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.
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.
NCC, T. (2015, December 31). Anxiety and Overthinking Everything, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/12/anxiety-and-over-thinking-everything
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
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.
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. :)
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.
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!
My anxiety was brought on following a brain injury, along with memory and cognitive issues, which is why its pretty difficult for me to deal with, its like I'm a different person.
I've been taking some nootropics which seem to help with some things.
I agree the video helped for the length of the video lol!
enjoyed the article as well!
Thanks for your comment and feedback! Love the analogy to Madonna's video. I'm going to go find that and watch it again. My own anxiety was exacerbated by a TBi, so I can relate somewhat (we're all different, of course). I experienced anxiety before the brain injury, but it wasn't a problem. It became a problem after the injury. (The TBI also led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.) Feeling like a different person is a common sentiment expressed by people with TBI. The essence of "you" is still there. You're just on an adventure to redefine some things. Including dealing with anxiety!
Thanks for your feedback! I'm happy this article helped you feel more serene. There is great comfort for all of us in knowing that we're not alone and that what we're experiencing isn't a personal flaw. That's one of the main reasons HealthyPlace.com and Anxiety-Schmanxiety exist. I hope you keep coming back. :)
The notion of wearing out the brain is a great description of what those of us who overthink things often wonder about. Rest assured, the human brain is amazing and can't be worn out from thinking, anxiety, or both. Sometimes when people have many different things to balance at the same time, such as the four different talents you mention, it can become too much. This has nothing to do with intelligence/lack of it or talent/lack of it. It has to do with the fact that the brain can process a finite number of things at once before becoming stressed. It won't wear out, but it can become overwhelmed. This affects all areas of functioning. Sometimes people find it helpful to chose fewer things on which to focus at once. Also, seeing a therapist can help you manage anxiety. Think of these as a way of resetting, of starting over with your thoughts.
You point out something very common (and frustrating): anxiety doesn't always stay the same over time. Often, just as we have our specific type of anxiety under control, a new form of anxiety pops up. When that happens, separating yourself from your anxiety in general, staying mindful in and connected to the present moment, clearly defining what you want in your life (rather than being stuck in thinking about what you don't want, like anxiety), and planning intentional action to achieve your goals and live according to your values are all very effective ways to live well, first in spite of anxiety and then without it. The therapy that teaches how to do this is called acceptance and commitment therapy. This article is a great introduction: http://bit.ly/2bnpW6v . Books are available on the topic, too.
Given that you've been thinking about death, it's very important to seek help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an excellent starting point. They are available around the clock, and their number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Their website is www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, where they have information and a chat option if you don't like the phone. Please give them a call or visit their website. They exist for a reason!
(Also, the symptoms of anxiety can definitely mimic heart attacks and strokes, and it's not uncommon for people to fear that one of these is happening.)
Over-thinking and rumination are very close cousins. Rumination involves over-thinking. Over-thinking isn't always the same as ruminating. With over-thinking, the mind takes off, often analyzing <em>ad nauseam</em>. Even something simple as buying a card or an item in a grocery store can involve over-thinking. I've been known to analyze nutrition labels and ingredients lists in an attempt to decide if the item in question is something I should buy; then, I'll analyze the fact that I'm analyzing the label. It's annoying. Rumination does involve this type of over-thinking, but it's tied to mulling over the same thing repeatedly. Worrying over a perceived mistake day and night for a period of time, for example, is both over-thinking and rumination. An animal that has multiple stomachs and regurgitates food in order to re-digest it, such as a cow, is called a ruminant because they chew over the same thing more than once. That's a good way to distinguish rumination from other types of thinking. I must emphasize that I'm not calling people cows! We are higher-order species that have the privilege of ruminating over thoughts rather than food. Lucky us. Hopefully this helps. I'm glad you mentioned this.
