Overthinking is thinking about the same thing over and over, past the point of it being helpful. It may be something that has already happened or something you’re worried about in the future. When you’re overthinking, you’re going in circles in your mind and can’t move forward.
Let me share an example from my own experience.
When our son was approaching 16 months old, we discussed giving day care a try so that I could go back to work part time. Here’s just a snippet of what was going through my mind:
“It would be great to work again”
“I’ll miss out on precious time with my son”
“So many mums are going back to work, it’s normal”
“I only have a few years before my son goes to school!”
“It’s the right thing to do for my career”
“What if he hates it?”
“What if he loves it?”
“There are some great child care centres out there”
“He’s going to feel abandoned”
“I spoke to Olivia and she told me her daughter hated day care and screamed every day”
“People put babies in day care when they’re only a few months old, so he’ll be fine at his age”
“He’ll learn so much and socialisation is so important”
“He really just needs love, connection and bonding with me”
“I’ll google it – yes, there are heaps of articles about how good child care can be for children”
“Oh no – there are also articles to the contrary”
“My mum doesn’t agree – she didn’t say it, but I can hear the disappointment in her voice”
“My husband thinks it’s a great idea”
“I need to go back to work to be contributing to the finances of our family”
“I don’t really have to work, I’m being selfish”
“Sarah said her son wants to go to day care every day!”
“I’ll do everything I can to make it an easy transition and it will be fine”
“I can’t shake this uneasy feeling”
“I shouldn’t have agreed to this”
Phew, that was a lot. And as I mentioned, that was just a snippet! This contradictory chatter went on in my head for the weeks leading up to my son starting day care and continued for the next few months. I was tormented by it.
One day, after a particularly bad drop off, I was crying inconsolably (again) and telling my husband about it. He said “This is causing you both so much stress. Let’s just take him out and you can just enjoy the time with him”. Tears of relief fell. I knew that was the right decision for us and suddenly I realised that it was the decision I’d wanted to make all along, but didn’t feel that I could. If only I’d stepped out of the cycle of overthinking, researching, analysing and justifying to really listen to what my heart was saying and to focus on what was most important for us.
I’m not telling you this story to communicate my stance on day care. I share this without any judgement and with the utmost respect for your situation and choices. Each of our families, children and circumstances are different and we have to make our own decisions. I’m sharing this because the situation triggered a long, unhelpful and anxiety producing overthinking cycle for me and it taught me a lot. I’m hoping it also helps you.
What has caused you to be trapped in a cycle like this?
We’re more prone to overthinking once we become mums, because we have such a deep desire to make the right choices for our children and be the best mum possible. The stakes seem so much higher when little ones are depending on you.
Why do we overthink?
You can get stuck in a cycle of overthinking because:
- You’re worried about failing, making the wrong choice or looking silly
- You’re fearful of what other’s might say or think
- You want to control an outcome but are struggling to know what to do because it’s actually impossible to know exactly what will happen until you try
- You’re trying to find a way to justify what you really want to do deep down, but are too scared to choose or admit it.
You see, your mind hates uncertainty. It feels potentially dangerous and you’re designed to seek out solutions and attempt to regain certainty. So, you go looking for information, opinions, or try to consider different perspectives. You compare yourself to others. You run through situations over and over in your mind.
Lovely mum, do you know what’s happening to you as a result of this overthinking?
All the information you’re collecting and the thinking you’re doing is making the issue bigger, more complicated and more overwhelming. It’s harder to make a good quality decision or accept the situation and move forward because you can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re focusing on all the should’s and what if’s and worrying about what might go wrong. You’re doubting yourself and feeling physically and mentally exhausted. You probably aren’t sleeping well. You can’t live in the moment and your chances of experiencing happiness from the situation are rapidly declining. Research has shown that too much thinking paralyses you.
And if you’re really dwelling on the negatives, then overthinking can lead to serious emotional distress.
You need to stop spinning in circles and start moving forward.
How can you free yourself from this unhelpful cycle of overthinking?
Here are 10 ways to break the cycle of overthinking. Select the ones that best suit you and whatever it is that you’re overthinking.
- Give yourself a deadline to make the decision. If it’s helpful, ask someone to hold you accountable to this deadline.
- Break it down. If you’re trying to make a decision and are really worried about making the wrong choice, remember that in many cases the decision you make now, doesn’t have to be a forever decision. Give yourself permission to make a decision based on what you know at this time and reassess later if needed.
- Take action. Taking even just one step is helpful because action can bring clarity and build momentum.
- If you can’t take action immediately, take a break. Break the cycle of overthinking by changing your environment or distracting your mind with a simple task, music, meditation, exercise or playing with the kids.
- Stop googling, gathering information and talking about it. If you need to get all your thoughts out of your head, try writing it all down.
- Don’t compare yourself or your situation to others. You’ll never know all the details of anyone else’s situation and you only need to do what’s right for you. Ignore the should’s!
- Only use the most important and accurate information to make your decision. The rest can be set aside. Remember that not every thought that comes into your head is the truth. You decide which thoughts to pay attention to. Challenge and correct any negative thoughts that are unhelpful. Also listen to your intuition or gut feeling – it’s often right.
- Assess how critical the decision or situation is. Ask yourself “will this matter in 6 months or 1 year?” or “what’s the worst that could happen?”
- Identify why you’re overthinking. What are you worried about? Is that a realistic and significant concern? This can break the cycle by identifying trivial issues.
- Only make decisions if you’re in a good state. Postpone if you’re very hungry, tired or emotional.
You don’t have to stay paralysed in a cycle of overthinking. Once you recognise that you’re there, you can take action to move forward. It’ll become easier with practice. Just remember that your thoughts create your reality, so be aware of which thoughts you’re giving the most airtime to.
As you’ve been reading this article, you’ve probably identified at least one thing that you’ve been overthinking. Let’s work on that right now, while it’s fresh in your mind!
Here’s your action plan:
Identify an issue you’ve been overthinking and answer these two questions:
- Why are you overthinking it?
- What do you need to do to break the overthinking cycle and move forward?
Do you have a tendency to overthink things? Did you find this article useful? Leave me a comment to let me know. I’d love to hear from you!