I’m an ex-overthinker.
I used to overthink to such an extent that it disempowered me, and negatively affected every area of my life.
The problem with overthinking is that it seeps into you like a paralyzing scorpion sting:
The more you think, worry and analyze, the more it feeds into more thinking, worrying and analyzing.
It’s an endless loop leading to anxiety, inaction and low self-esteem.
If you resonate with the following then you’re also an overthinker (and I’ll give you advice about how to resolve it, too).
1) You worry what others think of you
For years this was me to a T:
I was fixated on trying to find out what others thought of me.
In the process, I centered my well-being outside of myself and was insecure and awkward.
- There are more than seven billion people in the world and each of them would have a slightly different perception and idea of you;
- What others think of you can’t give you worth or steal your worth.
If you find yourself trying to get a clear answer on what others think of you, it’s a classic sign of toxic overthinking.
2) You’re fixated on anxiety that you aren’t good enough
Self-doubt is usually a big part of overthinking and worrying what others think of you.
This often has roots in early childhood, being criticized too much, or growing up in a culture which made you feel you have low value and can’t express yourself.
You’re consumed by fear that you’re not good enough and won’t measure up to the challenges of life.
You feel that you aren’t smart enough, aren’t nice enough and aren’t appealing enough.
Which brings me to the next point…
3) You’re deeply insecure about whether others find you attractive or not
A related part of worrying about what people think of you is specifically whether they find you attractive.
This is a common fixation to have; advertisers have made billions off our desire to be seen as “cool” and hip by peers and attractive and “hot” by potential mates.
But that insecurity about what others see us as can be deeply disempowering.
It’s true that some of us are objectively better looking than others to be quite frank, but centering our value of ourselves on our appearance is a mistake. Watch the video here:
4) You rehash and rethink texts and messages you’ve already sent
We’ve all rehashed messages, texts and emails that we sent.
Gmail has about five to ten seconds to “unsend” an e-mail, and things like Whatsapp allow you to delete a message for everyone.
But in many cases you can’t unsend a message.
What’s more, even when you can unsend a message, you may find yourself overthinking whether unsending was the wrong move and potentially is even worse or more embarrassing than what you already sent.
Write what you mean, mean what you write.
5) You go back over decisions you’ve already made over and over
When it comes to life decisions, you have a similar tendency to worry about decisions you’ve made.
Whatever you choose, from large decisions down to tiny details, you find yourself consumed by that devilish “what if…”
What if you hadn’t married him…
What if you had never broken up with her…
What if you’d decided to become a doctor instead of your career now…
These what ifs can be useful if they lead to real change, but all too often they just end up being a form of mental masturbation that keep you trapped.
6) You blame yourself and worry about small mistakes in past relationships
Overthinking past relationships and dating that didn’t work out is especially painful.
When you’re prone to rehashing every small detail and blaming yourself it leads to so much stress, depression and anxiety.
You think in circles and get to the point where it feels like anything you do or don’t do is a mistake and you should just never go out on a single date again.
Learning from past mistakes in dating is definitely worth it, but being anxious about every small thing and blaming yourself for everything is totally counterproductive.
7) You’re awake at night worrying what tomorrow will bring
For many years I struggled with insomnia.
Part of this was related to having an irregular schedule, but part of it was simply worrying too much.
For starters, I’d worry: “what if I don’t wake up?”
It’s a damn scary thought, but we can’t control that.
Secondly, all the bad things that could happen the next day or next week filled my mind, almost all bad things out of my control.
These sleepless nights added nothing beneficial to my life, and I’m sure they don’t add value to your life either.
8) You’re preoccupied by worst-case scenarios
Many sleepless nights I remember what kept me up was worst-case scenarios.
What if a family member dies of cancer?
What if I have an accident tomorrow on the way to school?
What if it turns out the girl I really like is in love with another guy?
What if there’s an earthquake and I get swallowed up into a never-ending hole and feel huge slabs of earth and rock slam into me with overpowering force just before I die?
As you can see, I had quite the imagination. I still do, actually. I just try to use it for more productive things.
9) You’re intensely anxious you could have a rare, deadly disease
Another classic overthinker behavior is hypochondria.
As a teen I would read medical textbooks cover to cover.
Rare blood conditions and genetic disorders made my eyes bug out and I’d scan the list of symptoms and become certain I was suffering from everything under the sun.
If you find yourself worrying about catching (or having) a disease all the time it’s a definite sign you’re an overthinker in a way that’s bringing your life down.
10) You find yourself caught up on the idea of a massive, unexpected end of the world
The word “apocalypse” actually means an unveiling or revelation.
But I know that the idea of “everything” ending in a religious or literal sense has always fascinated me.
I remember the 1998 film Deep Impact had me expecting a massive meteor to hit at any moment. I still hope that doesn’t happen, but even if it doesn’t, environmental devastation and social collapse seems to be helping us well on our way.
Still, by focusing so much on big picture collapse and fear of it we can often forget our own smaller and more specific part to play in doing productive and valuable things in our own life.
This kind of overthinking isn’t worth it! (Unless you’re writing an apocalyptic thriller novel or screenplay).
The cure to overthinking
We all overthink sometimes.
But if it’s a constant problem for you the way it used to be for me, I have three pieces of advice that will break you free.
Exercise, lift weights, play sports, spar, paddle.
Take time away from the screen to spend time in nature.
Whatever activity you end up doing, make it something you enjoy and that gives you a good workout.
You can head out solo or with friends and colleagues, whichever you prefer.
Sweat and get your heart rate up so that you feel in your body and lie down in your bed at night completely exhausted.
You can’t overthink when you’re busy learning productive skills.
Whatever skills, studies or new information you’re learning, put your heart into it.
Knowledge truly is power, and the more you know the bigger the difference you can make in your own life and the life of others.
Unlike when I used to read through the medical textbook with a gnawing fear that I had every disease, you can read through it with an eye to how this information can help those who really are sick!
Whatever you end up learning, do your best to make it something that is directly applicable to life and optimally to helping other people.
All the positive thinking and reflection in the world does no good if it’s not ultimately turned into action.
It’s not just about being “positive” or visualizing some ideal future.
It’s about finding your purpose and putting practical steps into action to get towards your objectives and become a stronger, more empowered individual who’s able to meaningfully connect with yourself and those around you.