It took me a really long time to realize that not everyone thinks the way that I do. Not everyone has a million thoughts going on in their head at a time, ALL of the time. Not everyone worries about every little detail or analyzes every word that comes out of their mouth for hours after. My husband tried to tell me a bunch of times, but I never really believed him. When I’d ask what he was thinking about and he’d say nothing, I’d assume he was lying. Similarly, when my sister would tell me she didn’t worry about what people thought most of the time, I assumed she was lying too. I could list a ton of people and things they’d told me about the way their minds worked and about how I thought they were lying. The point is, they weren’t. My brain works differently than most people’s brains, and I’m learning that it’s okay.
My name is Danielle, and I’m an overthinker.
I can’t remember exactly when I came across the term ‘overthinker’ but I know it struck a chord with me and sent me into a rabbit hole of research as well as talking to my therapist about it in detail. The things that I read not only resonated with me, but then echoed in my mind for hours after (yep- that’s partially because I’m an overthinker!). It was like all of the emotions and thoughts and fears about my mind that I’d tried to explain for so long were suddenly written out in front of me. It was both a revelation and a relief- I wasn’t alone! I may be different, but there were others out there with the same affliction! This took such a weight off of my shoulders.
And so if any of the following sound like you, please know…
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
(And yeah, we may be different. We may be anxious and overwhelmed and a bit high strung, but we’re still human and still deserve a little understanding and patience, especially from ourselves!)
So let’s dive in. You may be an overthinker if:
- You go crazy over things that you have no control over.
- Your brain feels like it’s going a mile a minute. Sometimes it’s so much so fast that you can’t even understand your own thoughts. It’s like someone is holding the fast-forward button on your mind.
- You will play situations over and over again in your head and spend all day worrying about both the past and the future, but have trouble staying present.
- You’re pretty much always afraid that someone is mad at you, and you’re constantly apologizing when you did nothing wrong.
- You ruminate over every single mistake- sometimes for years!
- If someone doesn’t reply to a text right away, they’re mad at you. Even if they do reply, but it’s a short message, they’re mad. And you will stress yourself out trying to think of what you did wrong for hours.
- You worry about everything you have ever said or ever will say.
- You’re pretty sure that everyone hates you, even if no one has given you any reason to think so. This stings because you need everyone to like you.
- You voluntarily take the blame for everything, even when someone else is the one causing the problem.
- You’re afraid of everything and constantly waiting for something to go wrong or for the other shoe to drop.
- You have constant insomnia and can’t even remember the last time you slept well because your brain won’t stay quiet.
- You’re your own biggest critic and will find a flaw in everything you do.
- You assume that everyone’s bad mood is because of something you said or did.
- You’ll get trapped in the ‘what if’ game for ages.
- You don’t take compliments at face value- you look for a deeper meaning or try to figure out what the giver is playing at or why they might be lying.
- You’re convinced that you will fail.
- You take everything personally and while you may laugh at jokes made at your expense, you’ll go over them in your mind again and again trying to figure out if it was really a joke or if it was actually a subtle attack.
- It’s not just that you have negative thoughts, but you’ll create even more negative thoughts while trying to figure out why you have the original ones, creating a vicious circle of never-ending unhappiness.
- You give and give and give because you have convinced yourself that it will distract people from seeing your flaws.
- You’re a perfectionist and feel paralyzed because no matter what you do, it won’t be good enough.
- You have a hard time believing that you’re likable or skilled or even a good person.
- You try to hide how scared/anxious/worried you are about all of this because you think everyone will think you’re crazy.
Basically, you may be an overthinker if you over analyze and obsess about EVERYTHING.
Being an overthinker doesn’t mean you’re being dramatic. In fact, it’s pretty much a mental disorder. It’s usually linked to things like depression and anxiety and other mental health issues. (I figured out that mine stemmed from growing up with a narcissistic father and got worse with my PTSD. It’s my brain’s misguided attempt at a defense mechanism.) One of the best things you can do if you’re an overthinker is give yourself some grace. It’s a little crazy, but usually the person that is the hardest on you for being an overthinker is you!
Why are we so damn mean to ourselves?
That is what makes us crazy. We’re our own bullies!
