Anxiety and Overthinking Everything
Anxiety and overthinking tend to be evil partners. One of the horrible hallmarks of any type of anxiety disorder is the tendency to overthink everything. The anxious brain is hypervigilant, always on the lookout for anything it perceives to be dangerous or worrisome. I've been accused of making problems where there aren't any. To me, though, there are, indeed, problems. Why? Because anxiety causes me to overthink everything. Anxiety makes us overthink everything in many different ways, and the result of this overthinking isn't helpful at all. Fortunately, anxiety and overthinking everything doesn't have to be a permanent part of our existence.
Ways Anxiety Causes Overthinking
An effect of any type of anxiety is overthinking everything. There are common themes to the way anxiety causes overthinking. Perhaps this generic list will remind you of specific racing thoughts you experience and help you realize that you're not alone in overthinking everything because of anxiety.
- Obsessing over what we should say/should have said/did say/didn't say (common in social anxiety)
- Worrying incessantly about who we are and how we are measuring up to the world (common in social and performance anxiety)
- Creating fearful what-if scenarios about things that could go wrong for ourselves, loved ones, and the world (common in generalized anxiety disorder)
- Wild, imagined results of our own wild, imagined faults and incompetencies (all anxiety disorders)
- Fear of having a panic attack in public and possibly thinking that you can't leave home because of it (panic disorder with or without agoraphobia)
- Worrying about a multitude of obsessive thoughts, sometimes scary ones and thinking about them constantly (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- Thinking -- overthinking -- a tumbling chain of worries, vague thoughts, and specific thoughts (all anxiety disorders)
Result of Anxiety and Overthinking
With anxiety, not only are these thoughts (and more) running through our brains, but they are always running through our brains, non-stop, endlessly. Like a gerbil hooked up to an endless drip of an energy drink, they run and run and wheel around in one place, going absolutely nowhere. Day and night, the wheel squeaks.
Anxiety and overthinking everything makes us both tired and wired. One result of the thinking too much that comes with anxiety is that we are often left feeling physically and emotionally unwell. Having these same anxious messages run through our head everywhere we go takes its toll.
Further, another dangerous result of anxiety and overthinking everything is that we start to believe what we think. After all, if we think it, it's real, and if we think it constantly, it's very real. Right? No. This is a trick anxiety plays. Anxiety causes overthinking, but with anxiety, these thoughts aren't always trustworthy.
You have the power and the ability to interfere in anxiety's overthinking everything. It's a process that involves many steps, but a step you can take right now to slow down that gerbil is to have something with you or around you to divert your attention. Rather than arguing with your thoughts or obsessing over them, gently shift your attention onto something else, something neutral. By thinking about something insignificant, you weaken anxiety's ability to cause you to overthink everything.
I explain this further in the below video. I invite you to tune in.
Peterson, T. (2015, December 31). Anxiety and Overthinking Everything, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, November 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2015/12/anxiety-and-over-thinking-everything
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS
sometimes overthinking is really hard because I'm constantly trying to find ways to make myself better. But then I overthink things i can do, and i overthink things that I have to do. I'm always trying to fix what's wrong, but then I question it too much that it looks ugly in my brain, so solutions never really help me, because my brain messes up everything I think on an existential level. I can't tell which thoughts are real and legitimate and which ones are not.
thank you so much for this article. I've been dealing with anxiety for a few years now and every now and then I begin to overthink constantly. This article helped me realize that it's normal for people with anxiety to go through this and makes me feel much more serene. Thank you again.
Thanks for your feedback! I'm happy this article helped you feel more serene. There is great comfort for all of us in knowing that we're not alone and that what we're experiencing isn't a personal flaw. That's one of the main reasons HealthyPlace.com and Anxiety-Schmanxiety exist. I hope you keep coming back. :)
I have been fighting with over thinking and anxiety too much, most times I look confused and carried away. Though it helped in the university as I was able to think and stress my brain to solve problems but right now I can't even solve my own problem. It's even affecting my sex life (psychological ED) I'm too young for this, the more I make a mistake with my thoughts the more it gets to me. My brain could just make me think I did what I intended to do even when in actuality I haven't done it, but yet my brain makes me feel so confident that I did it. It's frustrating, this little mistake can make one lose their dream job in future. I think I'm gradually wearing my brain out (I have 4 talents and I'm focusing on all) I can't relax my brain. It's always active think of rubbish, yes I call all these rubbish because it's just getting on my nerves. I wish I could start over with most of my thoughts. How can I fix this please?