I can relate to everything you describe. I haven't been successful in stopping my brain from doing this, but I have discovered things that stop it from being so bothersome. Have you tried returning your senses and your thoughts to the present moment when you notice your brain redlining at full speed? Reconnecting to what is going on around you, day or night, can be very helpful. At first, it doesn't work for long (and sometimes not much at all), but with practice you can train your brain to focus more on the sights, smells, sounds, and actions around you than it does on overprocessing every little thought or sense. In time, you'll be present in the moment for longer periods of time. Your brain might race off in the background, but you'll be separated from its behavior, grounded in the present, and won't get dragged along with it.
Your video is awesome thanks for that, im suffering of overthinking and anxiety most of my life but it has become worse since a person i really trusted got fired at work, now my mind runs wild everyday thinking im doing something wrong to even though i have nothing to worry about i create problems and situations in my head?? Is this normal ? As ive seen on previous comments facial expressions thats the worst for me someone will just look at me wrong and i will freak?
I'm glad you liked the video. Thank you for your feedback! The experiences you describe are a very normal part of anxiety. For years people told me, "Tanya, quit creating problems for yourself." I made so many problems for myself in my head, reading into expressions, tone of voice, little nuances of behavior, what people said or didn't say, and more. I finally realized that this really wasn't getting me to where I wanted to be in life. Lessening the habit (I can't honestly say completely breaking the habit, because I still catch myself reverting to overthinking everything) was a process that took time, but it was well worth it. I began catching myself overthinking or over-analyzing, and then I'd start to consider that my thoughts were wrong. We can't know with certainty what someone else is thinking, so we can't know with certainty that we're being judged. Considering that they might be thinking about something that had nothing to do with me was helpful in distancing myself from the problems I created in my own head.
Anxiety has a way of interfering in life and enjoyment, doesn't it? I've been there, and I can relate. Constantly worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing, overthinking everything, and more are exhausting. As far as being "normal," there really is no standard. It's a made-up concept that comes from the fact that everyone wants to fit in and be accepted. You can start to remove that thought from your mind! But it will keep coming back, so be patient with yourself. I have found that two excellent approaches to anxiety/all mental health issues are acceptance and commitment therapy and solution-focused therapy. You might want to consider looking into these to see if you like their approaches. Know that anxiety doesn't have to bother you forever. :)
Overthinking everything is something that can be both caused by anxiety and something that increases anxiety. It's a vicious cycle that is maddening. Your description of what it's doing to you is spot-on. Your keen awareness of this is a very good thing and is actually the first step in overcoming it. You're right that the readjusting your thinking aspect of it is difficult. Know that it's a process, often a slow one, but progressive nonetheless. Working with a therapist who practices cognitive-behavior therapy can be very helpful. CBT can be done in self-help format (there are many great books out there; just a search at a bookstore (off- or online) or library will yield a lot of results), but it can be slower going. That said, there are things you can start right now. Two key things to do: be very intentional about noticing and catching your thoughts and then challenge/question them and replace them with something more realistic; additionally, focus on joy--identify what reduces stress and increases happiness. Do more of that. Concentrate on making good moments throughout your day. Together, these steps are an important part of changing your thinking.
Thank you so much for your comments and feedback! Everything I write -- articles/posts for HealthyPlace and my novels (that all relate to mental illness/health) -- comes from the heart and from experience. I try to share helpful information, ideas, etc. Like not overthinking. Anxiety definitely makes people, myself included, overthink things. And when you have so much going on in your life like preparing for your husband's retirement, anxiety's games tend to get worse. I hope that the information here truly does help!
Death and the unknown of what follows are common sources of fear and anxiety. Then, if we feel guilty for questioning things like this -- like we should just accept what we've been taught -- our anxiety seems to increase, and depression can increase, too. Sometimes the act of giving yourself permission to question and explore can help relieve anxiety and depression. Of course this doesn't completely eradicate depression and bring back happiness, but it's often a powerful first step.
