Diary of an Overthinker

Overthinking is different for everyone. It can be about everything, from what to wear to whether or not you should marry the person you are with. For some people it is a once in a while occurrence, while for others it’s more of a chronic state of being. People might only come by it during certain situations, such as social interactions, while other times it could affect multiple or perhaps even all areas of one’s life. We overthink the past, going over the decisions we have made that have led us to where we now are, but we also question the future, picturing ourselves in all sorts of contexts and going over all the possibilities that might come with them. It gets to a point where those questions are present throughout the day, every day. Many of these are valid ones, but what comes apparent to me is that we are not always productively overthinking in the situation.

That is an important, yet often difficult distinction to make and it is one that I am still learning how to identify. I tried to find ways to stop it as I felt that it was holding me back from many positive things I could have experienced. These ways varied from googling “How do I stop overthinking” to reading books about mental health, and they all resulted in me finding run-of-the-mill advice like “Let go of the past” and “Learn to control your emotions”. As a teenager living in the 21st century, it never worked for me. Not necessarily because the advice was bad itself, but rather because I found it difficult to buy into the whole “stop doing this and that” mindset. You cannot just put an end to your thoughts, but you can try learning how to deal with them. That’s why I started focusing more on finding ways to distinguish between productive and unproductive thinking.

What I mean by that? Productive thinking comes in action when you think about a certain topic with the intention of finding something of value, like a solution to a problem you are facing, a new perspective or an important lesson in life that needs to be learned – the process consisting not only in the intention, but also in the active search for it. Unproductive thinking is, on the other hand, going past that point and entering an endless loop of meaningless and unnecessary dwelling. It’s when you spend your time digging deeper and deeper into a hole that leads nowhere but back to the starting point. Distinguishing between the two might not be as easy as it sounds as we sometimes tell ourselves that thinking longer than we need to about a certain matter will ensure our going through every single possible scenario and outcome and therefore, coming to the best possible conclusion, solution or the truest answers. In reality, it is not about what period of time we spend on thinking about the thing, but rather how we spend that time.

Now, how does one go from unproductive to productive thoughts? For me, personally, there were mainly two habits I started working on: being honest with myself and being acceptive of those truths. After doing a lot of reading and searching for ways to help myself improve this aspect of my life, I came by a psychological research, which showed that one of the main causes of many psychological problems was the unhealthy habit of emotional avoidance. Yet, it is something that we do all the time. We try suppressing our unfulfillment in different aspects of our day to day lives and perhaps we are ashamed, fearful or regretful for feeling this way, so we try to avoid it, to not get out of our comfort zones, even though we are completely conscious of the fact that sooner or later, the kettle might boil over. Honesty takes courage because you take a leap of faith out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to unexplored territory. That comes even harder when it is only within your own mind. Amongst other many powerful and thought provoking quotes and lessons, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle preaches that any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time – if it is a mistake, you learn from it, but if you remain stuck, you learn nothing.

Choosing to be honest with myself threw me in another loop of overthinking, but this time it was different. Instead of pushing it away, I actively tried to find a way of accepting and dealing with it through the best way I knew, which was through writing. I would go over the thoughts, one by one, categorizing them into helpful or not helpful, starting with the loudest ones. Then, I would ask myself “Is this focusing more on the problem or on the solution?”, “Does this have the potential of making my situation better or worse?”, “Is this holding me back from reaching my wanted fulfillment or not?”. The tricky part in all of this is working yourself through the noise and the whole point is to get as much of it as you can out of the way - this so called “noise” being any thought that wastes your mental energy and that does not push you in a better direction.

I cannot tell you exactly how to distinguish between productive and unproductive overthinking, partly because I am not a professional in this domain and I, myself, still struggle with that, and partly because it depends on your situation, where you are in life and what you are dealing with. What I can tell you though, is that going over your concrete thoughts in your chosen way will make it easier to navigate “the noise”. Whatever you end up realizing after this whole process will give you a new piece of information that you did not have before and hopefully, you will make a good use of it.

I still find myself getting lost in this whirlwind of thoughts that lead me nowhere and I still overthink the silliest of things because after all, not everyone is a Zen master. Struggling with overthinking is a very troubling matter as it can cause anxiety and even depression, so we have to be mindful of it and practice the master art of training our brains to perceive things in helpful and productive ways that bring positivity into our lives, rather than keeping or pushing us further down.

articol scris de Ana Nițu