The notion of wearing out the brain is a great description of what those of us who overthink things often wonder about. Rest assured, the human brain is amazing and can't be worn out from thinking, anxiety, or both. Sometimes when people have many different things to balance at the same time, such as the four different talents you mention, it can become too much. This has nothing to do with intelligence/lack of it or talent/lack of it. It has to do with the fact that the brain can process a finite number of things at once before becoming stressed. It won't wear out, but it can become overwhelmed. This affects all areas of functioning. Sometimes people find it helpful to chose fewer things on which to focus at once. Also, seeing a therapist can help you manage anxiety. Think of these as a way of resetting, of starting over with your thoughts.
I have been suffering from anxiety for 3 years. I used to be a happy go lucky guy , but now I overthink. My anxiety started when my blood pressure rocketed up suddenly, I went to the doctor and he told me that I was suffering from heart burn. My heart burn was cured but that illness made me an anxious person. I developed hypochondria after that, I always thought that I would get a heart attack or stroke! After consulting a psychiatrist I overcame my health anxiety. Now I have social anxiety , I feel like people always judge me. I slurr My speech too. For last 3 months I have been thinking about death ...any advice!?
You point out something very common (and frustrating): anxiety doesn't always stay the same over time. Often, just as we have our specific type of anxiety under control, a new form of anxiety pops up. When that happens, separating yourself from your anxiety in general, staying mindful in and connected to the present moment, clearly defining what you want in your life (rather than being stuck in thinking about what you don't want, like anxiety), and planning intentional action to achieve your goals and live according to your values are all very effective ways to live well, first in spite of anxiety and then without it. The therapy that teaches how to do this is called acceptance and commitment therapy. This article is a great introduction: http://bit.ly/2bnpW6v . Books are available on the topic, too.
Given that you've been thinking about death, it's very important to seek help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an excellent starting point. They are available around the clock, and their number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Their website is www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, where they have information and a chat option if you don't like the phone. Please give them a call or visit their website. They exist for a reason!
(Also, the symptoms of anxiety can definitely mimic heart attacks and strokes, and it's not uncommon for people to fear that one of these is happening.)
Faheem. Keep going. Millions like us suffer from depression and anxiety. Just World and local news is enough to question mankind. I have found keeping good friends and exercise are helpful. So is expelling those negative thoughts as fast as possible.
Hi. Great article. I have been living with "over thinking" for a long time. My understanding more recently is that a more clinical name for over thinking is rumination. Is that correct?
Over-thinking and rumination are very close cousins. Rumination involves over-thinking. Over-thinking isn't always the same as ruminating. With over-thinking, the mind takes off, often analyzing ad nauseam. Even something simple as buying a card or an item in a grocery store can involve over-thinking. I've been known to analyze nutrition labels and ingredients lists in an attempt to decide if the item in question is something I should buy; then, I'll analyze the fact that I'm analyzing the label. It's annoying. Rumination does involve this type of over-thinking, but it's tied to mulling over the same thing repeatedly. Worrying over a perceived mistake day and night for a period of time, for example, is both over-thinking and rumination. An animal that has multiple stomachs and regurgitates food in order to re-digest it, such as a cow, is called a ruminant because they chew over the same thing more than once. That's a good way to distinguish rumination from other types of thinking. I must emphasize that I'm not calling people cows! We are higher-order species that have the privilege of ruminating over thoughts rather than food. Lucky us. Hopefully this helps. I'm glad you mentioned this.
My brain will not stop processing. It is not anxiety, fearful of something, or overthinking a subject. It just starts processing and jumping from item to item. For instance, if I am laying in bed and hear a siren, then it starts trying to process is it an ambulance, police car or a fire truck. Fire truck? Which kind? How is the ladder connected to the truck and how do the hydraulics work to move it around? How wide is the ladder? How many rungs are there? This goes on and on through out the day with various experiences or things I see or hear throughout the day. Makes going to sleep very difficult. Feels like my brain is redlining at full speed. Any suggestions/directions would be really appreciated!
I can relate to everything you describe. I haven't been successful in stopping my brain from doing this, but I have discovered things that stop it from being so bothersome. Have you tried returning your senses and your thoughts to the present moment when you notice your brain redlining at full speed? Reconnecting to what is going on around you, day or night, can be very helpful. At first, it doesn't work for long (and sometimes not much at all), but with practice you can train your brain to focus more on the sights, smells, sounds, and actions around you than it does on overprocessing every little thought or sense. In time, you'll be present in the moment for longer periods of time. Your brain might race off in the background, but you'll be separated from its behavior, grounded in the present, and won't get dragged along with it.
