 21 but looking back i have always had negative thoughts, circeling in my head so fast its every second lately. I feel trappes in my head and the things I think about is actually always worrying about what other people think about me while I am actually doing stuff, I am thinking like that even about my friends and family. It is probably because Im insecure in general but lately the more I stop to think about it, the heavier the tboughts get. Its like my mind is constantly racing

    1. Hi Selina,
      A constantly racing mind — that is a really good description. Social anxiety and insecurity can definitely be at the root of this type of overthinking. And as you’re seeing, it can keep getting worse! The good news is that it can also get better. Have you looked into social anxiety? Perhaps starting by looking into information about this type of anxiety will be a great first step in reducing overthinking.

  4. Good video. Does a therapist notice anxiety and over thinking? Mine has never mentioned it. Only one has ever acknowledged the dissociation. But we never worked on anything to stop it. I get my Mental Health care through the Veterans Admins., in the USA, so I don’t think they are equipped to handle dissociation or to do therapy to help anxiety or overthinking. Sessions are usually 6-12 weeks apart 🙁

    1. Hi Trace,
      Some therapists do (and should) address overthinking. Others do not. I’m not sure what the VA policy is. If it’s possible to try a different therapist? Also, 6-12 weeks apart is a long time between sessions. Have you tried any self-help books about anxiety to work on between sessions? That might be helpful.

  5. Is it possible that such things are genetically passed? My mother has problem with anxiety. He never starts conversation with “how are you”, instead she says “is everything OK” assuming that it’s not and she wants me to prove her wrong. Why is that I always think obsessively about something even thought it’s already clear. to me? I For example I know that I still have time to do something, yet I worry it will be too late. Why is that I seek confirmation from many sources and even when I am sure about something I still have this kind of feeling “what if….”. I often ask the same questions and people get angry about it. It affects my relations with my girlfriend. She says I am obsessed and annoying. Then I worry…that I am too annoying and I keep asking her “am I not annoying you”. Then of course, she gets angry. It’s like I want to go somewhere in April and I know that I can make final decision in March but I feel like I have to do it now, I don’t know where this feelings comes from. I know it’s overthinking and anxiety. I keep telling myself “stop” or “it’s OK, you already know that” but it does not seem to work. What can I do? I can’t concentrate on everyday stuff, simple things.

    1. Hello Witek,
      Anxiety can be related to genetics, at least partially. It can also definitely be learned. Anxiety is no one’s fault but is something complex that develops from many different experiences with our environment, within the brain, and a consequence of interactions with others, including parents. Your mom probably cares about you and wants you to be safe (physically, emotionally — the whole deal). She might have some fears and anxieties of her own that give her reason to believe that the world is not okay, and by constantly asking and obsessing, it’s her way of making sure you are okay. But having that kind of interaction and talk over and over again really could have an impact on how you interact. This is what you learned, and it’s naturally how you see things and react. (This is oversimplified and there is a lot more to anxiety — and to you as a person — than this. This is an observation based on what you mentioned.)

      You have already had a great first step. You’ve identified what you don’t want. The next step is identifying what you do want and then create an action plan that involves small steps to work your way to who and how you want to be. It’s common to think, “I know what I want. I don’t want to be this way. I want to stop overthinking. That’s what I want.” But that isn’t helpful. When you think about what you don’t want, you are thinking of what you don’t want. Your focus is on the negative. Just reframing and focusing on what you do want will start to make a difference. Build on that with action, and you will be working toward the change you want to, and can, create.

