7 Signs You Are Overthinking and How It Can Negatively Affect Your Mental Health  

If you are one of the many people who finds themselves overthinking things, then it would be helpful to take a pause and slow down, because there's a good chance that you're negatively impacting your mental health with your habitual thought patterns. Most people don't know the signs of overthinking, so they don't realize they're doing it. Here are some red flag signs that your mental health could be impacted by overthinking.

You have trouble focusing on the task at hand.

If you are constantly thinking about other things, it's hard to focus on the task at hand. While you're trying to work, your mind may suddenly be filled with thoughts of “What if I can’t get everything done by the end of the week?”, "What would I do if my house caught on fire?" or "How will I make sure that we don't run out of ketchup over the summer?"
These types of thoughts may pop up without warning and completely throw off your concentration. You might start thinking about these things instead of working on what's in front of you. If this happens often, it could be a sign that your brain is overthinking. Overthinking often leads to procrastination, which makes it difficult for some people to be productive and accomplish tasks. Mistakes or poor work quality are also more likely to happen when the mind is on other things other than the task at hand.

It's difficult to go to sleep at night.

If you're stressed about something, it can be hard for your mind to shut down. You may have a running list of items in your head that won't go away. This overthinking makes it harder to fall asleep, and that causes you to overthink even more. It's a vicious cycle that can have real health consequences if your sleep quality suffers. Here are some ways to shut down your overactive brain at bedtime and stop lying awake thinking and overthinking:

  • Take a walk after dinner. The fresh air and movement are good for clearing out the cobwebs -- and it will help ensure you don't eat too much right before bedtime, which could keep you awake.
  • Write down your thoughts so they're not swirling around in your head. If there are things on your mind that feel too important or complicated to write down, make an appointment with yourself to revisit them during the daylight hours and sort them out with a clear mind.
  • Do some mindfulness or relaxation before bedtime to calm the mind and nervous system. Attending to the bodily sensations also gives the mind something neutral to focus upon and quiets the activity in the pre-frontal cortex. If you wake in the middle of the night, turning attention to a guided meditation or relaxation exercise can also be skillful.
  • Write down your thoughts so they're not swirling around in your head. If there are things on your mind that feel too important or complicated to write down, make an appointment with yourself to revisit them during the daylight hours and sort them out with a clear mind.

You have a hard time relaxing and unwinding.

Overthinking makes it difficult to relax. If you are often doing data analysis, problem solving and worrying about something, it's hard to sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself. Overthinking is directly related to a decreased ability to relax and unwind.
Try these activities when you need help relaxing:

  • Guided meditation
  • Informal Mindfulness practices
  • Yoga
  • Relaxation exercises such as: Deep breathing; Progressive Muscle Relaxation; Guided Imagery

You're heavily impacted by your moods.

Being a perpetual overthinker is not good for our mental health. Emotions such as envy, anger, and guilt can be much more intense if you're a perpetual overthinker. Some individuals also experience increased sensitivity when handling criticism. The problem with these negative feelings is they tend to keep the cycle of thinking running in an endless loop of rumination, thereby making them harder to escape from. Plus, if you overthink things, you tend to over-analyze what people say, may be more easily offended and hold a grudge.

When you've made a mistake, you can't stop thinking or talking about it.

Everyone makes mistakes. If you're human and have a pulse, you've likely made a mistake in the past little while. If you've done something wrong and can't stop thinking about it, it can affect your mental health. It keeps you stuck in unforgiveness, guilt and remorse.

You might think that beating yourself up over a mistake is the only way to ensure you don't make that same mistake again, but such an approach can do more harm than good. So don't be so tough on yourself! It’s important to learn how to forgive yourself and move on, so you can have true peace of mind.

You over-analyze every word you say.

Everyone has said something they've regretted at one time or another, but if you tend to overthink things way too much, you might find yourself mulling over every word that comes out of your mouth. This causes excessive stress and anxiety and leaves you with the feeling that nothing you ever say is good enough.

When you over-analyze, it is generally because:

  • You lack trust in your ability to make decisions
  • You are delaying needed responses or actions
  • You fear missing an opportunity or making a mistake

If you constantly question your decisions, what you say, the motivations of others, and get caught up in the implications of everything that happens, then chances are you are thinking too much.

You focus too much on things you can't control.

Ultimately, you have no control over anything but yourself. You can't control what other people do or say to you, how the universe chooses to unfold, or how things will turn out in the future.
Here's an example: Let's say you have a big presentation coming up at work tomorrow. You've been working hard on it for weeks, but something keeps nagging at you -- what if they don't like my ideas? What if they see right through me? What if I trip and fall into the audience while presenting?

These are all things you can't control or predict. They might happen, they might not. But one thing is certain -- the more time you spend thinking about them, the more anxious and stressed out you'll become. And then when tomorrow rolls around, you won't be able to give your best because your mind is elsewhere.

The solution is to focus on what you can control: your actions, what you say, and how you react to things happening around you. Spend your focus and energy on these things.

The Bottom Line

Overthinking can cause anxiety and make life more challenging. If you feel you cannot control your thoughts and tendency to overthink, don't be afraid to seek help from a therapist or other professional.

Until then, here are some tips on how to control it:

  • Try to focus on what is happening now, instead of hypothetical things that could happen in the future.
  • Rather than ruminating over events that have already happened, try doing a ‘brain dump’; this is where you write down your thoughts and feelings about what happened, so that they will be out in the open, not embedded in your mind.
  • Practice cognitive defusion – remember that thoughts are just thoughts, not necessarily facts. Step back and observe your thoughts from a witness perspective. Try to look at your thoughts in the same way you’d watch leaves floating down a stream. Or to use another metaphor, see your mind as the vast sky and the thoughts are like clouds passing through. Some clouds are light and wispy, others are grey or even stormy. Regardless of the emotional charge, see your thoughts like clouds passing through the sky. Or visualize placing your thoughts into a balloon and imagine it floating up into the sky.
  • If you can't stop overthinking things, a psychotherapist can help you work through these issues.

"Are You an Overthinker? | Psychology Today." 18 Jan. 2020, psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-runaway-mind/202001/are-you-overthinker.
"Understand Overthinking and Rein It In | Psychology Today." 31 Jan. 2022, psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parenting/202201/understand-overthinking-and-rein-it-in.