Avid loved ones of mine fully recognize that I am an expert at over-thinking and over-analyzing. If you do not exactly understand what this is, over-thinking encompasses expending an excessive amount of mental energy on your perceptions, your decision-making, and your reflections on past decisions and actions. Let me give you an example of what a typical scenario of my over-analysis may appear to be:
“Time to wake up, it’s 7:04 A.M…oh no, not again. Did I wake up too late? Is this the new normal for me? What if I don’t have time to complete my fifteen minute warm-up before my 8 A.M. course? Is it all right if I put off my warm-up to the side and just start my full workout after class? No, I should save time after class so I can shower and have my first meal. But wait, I might not have enough time in the less-of-an-hour allotment right now. Okay, I need to get out of bed ASAP…hold on. What should I wear? It’s too cold for shorts…but what if these sweatpants are too frumpy? Leggings aren’t warm enough, either. I don’t want to change into jeans before class–that’ll just be more of a waste of time. Fine, I’ll wear leggings. I’ll just put on a large sweater and manage. What if these ones have a stain? Gosh, I need to wash my clothes sometime today. I don’t know if I should wear my last pair of clean socks…if I have nothing for tomorrow, I’ll be done for. All right, I’ll wear my clean socks and just spend an extra hour in the evening to take care of my laundry.
Time to zip through and get ready for the day! I really don’t like what I see in the mirror…my skin looks incredibly dry and my hair always looks super messy after braiding it all day. Should I try something else? I’ve worn a top knot for years though…it makes my face look so chubby. But I have to wear that braid again when I workout…maybe I’ll try wearing two braids this time. Wait no, I’ll look like I’m twelve years-old! Argh! Why is it so difficult for me to make a decision?! Great, now I’m pissed off at myself for being upset with trying to decide on something! Why can’t I just make things easy for myself?!
That’s all before 8 A.M., if not 7 A.M. in the morning.
Not everyone is an over-thinker. Some people can make decisions incredibly easily and swiftly or feel comfortable with figuring out a certain task or issue later on. Heck, I am certain that anyone who isn’t an over-thinker will feel tremendously exhausted after reading that scenario, let alone living in that person’s shoes. Simply to put it, the art of over-thinking is just a phenomenon that is easy to comprehend and is challenging to empathize with. It is normal to endure self-doubt and uncertainty in times of extreme stress, but on a daily basis…not necessarily.
Arguably, the root of over-analysis can stem from various sources. From personal experience to researching studies about over-thinking and even confiding in my social group, I’ll say that most cases of over-thinking involve the following: insecurity, emotional instability, the fear of the uncertainty, the fear of rejection, and the fear of being incorrect. Many times, people choose to rethink their decisions and habits because they are afraid that if they do not, they may feel out of place or feel embarrassed if they realize that they did not make the best decision in the first place. Alternatively, they may want to avoid feeling a certain emotion that is extra painful or a situation where they may be turned down. Over-thinking is an effort to combat our intuitive entity. Ultimately, it is our frontal lobe, our voluntary logical area in our brain, attempting to play the role of the amygdala, the autonomic survival instinct, and is extremely counter-productive.
As a student, a blogger, a potential employee, a friend, a sister, and a potential significant other to someone else (well, if we’re disregarding the possibility that I’ll be single forever), I over-think effortlessly, which is an irony in itself given that over-thinking requires an immense amount of mental effort. It can take me over an hour to concoct an Instagram caption alone, given that I doubt whether I should write a long and compelling caption versus a brief witty one. When I lose followers, I instantly inquire what I did to repel them from my feed. When I find people losing interest in what I have to say, I immediately hold back in conversation. Worst of all, if I discover that I indeed did something wrong, I coil my head all around the situation in hopes that I’ll find a remedy to the problem or some kind of solution to avoid it at all costs in the future.
What may be truly intriguing is how over-thinkers are also more prone towards serious extremes when it comes to eating. Constantly planning and modifying plans for meals can induce individuals to consume foods that suffice them nutritionally but not mentally or emotionally, or vice-versa. Over-thinking on a diet can eventually lead to binge eating–the person may not necessarily binge out of restriction or starvation. Binging can result from a desire for freedom from control, for the opportunity to make quick decisions, and/or for the experience of not thinking at all. On the other hand, over-thinking on a diet may entail someone to constantly under-eat because they can’t decide what would be best for them to consume. They hesitate on every opportunity given that it’s easier to not act at all than it is to commit to a regrettable decision. In other words, there’s an emotional miscommunication between the brain and the body.
We know more than what we do. The answers we need are all inside of us. We do and we don’t do out of the fear of the unknown, the fear of rejection, the fear of isolation, the fear of distress, and the fear of being incorrect then whose are the keys to unlocking the answers we don’t know in the first place.
That being said, it’s tempting to downplay an over-thinker’s constant toying with decision-making. For some people, just directing someone to make up his or her mind equates to suggesting an alcoholic to not drink anymore. Yeah, over-thinkers and addicts know how problematic their habits are, or at least understand that what they depend on is not necessarily the best for them. Truth of a matter is, over-thinking is addictive. It’s a seeming mechanism to gain control of one’s life, and nothing is more desirable to anyone than having everything go their way.
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce over-thinking. You can write down your thoughts in a journal to dump out your uncertainties and your concerns on a tangible vehicle, which will bring much more awareness of what goes on in your brain. Reading a three thousand word essay may seem longer than listening to a thirty-minute podcast…and I am certain that my over-thinking word vomit can easily take up more than enough space for either one. Simply do everything you can to exhaust yourself from reading or listening to your own thoughts in order to understand the magnitude of your over-thinking habits. You can also gain social and emotional support from your loved ones or from a counselor. If you can, find someone with an open and non-judgmental pair of ears to listen to you and to give you the advice you need. Another suggestion that may seem daunting but can be beneficial for you in the long-run: let anything else other than your brain decide. Number six decisions from 1-6 and roll a pair of dice. Spin a wheel or find a random online simulator. Ask others to choose for you. For all, never, ever, attempt again (unless it’s an emergency where you physically would be unable to do something). This is a short-term mechanism that should help you eventually recognize that quicker thinking really isn’t any worse than excessively thinking.
Finally, to all of you who encounter or know an over-thinker in your life: please be empathetic. Please show understanding. As unlikely as it sounds, over-thinking is exceptionally difficult to let go. Over-thinking is similar to an addiction or a broken heart trying to heal from trauma, and it is a go-to for the brain to try to keep their person from harm. Never berate them for becoming overwhelmed with themselves. Show them that it is simply not the end of the world if they stumble or make a mistake. Show them that micro-managing every little aspect of their life will not matter in the bigger picture. Show them that people will still love them even if others turn them down, or better yet, be that person who will still love them until the very, very end.
Are you an over-thinker? How do you try to deal with over-thinking when it comes your way?