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How Does Overthinking Start?

anxiety blog headaches how overthinking starts insomnia mental health overthinking root of overthinking rumination self-doubt self-trust stress from overthinking Jan 16, 2022

How does overthinking start?  It feels like it isn’t a problem, and suddenly BAM, it’s a tremendous problem.  There is little awareness of when it started, how it started, or why it started, but instead, it sneaks in and grows and grows until it’s a beastly overwhelming daily occurrence.  Its beginning may go unnoticed, but once it has taken root, overthinking can wreak havoc on your health, relationships, and stress level.  Overthinking is a problem. 

Before we did in deeper, let me make sure you and I are working off the same definition of overthinking.  And if you're asking yourself if overthinking is a problem, then knowing the definition can provide clarity too.  The Webster dictionary definition is "think about (something) too much or for too long."   This is basic and yet confusing as your next question might be "how much is too much?".   If it is interfering with your life, it's too much.  If it's interfering in your relationships, it's too much.  If it's causing you health issues, it's too much.  If it has your stress level through the roof, it's too much. 

Overthinking is actually a form of fear.  Yes, fear. Often the belief is that overthinking is being bad at decision making or being too sensitive or slow at communication.  These are all symptoms or the result of the fear but not at the root.  The reason decisions have been so difficult for you to make is due to the FEAR about the outcome and what it means.  

Let me give you an example. You may believe you’re a bad decision maker because you’ve been trying to decide if you should join a traditional gym or one of those specialties focused on heart rate monitoring. You’ve been spending hours researching because you want to make the BEST choice to help you reach your fitness goals.   And on the surface, it does appear that the decision is a hard one. Gyms are a fairly big financial investment.  However, underneath the ambiguity, what might actually be a fear of what it means to make the decision.  If you decide to join a traditional gym, there may be fear about showing up and figuring out how to create a workout for yourself on your own, looking stupid if you aren’t sure how to use all the equipment.   If you decide to join a specialty gym, your stats will be up on a monitor for all to see, and you know are so much more out of shape than the rest of the members.  Staying in a place of indecision actually feels safe for your brain.  As long as you are undecided, you do not have to set foot in either gym type. Making a decision brings up a lot of fear.  Either option results in you committing to exercise, and that in itself may be driving the fear.  But in the examples, both go back to a root fear of being judged. 

So what if you shift your focus on soothing your fear of being judged rather than on stopping overthinking? It makes the decision no longer the problem.   It’s the proverbial going upriver.  There is no reason to overthink and ruminate over a pro and con list if you soothe the fear and the decision becomes easy.   Soothing a fear changes your relationship with the decision. It now becomes a decision strictly without all the added context and pressure.

Cycling back to the original question, how does overthinking start?  It starts when we become afraid of something real or hypothetical.  In the example of joining the two different gyms, the fears were narratives created, not based on facts. Your brain can be just as afraid of these fictional narratives as it can of real in our face fears - like a grizzly bear!  I’ll teach you how to play FACT or FICTION with your brain in another blog post.  

Soothing your fears gives you a tangible way to respond when you are overthinking.  This can disrupt the spiral and allow you to be present in the here and now.  If you feel stumped on how to soothe your fear,  the first question to ask is how do you soothe those you love if they are afraid?  Say a child, a partner, a beloved animal?   Your answer will be unique to you, but there will be some commonalities such as comfort, support, reassurance. 

Imagine deciding which type of gym to join, and when you find yourself overthinking and stuck making a pro-con list for weeks, pause and look at the fear in each option.  It may be the same fear or different. Then take that fear and begin to comfort yourself.  You may say: 

Comfort = “It does feel vulnerable to have personal health info up on a monitor for all to see.”  

Support = “Last time you joined a gym, you never really paid any attention to those around you, so most likely no one was really looking at you either.”

Reassurance = “Remember why you want to join a gym - stay flexible and have energy!”

Once you have provided some soothing relief, you can now revisit the decision and look at it in a new way.  You can now see both options have a vulnerability factor, but the specialty gym has yoga classes with it, and ultimately, flexibility is a big goal for you.  There can be an examination of values and reflect on what feels most important.  Your health and flexibility or your privacy with no risk?  

When you find yourself overthinking, remember that the overthinking is a neon blinking sign pointing at something you fear.  Look closer and see what fear needs to be soothed.  Then take your best compassion skills and use them on yourself.  If you get stumped, imagine if someone you loved had this fear and write down the ways you would support them in the situation.  Now reverse engineer and use those same ideas for you.  

Over time, recognizing overthinking as fear shifts your relationship with decisions, and you will be able to spot the fear and provide soothing emotional salve with ease.  You will no longer have to hold tight to the identity of being bad at decision-making.  You are a human being human.

The concept of overthinking as a fear is rooted in cognitive-behavioral theories (CBT).  Before becoming a Life Coach, I worked as a psychotherapist for 17yrs.  CBT provides the framework to look at the power we hold in our thoughts.  I am leading a free workshop on Monday, Jan 24th at 2 pm CST on two more strategies for you to use to Live Free from Overthinking.  The workshop will include teaching two more skills from CBT.

What would you say if I told you that spending 5 minutes per day supporting your mental wellness could improve your gut health? And 5 minutes per day helping your gut health could improve your mental health?


I have a Black Friday Sale coming soon. It's a fantastic deal where you'll get not 1 but 2 workshops from wellness professionals. There is a solid body-mind connection, and we want to help you understand it.

Everyone who gets on the waitlist also receives a BONUS gift to help you feel calm this holiday season.   So sign up today and be the first to hear about the offer when registration opens.

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