It is a fact of life that nothing operating in the realm of excesses begets virtue. Anything overly done is overtly detrimental. Even thinking. Hence the term ‘overthinking’ was coined.
Much like a drug, engaging in obsessive thought is incredibly addictive. And like drug addiction, it makes no grand entrance. It gradually creeps up on you. Like a prisoner chipping away at the walls of your sanity. If not kept in check, this pattern of thought can take over, becoming an all-consuming vortex that even the strongest swimmers can’t escape from.
The Mind of a Child
The mind of an infant is likened to a blank canvas. Devoid of the brushstrokes of life, juvenile thoughts are ideally whimsical. They lack substantial reference of regret from their past and are hopeful about the future.
Their grasp of life is naïve at best. The concept of consequence and other hard-hitting realities are comparable to the mythical monsters depicted in the folktales narrated to them. Even after unceasing warnings by their guardians of the cause-and-effect relationship, the child can’t help but wonder “what if…but…perhaps…in another reality, a parallel reality…” They can’t help but hope.
With time comes maturity and the weight of the world’s decisions with it. We grow more and more conscious of our immediate surroundings. More mindful of what the norm in society is. Other people’s perception of our conduct begins to matter to us. No man is an island, we realize. Conform or be dubbed an outcast.
The little voice in our heads gets amplified by the day. Our minds become consumed by myriad thoughts that are more often than not conformative. No longer does society need to beat our every action into shape. Now, we do it ourselves. We become our harshest critics encouraged by the voice in our heads that constantly reminds us nobody knows us more than ourselves. We subject ourselves to scrutiny every which way. The once full-of-hope child becomes the dull full-of-self-doubt adult they vowed never to become. The child-like wonder that once sparkled in our eyes dissipates into a grey indifference.
The firewood at the rack laughs at the evening embers- oblivious of the fact that it will cook tomorrow’s breakfast.
The Thinker, The Overthinker
August Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker at the grounds of the Musee Rodin in Paris is a famous work of art which depicts a man deep in thought, sitting on a rock with one hand resting on his chin and the other on his knee. This masterpiece has captured the imagination of people all over the world, who are drawn to its powerful depiction of introspection and contemplation.
Where I come from, an overthinker is distinguished from the thinker by the placement of his hands. The overthinking man cups his cheeks inside both his palms. In Swahili we call it “kushika tama”. We consider it a sign of anguish and deep thought. Anyone spotted doing so is assumed to be in despair. Your head is so heavy with thoughts, it needs the support of both of your hands.
Overthinking, Perfectionism ,and Inaction
Overthinking, perfectionism and inaction are distinct flames that feed the same fire. The three are as inextricably intertwined as the musketeers.
It starts with overthinking, as we strive for the best possible outcome and get bogged down by excessive thoughts and considerations. This leads to perfectionism, as we want everything to be perfect and flawless, but often fall into the trap of never feeling like it’s good enough. Finally, this cycle culminates in inaction, as we become paralyzed by our own thoughts and expectations. The endless pursuit of perfection prevents us from taking the necessary steps to achieve our goals and reach our aspirations.
Overthinking and Mental Health
It is said that marriage is made in heaven, but so are lightning and thunder. Overthinking and mental health issues are closely related as well.
Overthinking can have a significant impact on our mental health and lead to various psychological issues. Chronic overthinking has been linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and neuroticism. It can also manifest through symptoms such as irritability, lethargy, and insomnia, which can further strain our mental well-being. In some cases, the negative effects of overthinking can even lead to physical ailments and social isolation.
Resources for Overthinkers
- Books: There are several books that offer insights on how to manage overthinking. I recommend books such as “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
- Therapy: A good therapist can help you learn new ways of thinking and develop coping skills to manage overthinking through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other mindfulness-based approaches that have been found to be effective.
- Online communities: Online forums and support groups can provide a sense of community and an opportunity for you to connect with others who might be struggling with overthinking.
- Mindfulness and meditation: Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help calm the mind and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Exercise: Though oversold, old-school coping mechanisms including exercise, physical activity, and nature trails are also effective. They stimulate endorphins, which are natural mood enhancers, and leave one feeling grounded.
Brighter Days Ahead
Overthinking is a complex issue that affects many individuals in different ways. It can range from mild worry to severe anxiety, and can impact every aspect of a person’s life. From their relationships and work to their mental and physical health. It is important to approach each person’s case with an open and unbiased mind. We must recognize that everyone experiences and deals with overthinking differently. While simple coping strategies like mindfulness and self-reflection could work for some people, others may benefit from professional support and guidance . The key is to understand the individual’s unique experience and help them find the support and resources they need to manage their overthinking.
It is also important for us to constantly remind ourselves that the endless pursuit of perfection can prevent us from taking the necessary steps to achieve our goals and reach our aspirations. It’s important to break this cycle and find a healthy balance between striving for excellence and taking action. Only then can we truly move forward and make progress in our lives.