It is human nature to think and feel deeply. However, sometimes, it can transform into an obsessive thinking pattern generally referred to as overthinking.
Thinking about something continuously in circles, can get exhausting. Clinical psychologists even claim that people have pathological levels of overthinking and paranoia. Overthinking can take many forms: endlessly deliberating when making a decision (and then questioning the decision), attempting to read minds, attempting to predict the future, reading into the smallest of details, etc.
People who overthink consistently run commentaries in their heads, criticising and picking apart what they said and did yesterday, terrified that they look bad — and fretting about a terrible future that might await them. They keep pondering over ‘what ifs’, which later become the jury of their behaviour and thoughts. Their paranoia dominates their actions.
If you consistently focus on ruminating and making it a habit, it becomes a loop, and the more you do it, the harder it is to stop. It is absolutely misleading to think that overthinking is equivalent to problem-solving. Overthinking just traps us inside a vicious cycle. It cannot solve any problem.
Overthinking is destructive and mentally draining. It can make you feel like you’re stuck in one place, and if you don’t act, it can greatly impact on your normal life. It can quickly put your health and total well-being at risk. Rumination makes you more susceptible to depression and anxiety.
People usually overthink because the ambiguity of the future scares them and makes them anxious. We all feel vulnerable and uncertain about the future, so we keep trying to comprehend it and solve our problems in our head. However, it eventually consumes us.
Other reasons for overthinking include self-doubt, low self-esteem, low self- efficacy and even post-traumatic stress disorder. If a person has had his share of terrible past experiences then he is most likely to be traumatised by the possibility of his future being equally bad. Overthinking can happen to anyone, but those who have experienced trauma can be especially vulnerable.
Some people overthink because they feel that they can take control of their life if they constantly think about it. They are driven by a sense of grandeur in terms of being their own fate. This implies that they keep thinking about something, even if they know that it cannot be controlled.
Neuroscience claims that trauma, like childhood abuse or neglect for instance, can actually alter the development of the brain to become stuck in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. In other words, our flight-fight-or-freeze response stays on high alert, scanning for any possible danger — whether real or perceived. In this state, we may experience obsessive or intrusive thoughts.