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It’s one in the morning and you’re tossing around in bed, unable to sleep because your mind won’t shut off. It’s reminding you of an awkward moment with your boss a week ago, even though your boss hasn’t thought about it since. Now you start worrying about potential weak points in your presentation tomorrow, even though it’s meticulously researched and you’re fully prepared.
Neither of these scenarios should be a contributing factor to insomnia and worry, but our minds unfortunately aren’t equipped with a simple on-off switch. Bruce Hubbard, an adjunct assistant professor of education and psychology at Columbia University, agrees: “There’s no off switch for rumination. Simply telling yourself to stop is like pushing a beach ball under the water. The harder you push, the farther it will pop up.”
We have all overanalyzed things in the past; it’s a common plight that, when overcome, can result in a much more fulfilling life. One can never rid themselves of it completely, but it’s not the analysis that’s bad; what’s detrimental is our tendency to focus on insubstantial things that, in the long run, don’t matter.
How Overthinking Can Sap Your Happiness
Overanalyzing has a tendency to rebel against happiness, resulting in constant thought and brooding contemplation as opposed to resolving an issue. Spending an ample amount of time thinking about an issue, as opposed to solving it, stymies problem solving skills and one’s capability to implement innovation. Overthinking also keeps one in a perpetual state of non-progress, as their worry will keep them stuck in either a past negative situation or a future one that they’re pessimistically assuming will occur.
“Ruminators repetitively go over events, asking big questions: Why did that happen? What does it mean? But they never find answers,” explains Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the chair of the department of psychology at Yale University.
Overthinking can also inspire many terrible what-if “horror stories,” where your brain formulates the worst, most depressing scenarios possible. This can cause jealousy, fear, resentment, anger and other feelings that serve as obstacles to living life the way it should be: with love, enthusiasm and joy. Similarly, these types of feelings can cause many bodily annoyances for those with anxiety, such as arrhythmia and IBS.
How to Overcome the Plight of Overanalyzing
It may not be immediately easy, but anyone can overcome routinely worrying too much. When identifying a situation that needs to be resolved in order to absolve anxiety, think of your desired positive outcome and work around that.
For instance, instead of making the problem “I hate my job,” instead think constantly about your goal: “I want to find a job where I feel engaged because it uses my strengths.” Turn negatives into positives during contemplation.
Another way to avoid overanalyzing is to simply distract yourself. Binge watch a new TV show, exercise or meet up with friends — anything that may take your mind off of whatever topic is unnecessarily stressing you out. A physical activity that combines social communication with mental stimulation is best. One suggestion is playing a board game with friends after a long hike filled with good conversation. Still, make sure to keep these conversations steered away from negative topics; dragging friends down with negative points of anxiety can drive them away.
Mindfulness meditation has also been a solution to pivot away from overthinking. The meditation style helps one overcome the rush of society by emphasizing a focus on personal thoughts as if they are “leaves floating by in a stream.” The thought is that watching one’s own thoughts flow can prevent them from getting sucked into the past or future, instead allowing them to relish the present. Various forms of meditation and yoga are recommended to relieve anxiety and worry, in addition to the tips above. A combination should reliably help you stop overanalyzing life an