Why overthinking may be the root of your unhappiness

I’ve always been an overthinker, and while it’s helped to contribute to some of my success in life, it’s also the main driver behind my anxiety and depression.

And when I did a little research on the subject, I learned that I’m not alone. There are literally millions of people out there who are struggling with overthinking, and each of them seems to have their own form of unhappiness that they’re struggling with as a result of it.

That’s why in today’s article, we’re going to take a deep dive on the subject and figure out why overthinking is at the root of our societal unhappiness. I’ve identified eleven different reasons that people give, so let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

1) It stops you from speaking

The most common complaint that I’ve come across is that people feel unable to speak because their overthinking stops them from taking part in conversations.

This might not sound like a big deal, and perhaps it’s not too important when you’re out for drinks with your friends, but it can have a big impact when there’s something serious that you need to talk about.

For example, let’s say that you’ve witnessed discrimination in the workplace and you want to report it. Overthinkers can start to worry that if they raise the issue, they’ll be labeled as a troublemaker and that it will hold them back when it’s time to dish out promotions and annual bonuses.

Even when overthinkers do speak out, it’s often too late because they’ve spent so much time worrying about what will happen that they’ve missed their moment.

2) It leaves you exhausted

Overthinking is hard work.

Just thinking can be hard enough, and I’m sure you’ve experienced a headache at some point because you were putting a lot of mental effort into something, whether that was an exam at school or whether you were pouring all of your attention into your work to make sure that you met a deadline.

The problem with being an overthinker is that it’s like doing this huge amount of thinking but all of the time. Seriously, if I send my girlfriend to the shops to pick something up, she’ll put so much thought into it that I can literally see her sweating. I usually take pity on her and just do it myself.

We only have so much energy, and we owe it to ourselves to make sure that we’re applying it in the right places.

3) It makes it hard to concentrate

The problem with overthinking everything is that it makes it super difficult to concentrate on whatever’s important.

For example, you might find yourself at work but struggling to concentrate on the task in front of you because you’re thinking about your money problems or whether your friend is mad at you because they didn’t wave at you when you saw them in the street. It probably doesn’t cross your mind that they didn’t see you.

Before long, you’ll find yourself struggling to concentrate on anything, because you’re so busy thinking about the past and the future that you can’t focus on the present.

That will understandably have a huge impact on your performance in the workplace, but it can also lead to you missing important moments as your children are growing up.

The moral of the story? Stop overthinking and focus on the present instead of worrying about the past or future.

4) It stops you from making decisions

This builds on from the previous point and revolves around overthinking about your future.

Let’s say that you’re thinking about buying a new car, but you can’t decide whether you want to prioritize comfort or safety. You’re also struggling to decide which manufacturer you trust the most, and even when you finally make that decision, you can’t decide what color you want.

We’re surrounded by choices, from the outfit we wear to where we go for lunch and which apps we want to kill time with during the commute.

In fact, there are so many choices for us to make that we end up suffering from analysis paralysis, which is the term for what happens when someone is faced with so many choices that they end up not choosing anything.

And unfortunately for them, overthinkers are more prone than anyone else to suffering from analysis paralysis.

5) It makes you spiral

behaviors of overthinker Why overthinking may be the root of your unhappiness

If you’ve never fallen victim to thought spirals, all I can say is that I’m jealous of you.

I couldn’t put it better than The Midult, which says, “A thought […] doesn’t exist in isolation. [It] dawns and then it grows, connects to lots of other thoughts both old and new. They form a spider’s web […] and then they conspire to take you to a place where you didn’t think you’d go. A dark, cold, scary place.”

This is a thought spiral, and overthinkers are more prone to these just as they’re also more prone to analysis paralysis. Spirals can be both positive and negative, but unfortunately it’s the negative ones which are by far the most common.

When an overthinker is dealing with thought spirals, all it takes is something small to set off a huge chain reaction.