I know what you’re thinking now- this is all well and good, but what can we DO about being an overthinker? I wish I could tell you there was an easy fix, but if there is, I haven’t found it yet. I’ve spent the last couple of years working on it though, and while I still struggle, I have gotten better and have found some relief. I’m not a therapist or psychologist or doctor of any kind, so take what I say with a grain of salt. This is just what has helped me.
Possible solutions if you think you may be an overthinker:
- The number one thing I do is journal. Every single day. I try to empty my brain- it never actually empties, but sometimes it helps slow things down. I’ll write in one journal and then I also keep a bullet/junk journal for a more artistic side for those days that I just can’t settle on the right words. I have always loved writing and art so this outlet makes sense for me. If you’re not a creatively inclined person, journaling might stress you out more. The only way to know is to give it a try.
- Another thing that has helped me is talking. I have vented a bit to my mom about how stressed I get and this helped me mostly because it led to me finding out that my mom is an overthinker too! I don’t know why it surprised me. I’m a lot like my mom in so many ways. We’ve had a few conversations about it and it helped me mostly because I was actually having a real life conversation with someone that could relate. Someone else understood me and wouldn’t judge me for admitting that I’m not exactly normal.
- I’ve tried setting a ‘worry time’ but that didn’t make much of a difference for me. This was an exercise that my therapist gave me and I tried it for a few months, but eventually gave up. Basically, you set aside fifteen minutes a day to freak out. Set a timer and during that time, you dive into the fear and the worry. You let yourself dwell on the negative and drown in the pain. And then when that timer goes off, you have to snap out of it. He said it was a pretty effective technique in his profession and the goal was to get it out of your system. For me, it just brought it all to the surface and I had such a hard time snapping out of it once that timer went off. So I guess try it and see if it works for you? I haven’t tried it in two years and I’m a lot different now so maybe I should give it another whirl… I’ll think about it.
- Reading about it helped me. Again, it had the effect of helping me to not feel as crazy or alone. Reading that it was a legitimate thing, and most likely caused by factors out of my control helped me to understand it a little bit. We’re lucky (or are we cursed?) in this day and age to have a thousand resources at our fingertips and so there is a never-ending supply of articles and discussions and forums to look into.
- Coloring is something that I recommend everyone try. It can work sort of like meditation in getting you to relax and pinpoint your focus. You don’t have to be an artist or even creative to pick up some crayons or colored pencils and color. There have been a lot of studies about the mental benefits of coloring and its ability to help relax your brain. It’s an easy task that requires some focus and can work as an escape. If you’re in the moment and really focused on coloring, you aren’t actively being an overthinker. Mandalas especially have been used to reduce stress and anxiety. Just don’t hold it against yourself if you go outside the lines!
- Therapy- this is a BIG one. I am a big fan of therapy and I don’t even mean just for trauma or stress or depression. I think everyone would benefit from at least a session or two. To have a neutral party to share your deepest thoughts and fears and secrets with can be so liberating, and they can help you sort through the noise! Over the last three years, I’ve seen three different therapists with different specialties. I did hypnotherapy and EFT, talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Each took a turn at trying to help me with my being an overthinker, along with a whole bundle of other issues- but those are for another day. Here’s where talking comes back into the picture. Talking with someone whose job is to listen and delve into the psychological reasoning behind what’s going on was super helpful for me. Again, getting that reassurance that the way my mind works is actually pretty normal considering some of the things I went through as a kid and especially with some of the trauma that I had as a young adult. One therapist told me I was actually doing quite well considering, and that it would have been strange if I didn’t have issues with overthinking. Do you know how validating that was? After spending a lifetime being stressed out and being told that I was too emotional and dramatic and weird, I found out that I was actually doing well. It gave me a small (albeit short lived) sense of peace that I could call upon from time to time.
