Halting the Chain Reaction of Overthinking


Written by Meriden Peters of CincyStateofBeing. Photography provided by Meriden Peters.

We’ve all been there. Something happens. An action. Mid conversation with a friend, you say something you find important. After the action, there is a reaction. Your friend briefly responds, and then changes topics. After the reaction is your perception of the reaction. You interpret your friend’s response as unsupportive or dismissive, that she’s uninterested. And then after the action, the reaction, and your perception come your thoughts.

You think: That was an odd reaction. Maybe she’s mad at me about something, or maybe she doesn’t care? Maybe she thinks what I said is unimportant? I did have to cancel coffee with her last week. Maybe she’s mad about that. I bet she’s mad about that. Are we in a fight? She shouldn’t be mad about that, that’s silly. I’m annoyed at her for being mad about that. She’s annoying.

Change what you can change. You are powerful.

And all of a sudden, you’re down a rabbit hole. You started in Bali and ended in the Arctic Sea. Your mind has taken you to a completely different place than reality. Your mind has conjured up unnecessary emotions and distress that never needed to happen, and might not match the actual situation at hand. Maybe your friend didn’t realize what you said was important to you, maybe she had no idea.  

This is normal. It happens everyday to everyone, and it’s biological. Our ancestors needed this kind of thought process, so they didn’t eat the poisonous berry or sleep in a cave occupied by bears. We need this thought process to keep us safe, to analyze, and to assess. The problem is that without awareness, we can easily get caught in a cycle of overthinking and overanalyzing.

Raise your hand if you’ve been there. If you’re not raising your hand please call me; I want to study your brain. This cycle can lead to a momentarily warped version of reality and emotions, and eventually unhappiness, dissatisfaction in relationships, and ultimately, poor mental and physical health.

The first step toward thwarting this cycle is awareness. Daily meditative practices can help you become more aware of your thoughts, which makes this whole process easier. If meditation isn’t for you right now, try to simply start noticing when your thoughts are spiraling. Take a deep breath and ask yourself these questions:

I know you can, because I know you are a badass woman.

Is what I’m thinking true? I always automatically say, yes, of course it is! I’m right, I know I am. But then ask again, is it really true? Do I know that this thought I’m having is fact? Take the situation above. I can’t read minds and, unless you are a real life superhero, I’m willing to bet you can’t, either. So, we don’t truly know what other people are thinking. You don’t know if your friend thinks what you said is unimportant or if she was just tired, or excited about something else, or just unaware. Ask yourself, is what I’m thinking a 100%, guaranteed fact?  

What is the worst thing that could happen? Okay, so my friend is mad at me, and she hates me and she never wants to be friends with me again. Cleary this is drastic, but allow yourself to go there. If that happened, it might be hard or sad, but you’re capable of handling it. I know you can, because I know you are a badass woman.

Is there something I can do? Sometimes awareness combined with the two questions above are enough for me to snap out of a cycle of over analyzing, but other times I need to clarify. Ask your friend, “Are you mad I had to cancel coffee last week?” Or maybe, “What I tried to tell you earlier was important to me. Can we talk more about it?” Change what you can change. You are powerful.

Our mind is our mind, and will always function as it was made to function. It is up to us how we choose to use it, and how we condition it for optimal health and well being. Pause, become aware, check-in, and then shift if necessary.