Your video is awesome thanks for that, im suffering of overthinking and anxiety most of my life but it has become worse since a person i really trusted got fired at work, now my mind runs wild everyday thinking im doing something wrong to even though i have nothing to worry about i create problems and situations in my head?? Is this normal ? As ive seen on previous comments facial expressions thats the worst for me someone will just look at me wrong and i will freak?
I'm glad you liked the video. Thank you for your feedback! The experiences you describe are a very normal part of anxiety. For years people told me, "Tanya, quit creating problems for yourself." I made so many problems for myself in my head, reading into expressions, tone of voice, little nuances of behavior, what people said or didn't say, and more. I finally realized that this really wasn't getting me to where I wanted to be in life. Lessening the habit (I can't honestly say completely breaking the habit, because I still catch myself reverting to overthinking everything) was a process that took time, but it was well worth it. I began catching myself overthinking or over-analyzing, and then I'd start to consider that my thoughts were wrong. We can't know with certainty what someone else is thinking, so we can't know with certainty that we're being judged. Considering that they might be thinking about something that had nothing to do with me was helpful in distancing myself from the problems I created in my own head.
Hello, I have to say that your video dud keep my mind off of things while I was watching it, so thank you for that! I have very bad anxiety and overthinking especially when it comes to daiting and relationships! Like it gets to the point to where if I'm not talking to them or not able to get to see the other person for long amounts of time I am completely freaking out.. I hate it so much! And a lot of times times when I am talking to them or around them I still overthink everything I say cause I'm afraid that I'm going to say or do something wrong and scare them away :( , and that's something definitely important early in a relationship like I am, that's the prime time to be your best and make sure things stay great and how you want them!! It's been a long battle that I've been fighting and I'm so tired of fighting it. I just want to be normal and relax and go to the flow but that never happens with me! :(
Anxiety has a way of interfering in life and enjoyment, doesn't it? I've been there, and I can relate. Constantly worrying about saying or doing the wrong thing, overthinking everything, and more are exhausting. As far as being "normal," there really is no standard. It's a made-up concept that comes from the fact that everyone wants to fit in and be accepted. You can start to remove that thought from your mind! But it will keep coming back, so be patient with yourself. I have found that two excellent approaches to anxiety/all mental health issues are acceptance and commitment therapy and solution-focused therapy. You might want to consider looking into these to see if you like their approaches. Know that anxiety doesn't have to bother you forever. :)
Wow this is so relevant to me it’s scary!
To me, too! And millions more. You're definitely not alone. :)
I have recently met someone who has quickly become very important in my life and I have taken in love with her. Now whilst all that might sound nice in itself and of course it is I am finding that at the end of each day I am replaying events over and over analysing every detail of our time together. I hate doing this and am trying to nip it in the bud before I get fully into it. It drives me mad and spoils what has been a lovely time. I'm scared that if I don't keep it under control I might loose her. What can I do. Please help. Thanks
Hey man. Honestly, I was in the exact same position. For me, my mind thinks about anything that I could use to think that she doesn't either like me, or her feelings are fading, or anything like that. The best thing I did to counter this was to keep a journal of all of the nice things that she did for me. Any time that a thought came to my head thinking that she did something against me, or ignored me, or anything like that, I just would counter that and think of all of the positive things she has done. I mean why would this person want to spend so much time with me. Why would she have done X or Y or Z if she didn't really like to spend time with me. The journal allows you to permanently mark things down. If you write things down, however small, your mind will start to focus more on the things that are positive. Every time that a negative thought comes, say to yourself that " I am experiencing anxiety because she did X, but I know that's not what she meant. She likes me because of Y, and that makes me happy". Hope that helps a bit.
I have had anxiety in some form for quite some time but never as severe as the last couple of years. Oddly until recently, I had never tied in the overthinking to this. This concern has increased, making me and those around me somewhat miserable at times. My husband was diagnosed with cancer a little under two years ago. He has been through 2 bone marrow transplants but is actually in remission and doing better now. Although i am happy about this and the constant fight or flight feeling has left me, I now seem to be more negative than before with so much overthinking about EVERYTHING. No matter what I analyze everything to the point of finding the negative or worse case scenario. This is zapping my joy and making it impossible for me to enjoy almost anything. this is not good for me or my husband who needs to be thinking positive thoughts to stay better. It's one thing to recognize this in yourself but much harder to readjust your thinking. Any help you can provide is appreciated.