Me and my son are having it hard . hes 17.. I accues him of smoking, drugs etc. He brought the car home full of mud. I have him a speech. He said he was sorry but I kept over explainimg, going on . he said he told me he was sorry . I always think the worst. Working on my atv I get 8 opinions all different and then I'm a mess. I take clonazepam , effexor, Strattera and lithium but it's doesnt shut my brain off. Its ruining me, I'm no longer a people person
Yes -- even facial expressions! Tone, expressions, posture, positioning; so many things other than "just" the words. You're not alone. Overthinking is a very common aspect of any type of anxiety. How often to you have a chance to check in with your doctor? Sometimes, medication actually makes things worse, depending on the individual person. It might be something to ask your doctor. Share what's going on and how you feel you are changing. Sometimes, adjusting dosages or medications can make a difference. It's definitely needs to be done with a doctor, though, because changing medication on your own, even if it seems like a small change, can be very dangerous. You know yourself and how you want to be. Don't stop pursuing it!
Besides the "override" I have constant nausea, I don't vomit. I snow ready to send a doctor. Thank you again for your help.
I have been struggling with what I can now describe as "a mind override". I am not particularly worried about things, I instead think/mostly visualise situations, systems ..anything. My mind picks up anything and runs through it in a split second I think physically it could take me years to go through the same thought when normal. Its like I meditate with resistance and fast.
Recently I speak to myself a lot and I feel tired and don't get enough sleep. I feel that I should see a doctor but I am not sure how to put it.
Can you help explain to me what could be happening.
The "mind override" you describe (great term, by the way) is a very frustrating experience, especially when thoughts never seem to slow down. Everyone's experiences are unique, so of course I won't claim to have had your exact experience, but I will say that I've dealt with various forms of racing thoughts and know how intrusive they can be. There are absolutely things that you can do to help this, and you don't have to live with this mind override forever. Your idea of seeing a doctor is wise. I would never want to do harm to you by trying to state what you're experiencing in an online setting where it's impossible to gather all of the important information (including lab tests -- a doctor might want to do blood work, etc. to rule out various medical conditions). A while back, I wrote an article that included a checklist for talking with a doctor. Not quite knowing how to put things is a very common concern. The article addresses talking to a doctor about medication, but it applies to situations beyond medication. You can use the concepts to help you communicate with a doctor. Don't give up. There really are ways to overcome all of this. Here's the link to the checklist: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/11/talking-to-your-doctor-about-anxiety-medication/
For social anxiety- I am a very outgoing person. But I worry about what they think of me or how I sound (I have vocal chord paralysis. So I sound weird
Anxiety has a nasty habit of telling us we sound weird. It also makes us question things and people. You've described some of anxiety's tricks very well. I get what you mean about multiple choice tests (true/false, too). I always overthought them too. Do you have something that you do or a place where you go where anxiety doesn't make you overthink? Engaging in something meaningful (and safe) is a great way to give yourself a break from anxiety. Talking to someone about your anxiety can be helpful, too. Know that you're not alone, and you're not weird. :)
You're definitely not "psycho" or "crazy" or anything like that! It can be beyond frustrating when the brain races off, overthinking even the smallest things; it's worse than frustrating when it interferes in our lives. Given that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected, it makes sense that this interferes in life. The good news is that you are aware of your thoughts and what they're doing. Sometimes people aren't fully aware of this. Now that you're aware, it's possible to separate your thoughts from who you are and what you do. We can't fully control what pops into our minds, but we do have control over how we react. Accepting these as just thoughts and then tuning into the present moment -- what is really happening rather than what your mind thinks is happening -- you can begin to break free of the trap.
Tornado is an absolutely ideal word for this overthinking. Anchoring ourselves during the overthinking storm is important. And thinking of this as a storm we can prepare for, weather, reduce its impact, and start over is a good way to look at this. :)
I love your comment! :) I think that very few people actually like the sound of their own voice, so I appreciate this. Hmmm...gardening can be effective in reducing anxiety, so maybe videos on growing cucumbers would be okay!