If a situation you can’t control has long-term residency in your head, you’re probably overthinking it.
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) often struggle with the feeling of not being able to “turn off” their minds. Since HSPs have rich inner lives, they spend a lot of time thinking about, well, everything, and deeply processing the information they come across. While this makes HSPs incredibly in tune with others’ needs and wonderfully insightful, it can also lead to chronic overthinking.
There’s no doubt about it: thinking too much about something takes its toll and is a challenge HSPs continually face. It’s exhausting and can do a wringer on your mental health, as research has shown a connection between rumination and depression. And overthinking can even stifle creativity, a study found, and make it difficult to focus on more important things in life.
There’s ‘Healthy’ Thinking, and Then There’s Overthinking
The other problem with overthinking is that you don’t always realize you’re doing it. Or, more accurately, you feel like the overthinking is justified or necessary to feel better or solve some problem.
But ruminating thoughts are not productive in the same way as figuring out a solution. For example, I’m not helping my situation by recalling a (what I perceived as) embarrassing conversation from early today over and over again in my head. I’m just reminding myself of my embarrassing feelings and suffering in the process.
And even when you recognize that you’re thinking too much about something, stopping is a whole other story. Pausing those racing thoughts might feel impossible.
Thankfully, an important step in overcoming difficult things is awareness. You can help yourself by stepping back and recognizing when you’re thinking too much about something. With that in mind, here are some signs you’re overthinking something.
7 Signs You’re Overthinking Something as an HSP
1. A situation you can’t control has long-term residency in your head
A classic sign of overthinking is worrying about something you can’t control or have limited control over.
HSPs spend a lot of time in their own heads, which means their thoughts easily go into overdrive thinking about all aspects of life. What does this person think about me? Am I making my partner happy? Does my boss hate me? When will I be able to buy a house? How should I feel about that political post I read earlier today? Is the world in shambles? Am I doing enough?
Other people’s actions, traffic, the economy, what others think about you, and past situations are all examples of things you don’t (and can’t) have power over, no matter how much you think about them. And yet, many of us still spend a lot of time juggling anxieties that harm us rather than being productive.
The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” Recognizing what you can and can’t influence in your life helps smother obsessive thoughts and put energy only toward what you do have control over.
2. You replay situations in your mind like a song on repeat
You keep thinking about that conversation you had or that decision you made. You wonder if you could have done or said something differently to change the outcome. You might worry that you haven’t thought of every detail and were missing something.
This type of contemplating might take up your thoughts so much that you feel there’s no room to think about anything else.
When you can’t stop replaying the past, distractions can help. Turn to an activity that allows you to take your mind off things, such as watching a movie, doing a puzzle, gardening, exercising, meditating, or playing a game with friends.
If your mind keeps turning over something you still need to solve, give yourself time to sleep on it. Many significant decisions happen after we’ve actually rested our minds and stopped thinking about whatever keeps replaying in our brain. Adding that space between your thoughts and reactions can help you approach the issue with a clearer head later on.
3. You envision the worst-case scenarios (even when they never happen!)
Since HSPs are easily rattled by uncertainty — especially when they’re overwhelmed — they’ll often try to be prepared for anything. You might find yourself going over the worst possible situation to something, thinking you’re protecting yourself from surprise or disappointment.
The problem with this method is that HSPs are creative and imaginative. If you think through hundreds of possible scenarios, is that really helping? Instead, overthinking can cause a lot of extra stress and anxiety that’s rarely (if ever) proportionate to reality.
It helps to tell myself that “I’m doing the best I can with the knowledge I have” and try to let it go.
The worst thing you could imagine is unlikely to happen, and there is rarely only one right choice to make in life. We often have various options, and one is not necessarily better than the other.
It’s all about realizing that you can’t control everything. Yet you can experience pleasant outcomes with a variety of choices. Just remember: You’re doing your best, and that’s enough.
4. The past and/or future constantly distract you from the present
There are so many things to think about daily: What if you had taken that job offer a year ago? Should you have bought that car? What if you lose your job next week? Why didn’t you see the red flags from that relationship sooner? Where would you be if [insert life event here] hadn’t happened?
Highly sensitive people can spend hours thinking about life and different scenarios. While this fact makes sensitive people great problem-solvers and dreamers, it can also lead to unnecessary suffering.
If you’re spending extended time thinking about the past or future, you’re overthinking it. You can’t change the past, and you have little control over the future. Worrying about either just takes you away from the only constant — the present.
When you’re thinking too much about “what-ifs,” it also makes decision-making feel impossible. Practice recognizing when your mind is going over and over a topic, and picture yourself letting it go.
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5. Instead of taking action, you feel paralyzed and exhausted
Overthinking something, especially if it never brings a resolution, is so draining.
You might feel powerless over your neverending thoughts, leaving you mentally, emotionally, and even physically exhausted. The energy you would usually put toward work, relationships, or self-care feels depleted over something your mind keeps covering. Even if you haven’t done anything else mentally or physically taxing, overthinking can leave you so tired.
As an HSP, I require extra alone time when I need to think deeply about something in my life. However, it’s crucial for sensitive types to also step back and ask themselves if their thinking is productive. Are you getting anything out of turning this one thing over in your mind so much? Or is it just causing you to suffer?
Constant overthinking can also make you feel like you can’t do anything. Making a decision takes you forever and feels like a marathon. If you’re having trouble taking action on what you’re thinking about — and neglecting other things you should be doing — it’s probably because you’re thinking about it too much. Instead, make the best decision you can based on what you know, and commit to whatever you decide.
6. Sleep is harder to come by
Overthinking something can also interfere with your sleep. One study found that those who considered themselves “poor sleepers” were more likely to ruminate. Not only that, the poor sleepers would overthink symptoms related to not getting enough sleep, such as feeling fatigued the next day.
HSPs already need more sleep than others due to the constant overstimulation they experience. And when you add overthinking to the mix, this sleep may be harder to come by. If so, you may want to evaluate your thoughts. What’s going through your mind as you try to get some shut-eye? Journaling, meditating (you can try an app, like Insight Timer), or talking through your thoughts with a loved one can help.
7. The information hasn’t changed, yet you’re still thinking about it
Sensitive people are great at imagining every possible scenario. They like to make mindful decisions, especially when they could have long-term consequences or impact other people. Maybe you turned down a job promotion — you really don’t want to advance at the company and have been looking at other opportunities… but now you’re overthinking it. They already promoted someone else instead, yet you’re still overthinking it…
HSPs might keep thinking about a situation even after they made their decision. At some point, you just have to accept a situation and send the thing out of your mind.
The Key? Try to Catch Yourself When You Start Overthinking… and Then Try to Stop
Turning off your overthinking is rarely easy, but it can get easier with time. If you’re an HSP, you’re probably very familiar with the concept of thinking “too much” about something. Start with awareness: catch yourself when you’re stuck on a topic, recognize what thoughts are keeping you stuck in a feedback loop, and practice allowing yourself to move on through mindfulness or a healthy distraction. Although it may seem impossible, it is possible to stop the overthinking in its tracks and restore balance as an HSP. And your highly sensitive soul will thank you for it!
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