Is Overthinking a Mental Illness?

Person overthinking by standing in field of flowers holding ball against face

Mysteries of Mental Illness

The act of overthinking in and of itself is not a mental illness. Overthinking can be observed as early as childhood, when children become obsessed with certain passions or activities. It can also be observed in adolescence, when they start analyzing their peers, their role and how they view themselves in the social realm of their life. Overthinking is not a bad experience unless it starts to chip away at your education, work and quality of relationships. You should never be overthinking to the point of experiencing daily disruptions.

What is Overthinking?

So why do we overthink in the first place? If I could come up with all the reasons for it, this would become the world’s longest blog post. In a nutshell, we overthink because we’re insecure by nature. Thinking is the process of accumulating available information, analyzing it and making something meaningful out of it. Overthinking can also be a process of protecting yourself from toxic relationships. Ideally, you want to process the information at a comfortable rate and move on. But when you’re overthinking, you’re spending more time than needed analyzing information and connecting dots. Some dots may not be fruitful or even exist in the first place.

Can overthinking be a mental illness? Those who do have a mental illness such as OCD tend to overthink. They experience obsessive thoughts that are anxiety-provoking, followed by compulsions such as cleaning, checking or ordering. Their obsessive thoughts are rooted in the act of overthinking. OCD is one of the most difficult anxiety disorders to treat, often requiring very high doses of antidepressants along with cognitive behavioral therapy.

White woman laying down on brown leaves thinking

Treatments for Overthinking

What is a way to treat overthinking so that it doesn’t affect your quality of life? Try meditation, a process where you become nonjudgmental of your thoughts and observe them floating away like clouds in the sky. Meditation helps you let go of those thoughts that cause you to overthink, by dedicating a select amount of time each day to thoughts that bother you. It’s not a quick fix, but it certainly can help. You can also try exercising. The act of distracting yourself from overthinking by indulging in physically strenuous behavior does help. Your mind becomes focused on the physical exertion rather than any annoying thoughts.

Another option to help you with overthinking is to find someone who you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and concerns with. Talking is one of the most therapeutic acts and when you find someone who is a great listener, it becomes even more therapeutic. The act of sharing with others what is on your mind can greatly alleviate your suffering from overthinking. By revealing your concerns in the open and making it easier for you to discard them, you’ll feel more at ease in no time.

What is your experience with overthinking?

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

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Ruminating Thoughts

Light from window reflecting on red-haired woman biting lip and ruminating

When The Damage Is Done

Without keeping your mind in check, the brain can start to malfunction, resulting in pathological states of mind. One such state is the rumination over negative events that have occurred in your life; in particular, negative and stressful ones. Rumination is not like OCD, but can also be time-consuming and distressing in nature.

The difference between rumination and OCD is that OCD involves compulsions or acts in an attempt to alleviate the anxious thoughts. With rumination, you have the anxious thoughts, but which are not followed by any acts; you are just stuck in a never-ending loop of analysis.

Rumination is difficult to stop after you have experienced it a few times, because the mental act starts to become engrained within your personality. Rumination is essentially your mind trying to analyze how and why something happened; attention is not so much directed on the solution.

The solution is often easily obtained: perform this to fix that. But during rumination, your mind becomes stuck on the past: “why did the event happen and how could I have prevented it?” Even the prevention part is not that big of a focus; the majority of rumination is focused on the “how and why.”

Rumination can be seen as a defense mechanism to mental pain. By refusing to accept the outcome of a negative event, your mind paradoxically starts to become obsessive on the details leading to the event. If you read that correctly, then you can easily see how rumination is not a defense mechanism at all, but an error in your mind’s processing of the event.

The best way to overcome rumination is to simply stop worrying about what happened; the damage is already done! Ruminating about the damage will not fix anything. But since rumination is the problem in the first place, you have to put an end to it! And the way you do that is to just stop stressing over the negative event; accept it and move on!

Tame your mind before its wildness takes over your life.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)