Updated: Sep 17, 2021
The loop of negative thoughts
“I called my friend, but she did not answer. I start to think, why is she not answering my call? Is she trying to ignore me? Is she fine? Did she lose her phone? I bet something bad happened to her. Did I say something wrong in our last conversation? Is it because I did not like a post she shared with me? Is something wrong with me? Am I not good enough for her?” — Overthinker
This is an example of Overthinking or Rumination (as addressed in mental health terms). The word rumination is derived from a Latin verb ‘to chew the cud’, which means to chew over and again, like a cow. Similarly, an overthinker has recurrent and varied distressing thoughts about a particular event. This can lead to changes in the chemical and physical structures of the brain. This negative loop of thoughts can also make a person more vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bulimia nervosa, posttraumatic stress disorder and others.
Worrier Vs Muser
Sometimes critical thinking or problem solving is misinterpreted as overthinking. We often see this happening in organisations where an employee is shunned saying ‘you are just overthinking’. Critical thinking is a way of forming judgement through objectively analysing and evaluating a problem. Similarly, problem-solving is a way of finding the best solution. Overthinking on the other hand is a loop of negative thoughts that hinders problem-solving.
How To Stop Overthinking?
Accept the limitation of control — We humans have this need to control everything in and around us. But is it possible to control everything? You can choose the place you want to live at, but can you control the environment of that place? One of the root causes of overthinking is this need for control. When things are not in our control, we start to build this chain of thoughts. We must realise our control is limited to us, our perception and our behaviour. Letting go of this need to control everything around us and rather focusing on what we can control could be the first step in overcoming overthinking.
Stop at the start — To not fall into the loop of overthinking it is necessary to recognize the patterns and stop at the beginning of this chain of thoughts. You can do so either by distracting yourself with things or people around you (take a few deep breaths and name 5 things you see, then, name 5 sounds you hear). You can also socialize at this point, talk to a friend or family member.
Different interventions including cognitive, mindfulness and interpersonal therapies have also proved to act as the best way to stop overthinking. You can find these services at ManoShala.
Muskan Gupta, Psychologist, ManoShala