6) It contributes to anxiety and depression

As you can probably imagine from what you’ve just read about thought spirals, it’s easy for an overthinker to struggle with mental health conditions.

In particular, anxiety and depression are super common, and as I mentioned at the start, I’ve struggled with both of them.

I think that the reason for this is that overthinking about the past can depress us because we wish things turned out differently, while overthinking about the future can make us anxious because we can start to think about everything that could go wrong.

Now, I don’t want to trivialize these conditions and others like them, because I know better than everyone that a ton of factors go into whether or not we suffer from a mental health condition.

However, I will say that overthinking and thought spirals can be a huge factor, even if it’s just exacerbating an existing condition.

In my case, I’ve done a lot of work with my therapist to cut down on thought spirals and overthinking. But I’m still a work in progress.

7) It stops you from enjoying the present

Let’s build on my hypothesis that depression comes from overthinking about the past and anxiety comes from overthinking about the future.

If that’s really the case, and it certainly is for me, then we shouldn’t be surprised if overthinking stops us from enjoying the present. It’s super difficult to live in the now when your mind is racing about all of the things that have happened or that could happen.

This is a problem, because if we’re not enjoying the present then we’re not really living. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy the present moment because otherwise we’ll end up lying on our deathbed, wishing that we’d been present more in our lives instead of constantly living in the past or the future.

Bleak? Perhaps. True? Definitely.

8) It cuts down on creativity

As a creative person and a professional writer, it stresses me out that I’m also an overthinker.

The interesting thing about overthinking is that it doesn’t cut down on creativity itself. Instead, it leaves you just as creative as you always were, but it cuts down the amount of time you can dedicate to being creative.

You’d think that overthinking would actually boost creativity, because all of that thinking time should theoretically lead to you coming up with something that no one else has thought about.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work like that. It’s like trying to paint the Mona Lisa while someone’s shouting in your ear.

The good news is that if nothing else, I’m living proof that you can balance overthinking with a creative career. It’s just a heck of a lot of hard work. 

9) It leads you to make false assumptions

One of the big problems with overthinking is that it can make us think about what other people are thinking. I think.

Given that we’re not mind readers, if we try to guess what other people are thinking, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. It’s always better to simply ask people, but you might be surprised by how often people skip this step.

When we don’t ask people or make assumptions, we can accidentally create conflict and drama. If you invite a friend to your party and they say no, it’s easy to assume that they don’t want to be there.

This can lead to you no longer speaking to them and that friendship withering and dying, which is a shame if it’s all because they had to work that night.

They say that when you assume, you make an “ass” out of “U” and “me”. Remember that. 

10) It leads to a fear of rejection

words and phrases classy people never use Why overthinking may be the root of your unhappiness

Overthinkers are much more likely to fear rejection because they spend so much thinking about and mentally preparing for that rejection.

The problem here is that overthinkers spend a lot of time considering each and every way that someone could potentially reject them, even for the most casual of interactions.

For example, I’ve been known to worry that the electrician I’ve hired will take one look at my fuse board and say that he doesn’t want to take on the job.

The other problem is that they’ll typically emphasize the potential impact of these rejections. For example, they’ll worry not only that the electrician will turn down the job but also that they’ll tell all of their friends so that no one wants to work for them.

These examples are based on what recently happened to me, but the story has a happy ending. The guy came over and did the job I needed him to do, and he also charged me a little less than he’d quoted.

11) It fosters regret

All this time thinking about the past isn’t healthy.

Take this one from me. If you spend all your time thinking about the past, you’re going to start obsessing over the decisions you made and thinking about how things could have turned out differently.

Before you know it, you’ll find yourself regretting the choices that you made. That’s never a good thing, and I’ve made it a policy to try not to regret anything. When you make a decision, you do it for a reason. It’s just that time has a tendency to make us forget what those reasons are.

Life’s too short to live with regrets. It’s just that overthinkers often forget that.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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