  6. Hello I am 21 years old, my name is zach, I recently just started having anxiety/overthinking issues in my life. I have so much blessings in my life and not really having nothing to complain about: I’m going to trade school and working to be an electrician, I keep a good relationship with my family and my friends, and about 2 months deep into a relationship with a wonderful woman. Shes is very mature and very understanding about a lot of things. So recently I started getting really anxious and start overthinking my actions around her. I keep playing scenarios in my head over and over again thinking “she’s going to leave me she’s in a bad mood.” Basically almost making it believable that she’s going to leave me because I’m thinking lesser of myself. Does that make sense? Our relationship is going really well and she has no intentions of leaving. She knows I have this problem and wants to help the best she can. Whenever I get into this anxious/overthinking mood it gets so bad I do not want to eat and I just get this heavy feeling in my chest. All because my mind plays scenerios that ARENT true. I just want it to stop. It’s stopping me from being myself around the people I love

    1. Hi Zach,
      The insight you have about your anxiety, including the fact that you know that your thoughts don’t match reality, means that you’re already far into the process of overcoming this. Many times, people don’t realize that just because they are thinking and feeling, it doesn’t make it true. (That is a common trick that anxiety plays on people, so it’s not bad when that happens. It’s just a different starting point for overcoming anxiety). You’re aware of your irrational thoughts (that’s not a judgment; “irrational” is just the word that is used and it means that they aren’t what’s really happening). I have two links for you that might be helpful. One is about relationships, and the other is about an approach to mental health and wellbeing called acceptance and commitment therapy. These just might have information that will help you stop the anxious thoughts and let you be yourself. (ACT is largely about learning to be yourself.)

      https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2015/03/how-to-stop-feeling-insecure-in-relationships/

      https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/07/stop-avoiding-anxiety-acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/

  7. Hello Tanya. i’m 21 years old girl and i have been having a lot of axiety lately. I have decided to make do certain things during the day in order to be productive, for example, studying french 2 hours, piano 1 hour, seweing 1 hour in the evening, reading, etc. When i wake up in the morning my brain is calm for some time but after 2 hours i start thinking about how the time won’t be enough, that i will feel tired or lazy, how i won’t progress as much as i would expect and so on, i overthink and i think that negatively affects my performance. I started having anxiety about 2 and a half years ago because i had a teacher that was very tough, i even had panic attacts at night but the it all went away but now, i just think about me not being able to be as productive as i would like to, i get tired very soon now and also, i’m from Venezuela, my country is in chaos, everywhere you go you see poverty, lack of opportunities so it is somehow a very sad environment, i don’t know if that could have something to do with it too. Today, i had a awkward social interaction with someone (i’m a very shy person) and then i came home could not stop feeling bad about it and thinking it too and i’m never like that, i mean, if something like that happens i just think “whatever, it already happened, i can’t change it” but this time was not like that. Something else, i suffer from metabolic syndrom and had already had hypothyroidism.

    1. Hi Veronica,
      From my own personal experience plus what I’ve encountered professionally, this drive/need to be productive is extremely anxiety-provoking. It becomes a terrible cycle: We think/worry about not being productive. So we try harder to be productive, taking on more tasks to try to solve the problem. Of course, there is only so much time, and everything we do requires time, which means we don’t get to everything. That makes us feel less productive. So we take on more. The cycle continues and anxiety worsens. It even causes physical symptoms and physical illness. It can also lead to other mental health challenges — like the way you reacted to the social interaction. That is a very normal thing to do, and it often comes from being overwhelmed. The brain becomes overloaded and it becomes harder for it to handle things.

      It’s hard to break out of this cycle of anxiety and productivity. Believe me, I know! One thing that is often effective is to start at the source — the need to be productive. Make a definition of productivity that is meaningful to you and of course realistic. Define what is reasonable to do in a day, then choose the most necessary things to fit into the time frame. Jot them down so you can cross them off when you do them. That reinforces that you are doing things. Also, before bed, list what you accomplished and why it matters. If/when you keep thinking about what you didn’t accomplish, write that down, too, plus why it’s okay that those things didn’t get done. This is a good first step to reducing this “productivity anxiety.”

      One thing that very likely does contribute is something out of your control: the chaos around you. These conditions absolutely can cause or add to anxiety, depression, PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, and more. I happened to research this recently for a book, so I’ve read studies and personal accounts about the effects of living in wide-spread poverty, long-term effects of natural disasters, war, political strife, etc. This chaos does take a toll on mental health and wellbeing. Discovering personal meaning can counterbalance the negative effects. What is important to you? Who is important to you? What bothers you that you would like to see change? If you can take time to explore what is meaningful to you, you can then do things to live in a way that matches your meaning. This has the added bonus of reducing the need to be productive because living according to your values is naturally productive and satisfying.