- Meditation- along with therapy, I also did hypnosis and meditations and have been doing exercises to sort of rewire my brain. The biggest result here was that I finally stopped apologizing for things that aren’t my fault (even though it’s my first instinct) and stopped letting people manipulate me. I actually have some hypnosis recordings that my therapist made for me on my phone, so if I’m having a particularly bad time, I can hit play and try to relax and find a few quiet moments in my head to sort it out. My favorite one is all about relaxing every muscle in your body, which is supposed to help relax your mind. The recording is about fifteen minutes, which as a hands-on mom to a baby that wants to get into everything, can be hard to do sometimes. But if it gets really bad, I have to find a way. This might mean telling my husband I need fifteen minutes or putting her in the pack and play with an episode of Baby Einstein on (though it’s harder to do the exercise when there’s background noise). Mostly though, I do this before bed, after the baby is asleep and the lights are out. It gives me a little bit of a respite during which I try to fall asleep. There are a TON of guided meditations on youtube. Before my therapist made me a custom one, I tried a bunch of them out. There are some really good ones- give it a try!
- Try to pinpoint your triggers- what turns you into an overthinker? (This is another branch off from the therapy, but I felt like it needed to be separate from the mediation.) A lot of times, there are certain thoughts that cause the overthinking worse than others. My therapist had me write down when I noticed times that I spiraled, and then we’d discuss them in our sessions to try to find the common roots or situations that triggered me the most. Being aware of the triggers could give me a little more control, because I am more likely to be aware that I’m overthinking. I can talk myself back to reality by acknowledging that I’m triggering. Once I’ve confirmed that I’m not in any real danger and my brain doesn’t need to try to protect me, I can shift my focus to something else. I have the power to decide whether that thought is worth thinking about. I’m not very good at this yet- it takes a lot of practice. But I’m working on it!! I’d like to think I’m getting better at it and that with time, I’ll keep getting stronger and be better able to shift my focus. Try it- see if it works for you. (I really hope it does!!)
- And lastly, the best trick I’ve found at calming my mind is holding my sleeping daughter. She’s 19 months old, so I don’t get this opportunity often now because she just wants to play and climb. But when I do, it’s absolutely amazing. When she’s really tired or cranky because of teething or something along those lines, I will pull her onto my chest so she can rest her head on my shoulder. I’ll sit in the rocking chair with the lights out and her sleep sounds on (we use thunderstorms which I find very soothing) and I’ll hum or sing or talk gently to her until she falls asleep. Once she’s asleep, I take it all in. I rest my cheek on the top of her head and feel her skin against mine, inhaling deeply to take in her scent. Then I actively notice the way her body feels against me, starting at her head and working my way down. I feel the way her back feels beneath my hand, the way her hands feel curled up in my shirt. I’ll focus on the way her little hot exhales feel on my neck and notice how heavy she feels and how long she’s getting. And then I remind myself that I must be a rockstar because despite my trauma brain, I created this perfect little human. I grew her inside of me and I spend every day raising her to be a strong happy little girl. I’ll think about what an amazing little creature she is and how much I love her and those thoughts give me so much pride that they actually drown out everything else in those moments. I miss the baby days where I used to be able to hold rock her to sleep every night. The time always comes when I have to put her into her crib and leave the room so that she can get a decent night sleep and eventually the feeling of peace will start to give way to the bad; but while it lasts, it’s SO good.
So what do you think? do Any of these sound like something you want to try?
I think the most effective for me for long term healing is the therapy. The best results in the moment are definitely holding my sleeping daughter, but the bad always comes back once I put her down. The therapy and mediation has slowly chipped away at a bit of it and helped me to not be as self-destructive as I once was. It helped give me the courage to set boundaries and start putting my needs above my fears.
I’m not sure which of these if any would be best for others, but I do recommend trying something. If you’re an overthinker and you let it get out of hand, it can be really detrimental. It can have a horrible effect on your sleep and on your diet which can lead to physical problems. Being an overthinker can also affect how you act which can then in turn destroy beneficial relationships or foster the dangerous ones. It can stop you from living a full life and cause crippling anxiety.
If you are suffering from being an overthinker, PLEASE look into some mindfulness or self-care activities. If it’s really bad, consider consulting a professional. I promise you it made a world of difference for me. I still suffer from overthinking, but it’s manageable now where as I was in some pretty dangerous territory just a few years ago.
You matter and you deserve to be happy. Don’t let your brain try to convince you otherwise.
Need a little reminder not to overthink things? I’ve got these cute little stickers in my etsy shop!
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