Hello Ms Bags,
Overthinking everything is something that can be both caused by anxiety and something that increases anxiety. It's a vicious cycle that is maddening. Your description of what it's doing to you is spot-on. Your keen awareness of this is a very good thing and is actually the first step in overcoming it. You're right that the readjusting your thinking aspect of it is difficult. Know that it's a process, often a slow one, but progressive nonetheless. Working with a therapist who practices cognitive-behavior therapy can be very helpful. CBT can be done in self-help format (there are many great books out there; just a search at a bookstore (off- or online) or library will yield a lot of results), but it can be slower going. That said, there are things you can start right now. Two key things to do: be very intentional about noticing and catching your thoughts and then challenge/question them and replace them with something more realistic; additionally, focus on joy--identify what reduces stress and increases happiness. Do more of that. Concentrate on making good moments throughout your day. Together, these steps are an important part of changing your thinking.
I so enjoyed your video Tanya. I am going to try this trick today for distraction and changing my thoughts. I am still reading My Life in a Nutshell. It is taking me unusually long just because we have been so busy lately "downsizing" and getting ready for my husband's retirement. I loved your videos and they were very helpful. Overthinking is so me.......always making assumptions and usually negative ones. They have even caused problems with loved ones and I really hate that!! I bet I have every book written on anxiety, so I ask, why is it still here??? Of course anxiety and depression seem to go hand in hand, so there is that to deal with. I love the website Healthy Place and reading all the articles. They have been, as well as you and your books, some of the most helpful and enjoyable books to read. Can't wait to start Twenty Four Shadows!!!
Thank you so much for your comments and feedback! Everything I write -- articles/posts for HealthyPlace and my novels (that all relate to mental illness/health) -- comes from the heart and from experience. I try to share helpful information, ideas, etc. Like not overthinking. Anxiety definitely makes people, myself included, overthink things. And when you have so much going on in your life like preparing for your husband's retirement, anxiety's games tend to get worse. I hope that the information here truly does help!
i overthink death a lot, and the after life. Im depressed and I want to be happy again. Im catholic btw, which is why i keep doubting God and heaven.
Death and the unknown of what follows are common sources of fear and anxiety. Then, if we feel guilty for questioning things like this -- like we should just accept what we've been taught -- our anxiety seems to increase, and depression can increase, too. Sometimes the act of giving yourself permission to question and explore can help relieve anxiety and depression. Of course this doesn't completely eradicate depression and bring back happiness, but it's often a powerful first step.
I over think everything.. Peoples opinions even their facial expressions " what did they mean by that" when I am alone annylizing what I said or what they meant.
Me and my son are having it hard . hes 17.. I accues him of smoking, drugs etc. He brought the car home full of mud. I have him a speech. He said he was sorry but I kept over explainimg, going on . he said he told me he was sorry . I always think the worst. Working on my atv I get 8 opinions all different and then I'm a mess. I take clonazepam , effexor, Strattera and lithium but it's doesnt shut my brain off. Its ruining me, I'm no longer a people person
Yes -- even facial expressions! Tone, expressions, posture, positioning; so many things other than "just" the words. You're not alone. Overthinking is a very common aspect of any type of anxiety. How often to you have a chance to check in with your doctor? Sometimes, medication actually makes things worse, depending on the individual person. It might be something to ask your doctor. Share what's going on and how you feel you are changing. Sometimes, adjusting dosages or medications can make a difference. It's definitely needs to be done with a doctor, though, because changing medication on your own, even if it seems like a small change, can be very dangerous. You know yourself and how you want to be. Don't stop pursuing it!
Thank you Tanya, it's helpful to know I can organise myself to put together my thoughts and my physical self before a doctor.
Besides the "override" I have constant nausea, I don't vomit. I snow ready to send a doctor. Thank you again for your help.
Any time, Caroline. Very best of luck to you as you proceed. Good for you for taking charge of your wellbeing!
Hi Tanya, thank you for the video and literature.
I have been struggling with what I can now describe as "a mind override". I am not particularly worried about things, I instead think/mostly visualise situations, systems ..anything. My mind picks up anything and runs through it in a split second I think physically it could take me years to go through the same thought when normal. Its like I meditate with resistance and fast.
Recently I speak to myself a lot and I feel tired and don't get enough sleep. I feel that I should see a doctor but I am not sure how to put it.
Can you help explain to me what could be happening.