  8. Hi. I am male 34 living in India. I have severe anxiety talking with even people I know. They can be my senior cousins or my elder uncles. Whoever is outside of my family. I fear mostly teasing and pulling a leg thinking that they will not like that considering they are elder to me. I am happy when I am natural. However, anxiety stops me from enjoying the moment fully because it keeps me shut, it keeps me from conversing at my full potential. I have no ill will but I fear the reactions of my cousins and uncle/aunt. I fear that they would react harshly when I tease them. And say that it is inappropriate. I feel like being admonished like a kid. I have always kept to myself mostly. And remained anxious for so many years since childhood.
    Please help

    1. Hi Michael,
      Sometimes (many times) family can cause great anxiety for many different reasons. When family members, especially older ones in a special role, judge us negatively, it can cause anxiety and withdrawal. Sometimes, putting family opinions aside temporarily (you can still respect them in their role) and exploring who you are and how you want to be can reduce anxiety. You have a chance to know yourself without feeling wrong about your discoveries. One way to do this is to examine your unique strengths and find ways you want to use them. Check out http://www.viacharacter.org for a high-quality self-test and information. Also, because you have been dealing with this for so long and because it comes from family, it can be helpful to work with a therapist. If you don’t have easy access to a therapist, you can try an online service such as betterhelp.com or talkspace.com. Truly, you don’t have to be stuck with this severe anxiety forever.

  9. Hi Michele,
    Know that you aren’t alone in this. So many people have a hard time around what you describe that there are indeed books to help. The other reason there are books is because it is possible to overcome this and thrive. If it were hopeless, there wouldn’t be any books!

    Something that stood out to me in what you wrote was the fact that you have a new job and have recently experienced traumas. While I would never dish out a diagnosis, I will say that these are elements of adjustment disorder or even adjustment-related stress if it’s not a full-blown disorder. Even positive change can lead to adjustment stress/disorder. This is something that is temporary when you have help dealing with it. That help can be in book form. There aren’t many books about adjustment disorder out there. One good (but short) one is Adjustment Disorder: When You Can’t Cope with Change by J.B. Snow. Learn more here: http://amzn.to/2FkS7Pq. That title sounds a bit off-putting in my opinion. But if you can get past the harsh “When you can’t cope with change” part, the information is good.

    Another good title to look into is Thriving with Social Anxiety: Daily Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety and Building Self Confidence by Hattie Cooper.

    Another one that is helpful with overthinking, self-confidence, adjustment, and more is Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps: http://amzn.to/2FlaPqu. I should disclose that I am the author of this one. However, I make nothing from the sales and have nothing to gain at all by telling you about this book. I believe strongly in acceptance and commitment therapy so I’m just listing this with the other two.

    I hope this list gives you a good start. You’re on the right track already. You’ve taken two important steps: you decided you want to break your current patterns (that’s a big decision that not everyone makes), and you’re seeking information to do it. Keep at it!

  10. I am 30 years old, and I have recently changed careers. I’m starting to see very negative patterns of thinking where my job performance is concerned. I’ve been through a few traumatic events in recent years (from being told I had performance issues job wise to being stalked), and I find myself consistently overthinking what I and other people say and do. I have a hard time trusting my co workers and opening up to them about work related things. I am constantly worried that I am going to do the wrong thing and be fired. I have similar issues with relationships as well, but those are more rooted in insecurity and feeling like I don’t have anything to offer another person. I have a tendency to pull people close then push them away.

    I am looking for books or techniques that will help me break these patterns of negative thoughts and over come my over thinking. I think I’d be a happier and healthier person. Previous therapists haven’t always been helpful, and I am not in a position in my life to be able to afford therapy. Any advice you give would be greatly appreciated.

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