Overthinking is a disease.
While we all overthink decisions from time to time, there’s a point where constant ruminating takes a negative toll on your mental wellbeing.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD calls it paralysis by analysis: “This causes people to remain stuck at jobs, in unfulfilling relationships, and in negative loops of sabotaging self-talk. Overthinking is disconnection from your inner voice.”
I am a chronic overthinker. I’ve written and rewritten the introduction to this article eleven times. I’m that late friend to parties because I have to change twice and decide the best way to get there. Worst of all, overthinking has led to poor decision-making in my career.
When my inner voice told me to leave a toxic job two years ago, fear of the unknown led to overthinking all the reasons why I shouldn’t. So I stayed for eight more miserable months.
If this sounds like you, don’t overthink it. By keeping an eye out for common signs of overthinking, you can acknowledge and overcome them for good.
1. You can’t make a decision without immediately doubting it
“Overthinkers are not only highly aware of their thoughts, but they also spend a lot of time trying to understand the causes and meaning of their thoughts,” says David A. Clark Ph.D..
If you feel anxious every time you submit a project or order a coffee, something’s off.
This is especially true of larger decisions like exploring a new career path. It’s very difficult to live life, have an enjoyable career, and maintain healthy relationships when so much of your time is spent in self-doubt.
The happiest people I know are adaptable. They make a decision and course-correct as needed.
2. You constantly go over previous or potential situations at work
Overthinkers tend to analyze situations and conversations that previously happened or could happen in the future. Can’t sleep at night because you stumbled while presenting in a meeting? Stressed and anxious before a big salary conversation?
Visualization can be a helpful tactic––but there’s a threshold where it becomes detrimental to your health. You’re wasting a lot of energy thinking about the past, leaving you emotionally and physically drained.
Whether you like to admit it or not, spending so much time ruminating about things draws you out of the present moment.
When you see this habit start to occur, do something to jolt your mind awake. I’ve found exercise and podcasts to do the trick.
3. You struggle with deadlines
Over editing every article?
Pushing tasks off until the last minute?
You’re likely overthinking the details of a deadline.
If this is an area you struggle with, give yourself a deadline before the one set by an employer. By planning self-deadlines, you’re eliminating extra time that normally leads to overthinking and anxiety.
4. You need to be overinformed
As psychologist Dr. Helen Odessky wrote, “Overthinking something too much means you won’t be satisfied until you’ve read everything on the topic and asked everyone’s advice before making up your mind.”
Sometimes in life, and in work, you need to be spontaneous. Overthinkers often struggle to complete tasks without being fully informed––which is a dangerous way to live. Have confidence in your abilities to collect the necessary amount of information and execute with what you’ve got.
5. You have trouble sleeping
Overthinkers tend to hyper analyze the day, leaving them highly susceptible to sleep deprivation.
My biggest problem isn’t falling asleep––but waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to bed. I’ll be questioning a decision I made at work or replaying a minor mistake and how I could have prevented it.
A quick way to conquer sleeplessness is to write out your thoughts in a journal before bed. Though it’s tempting to jump on social media or scroll through emails late at night, you’re only making the situation worse.
6. You have trouble moving forwards in your job
There are certain decisions to approach with hesitation. Buying an expensive car or a house may require some internal dialogue and reflection.
However, when anxiety prevents you from doing activities or pushing forward in life, then you’ve got a problem. Like I mentioned earlier, overthinking made me fearful of leaving a stable position, even though I was unhappy.
But, as Tony Robbins says, “Let fear be a counselor and not a jailor.”
7. You spend too much time in your head
This is probably the most outwardly noticeable (and frustrating to your coworkers).
You’re obviously overthinking when you can’t be emotionally present in a conversation. I’m sure you’ve talked to someone who clearly wasn’t paying attention. It makes the speaker uncomfortable and can be detrimental to relationships.
Try to focus on where you are and what’s happening in the moment. If you’re starting to retreat into your head, look the speaker in the eyes and mentally resay everything they’re telling you.
To reduce overthinking, you need to be aware of your triggers.
No one overthinks all the time. Usually, it’s related to certain emotions or fears that push you into a state of mental self-doubt. For example, I tend to overthink questions about the future. For you, it could be in relation to physical health or your personal relationships.
The key is be aware, embrace it, then disengage the thought.
Take it from a fellow overthinker: life is so much better when you stop overthinking every little decision. It’s still important to weigh your options and be wise. But don’t let your decisions bring down your career.