Ruminating. Contemplating. Pondering. Mulling things over.
No matter what you call it, there’s a big difference between giving something a good thinking-over and truly overthinking things.
I mean, thinking is good, right? But too much of it can gum things up and keep you stuck in a rut.
So how do you know if you’re taking it a bit too far?
Well, if you constantly worry about these 10 things, you just might be an overthinker.
1) The work you just submitted
I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I like to take the time to cross my t’s and dot my i’s to make sure everything is as good as possible.
Once I finish a project, I know I have to let it go and stop worrying about all the little things I could have done better.
But it’s hard!
If you’re the same, then you know just how difficult it can be to let go, and the longer you work on something, the harder that becomes.
If it’s completed and it’s out of your hands, it should also find its way out of your mind as well.
But if days or even weeks later (never mind years!) you’re still tossing and turning and losing sleep about it, you’re definitely overthinking things.
2) “What ifs” and “if only’s”
One thing that can really pull a person down into what psychotherapist Amy Morin calls the cycle of overthinking is focusing on hypotheticals.
What if I’d stayed in that job?
If only I hadn’t broken up with my ex!
Analyzing your decisions, and the steps you took to get to now can be extremely useful and informative for the future.
But what’s not useful is if you dwell on these decisions, going over and over them in your mind wondering if they were right or not.
This kind of overthinking can get you stuck and really bring you down. So there’s a sweet spot to try to hit.
You want to let your past inform your future, but not completely overwhelm your present.
3) That thing you said
One of the things I know I’m most guilty of overthinking is stuff I’ve said in the past.
I’m way into words, and how they come together to create meaning, so I always try to choose mine carefully.
But sometimes, things still come out the wrong way, especially when there’s emotion involved.
And then it leaves me wondering.
Did I say the wrong thing?
Did I say the right thing but at the wrong time?
Could I have put that better?
And what about the consequences of my words? Did they send the wrong message, maybe hurting someone along the way?
This is something I know I chronically overthink, and maybe something you overthink, too.
4) That thing they said
It’s not only what I say that I over-analyze.
Because words are so important to me, I choose mine carefully, and I assume that others do the same.
But people are different:
Some people scatter their words like rice at a wedding, while others lay theirs down like tiles.
It’s not always clear why someone said a certain thing – did they mean what they said, or was there something extra there, hidden between the lines? Or did they simply speak without thinking first?
In fact, there is normally something extra implied in almost everything we say, and being able to pick up on that is part of the art of conversation.
But that’s no reason to get completely bogged down in what someone else said. You can easily overthink here when instead, you could try… asking!
5) The dumb mistake you made
When I was still in school, I was part of a fundraising campaign.
It was Mother’s Day, and I was out on a street corner selling nice chocolate bars. And I sold out quickly.
People were even phoning their friends and neighbors to tell them about me.
But when the coordinator came around to restock my chocolate, he wasn’t happy at all. Where was all the money?
It seems that when he’d said, “It’s one for three,” he’d meant one bar for $3, not $1 for three bars!
I thought and thought about how I’d made this dumb mistake for ages.
But that created a negative pattern that kept building upon itself. I kept thinking the situation through and arriving at the conclusion that I was dumb, and this made me really feel bad about myself.
I was young, and now I know it was an honest mistake, but that’s definitely not the only dumb mistake I’ve been guilty of overthinking!
6) How badly you embarrassed yourself
Social blunders can create really strong, emotionally charged memories.
We even have nightmares about being naked in public or forgetting something really important.
Our real-life blunders certainly stick in our minds because of how mortified we feel, and this can be something that a lot of us truly overthink.
It probably has to do with our self-confidence and our social standing, and those things are really important to us.
But that doesn’t mean we should obsess about our failures forever and a day.
7) Where you stand with your partner
I know relationships are tricky.
Like I bet you have, I’ve been picked up, put down, left, forced to leave, welcomed back, scared off, bored, confused, and just about everything else more times than I can count.
Navigating the dating and relationship world is one of the most difficult things we do in our lives and one of the most important to us as well.
So it’s no wonder that so many of us, me included, can get really bogged down by the details.
One of the biggest things people dwell on is where they stand with partners, especially with levels of commitment and faithfulness.
This is one more area where you can really find yourself overthinking, but one in which overthinkers would benefit from less guesswork and more communication.
8) Negative social situations
Just like making blunders, situations like being criticized, yelled at, tricked, or hurt can really stand out in our minds.
I know that I like to fixate on these negative experiences, even though it doesn’t do me any favors.
Being fired from what I thought was my dream job stands out. So does having my heart broken by my teenage crush.
And I definitely got caught up in going over and over those situations.
Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back, I was actually laid off because of downsizing, and that week-long relationship probably wasn’t quite as significant as I thought.
But at the time, all I could focus on was the intense negative feelings, and I kept playing these scenes out in my head.
If you let negative experiences become the absolute focus of your attention, you’re definitely overthinking things and missing all the positives that could be lined up to happen next.
9) Sad experiences in the past
This is a very hard one to avoid as it’s a very common reaction to tragedy and loss.
Overthinking sad experiences is called rumination, and it can be soul-destroying.
While this reaction is very often brought about by grief and can be a stage to pass through, if you get stuck in this state of despair, that could spell trouble.
Rumination is linked to anxiety and depression, so it’s an important activity to recognize in yourself.
Unlike other types of overthinking, this one can actually be very serious and may be an indication that you need some help with your mental health.
10) What you should do in the future
Almost all of the things I’ve mentioned are worries about the past, or perhaps the present. But you can also worry about the future.
Many people do.
After all, it’s filled with uncertainty that can be intimidating, to say the least.
But overthinkers worry way too much about what might or could happen.
Planning is one thing.
But worrying obsessively about things that may or may not even happen is not a great thing to do.
It’s about how likely things are to happen as well.
It might be quite appropriate to worry about losing your job if you’ve had two official warnings and still called in sick yesterday because you wanted to go shopping.
But it’s overdoing it to worry about the possibility of being struck by lightning on a cloudless day.
These might be silly examples, but the point is that worrying about any future possibility, no matter how out there, is definitely overthinking things.
If you worry about all of these 10 things, you’re definitely an overthinker, and it might be time to look for a solution. Because you want to sleep at night, not toss and turn sweating over things that are out of your control.