Overthinking - which can be defined as "uncontrollable thoughts in excess" - is something that plagues a lot of people who struggle with depression (and practically everyone who struggles with anxiety). And unfortunately, rather than being a narrow problem that only affects people in a limited way, there are commonly 9 different types of overthinking - which as you'll see below, means that overthinking can actually impact you in almost every facet of life.
Type Of Overthinking #1: Worrying About The Future
This is where you continuously stress out and panic that something "bad" might happen - such as, for example, you failing an exam at university, something going wrong on your wedding day, the political party you're voting for not getting into power, or climate change wreaking chaos all over the world.
Type Of Overthinking #2: Rumination About The Past
This can involve incessantly dwelling on a mistake you made in the past, or continuously replaying a time you were hurt over and over again in your mind.
Type Of Overthinking #3: "Big Picture" Overthinking
By this, we mean overthinking the "big things" in life like who am I? What is my purpose? Am I in the right relationship?
Now, sometimes thinking about these issues can of course be helpful, but when that thinking becomes "uncontrollable" and "in excess" (i.e. when it turns into overthinking), then it's no longer productive and helpful, and just results in you feeling confused, overwhelmed and panicked.
Type Of Overthinking #4: Mindreading
This is when you're constantly trying to predict what other people are thinking about you.
An example of this would be being at a party and, because you're not talking every much, obsessively thinking "Does everyone think I'm a loser because I'm not talking very much? I wonder if everyone thinks I'm a loser? I bet everyone thinks I'm a loser! I bet everyone thinks I'm a loser!"
Type Of Overthinking #5: Indecisiveness
This is where you get hung up on relatively simple decisions like where to eat or what to wear, for example. When you're prone to overthinking in this way, having to make a choice sends your brain into overdrive, since you can't help but think about all of the possible - yet extremely unlikely - consequences of your decision.
For example, "if I choose to wear the blue dress instead of the grey dress, then what will people think? How will it change the way they look at me? What if it makes me stand out more and I draw unnecessary attention to myself? How will that impact the chance of me getting a promotion? What if I wore the grey dress instead? How would that change things?" And so on and so forth.
Type Of Overthinking #6: Over-Reading Into Things
An example of this is when a small problem occurs, and then your mind goes into overdrive thinking of all the (usually non-existent) catastrophes that will happen as a result.
For example, after lunch you realise there's a small stain on the sleeve of your shirt, and then for the rest of the day, all you can think about is how everyone in the office will think you're a slob, how this is going to negatively impact your career, and that your boss may now never give you a promotion.
Type Of Overthinking #7: Hopeless Thoughts
This is when your brain goes into overdrive thinking hopeless thoughts - usually either about the future, or about your circumstances.
For example, thinking uncontrollably and in excess "I'll never get better ... I'll never get better ... I'll never get better ..." when you have depression.
Type Of Overthinking #8: Worthless Thoughts
This is when your brain goes into overdrive thinking worthless thoughts about yourself.
For example, "I'm an idiot ... I'm an idiot ... I'm an IDIOT!"
Type Of Overthinking #9: Mental Chatter
This is when your brain is constantly going and going and going and you can't make it stop - even about very trivial or mundane matters.
If You Don't Struggle With Overthinking:
If you don't struggle with depression, anxiety or overthinking but you have a loved one who does, then please recognise that it can be a very serious, debilitating issue, and please resolve never to tell your loved one to "just stop overthinking", to "just think logically" or to "just snap out of it".
After all, if it was that easy, then they would do it - but unfortunately stopping overthinking is much, much more difficult than that. Doing so requires treatment, hard work and time to learn and develop new, healthier, more controlled ways of thinking, and anytime someone who struggles with overthinking is told something dismissive like "just stop overthinking everything", it makes them feel misunderstood, abandoned, and it can even set them back on their road to recovery.
If You Do Struggle With Overthinking:
If you do struggle with overthinking, then the good news is that even though it won't happen overnight, you can learn how to stop overthinking. And, to help you do so, we've put together a collection of journals to help you cope with and overcome some of the most common worrying thoughts that people with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues commonly think.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.