The "mind override" you describe (great term, by the way) is a very frustrating experience, especially when thoughts never seem to slow down. Everyone's experiences are unique, so of course I won't claim to have had your exact experience, but I will say that I've dealt with various forms of racing thoughts and know how intrusive they can be. There are absolutely things that you can do to help this, and you don't have to live with this mind override forever. Your idea of seeing a doctor is wise. I would never want to do harm to you by trying to state what you're experiencing in an online setting where it's impossible to gather all of the important information (including lab tests -- a doctor might want to do blood work, etc. to rule out various medical conditions). A while back, I wrote an article that included a checklist for talking with a doctor. Not quite knowing how to put things is a very common concern. The article addresses talking to a doctor about medication, but it applies to situations beyond medication. You can use the concepts to help you communicate with a doctor. Don't give up. There really are ways to overcome all of this. Here's the link to the checklist: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/11/talking-to-your-doctor-abou…
Ok so I'm a teenager. And I am very sure I have GAD and social anxiety. I will overthink everything. I even over think multiple choice questions. Like will think to myself, "ok. So this is the question and then this is what I put down. So I answered my question like this. Is that the right answer? Did I read the question wrong?" Yeah it's scary because when I'm taking tests I will take forever and when I finally turn it in I will get so nervous that I read the question wrong or wrote it wrong. It sucks. And I get paranoid thoughts a lot. I don't trust people very well. I also if someone looks at me I will think of the worst things ever. The things that go through my mind is scary and irrational.
For social anxiety- I am a very outgoing person. But I worry about what they think of me or how I sound (I have vocal chord paralysis. So I sound weird
Anxiety has a nasty habit of telling us we sound weird. It also makes us question things and people. You've described some of anxiety's tricks very well. I get what you mean about multiple choice tests (true/false, too). I always overthought them too. Do you have something that you do or a place where you go where anxiety doesn't make you overthink? Engaging in something meaningful (and safe) is a great way to give yourself a break from anxiety. Talking to someone about your anxiety can be helpful, too. Know that you're not alone, and you're not weird. :)
I over think everything. I create issues with loved ones because of it. I always say I'm gonna try be better however when I think something in my head I go off the rails again. It's talking over my life and I'm not even over reacting. Please help me. I feel like I'm phyco.
You're definitely not "psycho" or "crazy" or anything like that! It can be beyond frustrating when the brain races off, overthinking even the smallest things; it's worse than frustrating when it interferes in our lives. Given that our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interconnected, it makes sense that this interferes in life. The good news is that you are aware of your thoughts and what they're doing. Sometimes people aren't fully aware of this. Now that you're aware, it's possible to separate your thoughts from who you are and what you do. We can't fully control what pops into our minds, but we do have control over how we react. Accepting these as just thoughts and then tuning into the present moment -- what is really happening rather than what your mind thinks is happening -- you can begin to break free of the trap.
I have GAD, prob some PTSD, that depression accompanies my disorders. Overthinking is right. My overthinking can start my anxiety, and tornado it, till I am in full panic. Thanks for the reassuring information.
Tornado is an absolutely ideal word for this overthinking. Anchoring ourselves during the overthinking storm is important. And thinking of this as a storm we can prepare for, weather, reduce its impact, and start over is a good way to look at this. :)
GAD is one of the things I suffer from. I hope 2016 is better for everyone. 2015 was alittle better than 2014. 2014 was not too good. Good luck everyone. Anxiety does put many, many weird thoughts in out brain and it does age us pretty fast.
Great tip Tanya. I also have to say that your voice makes me calm. You could do videos on growing cucumbers and I would listen...haha. That's a wonderful gift you have. Hope your New Year is peaceful and all that you want it to be.
I love your comment! :) I think that very few people actually like the sound of their own voice, so I appreciate this. Hmmm...gardening can be effective in reducing anxiety, so maybe videos on growing cucumbers would be okay!
I have to agree. YOUR video distracted me and neutralized my racing thoughts. But it was too short! And I don't think you'd appreciate it if I tried to put you in my pocket! Lol. JK. I'm anxious but not a lunatic. Loved the video. Thank you. Where do we get the rest of the tips? I'm in! Cheers, Kate
Thank you for the wonderful laugh! I don't think you'd appreciate it if I were in your pocket because I typically don't hold still! :D And I must thank you for saying that the video is actually too short. I have a tendency to make everything too long! I'll keep tips coming. :)
I agree with Kate. Hearing you calmed me down so thank you. I appreciate it
Thanks for the video.I have learnt that anxiety can be controlled.I thought i was turning to a lunatic.And no one could help me because i couldn't even explain to a doctor how i felt and this really made me depressed.I now believe that i am going to get better through this video.I have realized that i am not alone.Everyone can have this anxiety problem.
You are most definitely not alone. Tens of millions of people have anxiety disorders, and millions more experience significant anxiety without it reaching a diagnosable disorder. And overthinking is quite possibly the most common aspect of anxiety. Also, many people describe anxiety and also panic as feeling like they're losing their mind or going crazy -- or turning into a lunatic. So many times just knowing we're not alone and having a way to describe (either to others or ourselves) what we're experiencing brings relief. You can definitely get better. Come back to HealthyPlace and this Anxiety-Schmanxiety blog. There is a lot of helpful information here!