Why haven’t they responded yet?I sat on my bed hunched over my laptop, hitting the refresh button on my email inbox over and over. I was waiting to hear back from a potential employer about an internship opportunity, and my anxiety was gnawing at me more and more each time I refreshed my inbox.
Many of us are prone to overthinking, and sometimes it can become so severe that it damages our well-being. According to clinical psychologist David A. Clark, “Many people have concluded that overthinking is part of their personality; they’ve not realized that strategies are available to counter this anxiety-inducing habit.”
If you are one of those people who assume overthinking is just part of life, there’s hope! Here are five tips to help you break the habit of overthinking:
1. Recognize when you start to overthink
Do you feel anxiety and worry creeping up when you ruminate over small details? You’re probably overthinking. Learn to identify those behaviors early on, and you’ll have a better chance of stopping them before they turn into a larger problem. Sometimes it’s enough to just pause and say it: I’m overthinking.
2. Realize most thinks don’t matter
This might sound flippant at first, until you pause to think about the thousands of tiny decisions, tasks, and interactions that occur every day. Nobody at your church potluck is going to care if the carrots in your salad are julienned or sliced. Your friend or neighbor won’t think less of you if you fumbled your “hello” or “goodbye.” If you’re in school, a late assignment won’t be the end of your college career. When you stop wasting so much time obsessing over every detail, your mind is freed up to focus on the things that actually do matter.
3. Remember that overthinking isn’t problem solving
Overthinking can often feel productive because it takes so much time and effort: that’s why it can be such a hard habit to break. It’s important to recognize that it wastes time, can cause emotional distress, and ultimately results in inaction. If you think too long about decisions, good opportunities might even pass you by.
4. Don’t worry about finding the perfect wording
I’d need another set of hands to count the number of times I’ve delayed sending or responding to emails due to overthinking. Will this phrasing be perceived as unprofessional? Maybe this would be better said in person. What if they say no if I ask for an extension on that project? It has been a while since I sent that email, but if I follow up now, they’ll think I’m being too pushy.
Emails and texts are supposed to make communication easier, faster, and more convenient. As long as what you’re writing is legible and gets your point across, just send it! (And if you’re waiting for an important email, don’t obsess over it like I did with my internship. It turns out that I was accepted, and constantly refreshing my inbox didn’t make it arrive any faster. It only wasted my energy and stressed me out even more.)
5. Know that your thoughts aren’t always true
Humans (especially overthinkers) tend to exaggerate the negative. Thoughts pop into our heads all the time, but that doesn’t automatically make them true. Polarized thinking (black-and-white, all-or-nothing) and catastrophizing (expecting bad things to happen and exaggerating insignificant things) are two examples of cognitive distortions that can contribute to overthinking. Learning to identify your cognitive distortions can help you combat intrusive thoughts and greatly improve your mental well-being.
Jackie Shoghi writes from Lincoln, Nebraska.