Self-Talk: Overthinking

By: Amrit Abbasi (@amritabbasi)

I walked into therapy last week particularly antsy because I had something very important to talk to my therapist about. I wanted to talk to her about getting rid of a bad habit that I have because I really believe this habit breaks me down. It has come to my attention that a lot of people struggling with mental illness struggle with this bad habit as well. The bad habit I’m talking about may sound very familiar to a lot of you because everyone does it.

Overthinking. I believe the reason that those with mental illnesses seem to overthink is because of the large stigma around mental health. It’s not something people want to talk about so we tend to keep things inside which in return, starts a process of overthinking, which then turns into a very, very bad habit – something you always turn to.

I overthink nearly everything. Let me give you an example. I’m walking through a grocery store and I accidentally drop something I’m holding. Instead of picking it up and going about my day, first, I look around. If I see anyone looking at me, anyone at all, I immediately think oh, god, they must think I’m stupid. Then of course, I pick up whatever I dropped. As my anxiety kicks in, I tend to avoid everyone around me as I walk by, rushing through the store, heart beating fast, cheeks burning. I’m stupid, I’m stupid, I’m stupid. Everyone thinks I’m stupid. Why would I do that? What’s wrong with me? I hate myself. Though people would forget this rather quickly, it sticks in my mind for the rest of the day. Not only do I think about it the whole day, but I put myself down for the rest of the day. My whole day revolves around that moment when, let’s be honest, no one cared but me.

However, overthinking doesn’t even have to take over in a social situation! I could be thinking about how I have a lot of homework. Then I start thinking “What if I failed my next test?” which then turns into “What if I failed this class?” That then turns into “I’m never going to graduate.” It always ends up with the same thought, though. And that thought is “This is useless. I should just give up. I amount to nothing.” I cannot stress how much I do this. This isn’t a once in a while thing – this is a multiple times a day thing. This has completely demolished my self-esteem.

When you are dealing with a mental illness, it really takes a toll on your self-esteem. It makes you feel like an outcast. I don’t think I have ever met someone with a mental illness that hasn’t been depressed and dealt with very low self-esteem at one point. I also haven’t met a person with mental illness that doesn’t overthink. We are already struggling so much and then we add overthinking on top of that and it puts us in disastrous situations. But we are attacking ourselves when we need to be lifting ourselves up. We are attacking ourselves when we need us the most.

There are 4 types of negative self-talks:

  • The Worries – Promotes anxiety: anticipate/imagine the worst, “what if…”
  • The Critic – Promotes low self-esteem: judging ourselves, over evaluating, “you stupid…”
  • The Victim – Promotes depression: hopelessness, “I can’t do this…”
  • The Perfectionist – Promotes stress/burnout: pushing, “I have to…”

So how do we counter these thoughts? Avoid negatives! Don’t say things with negative words in them, even if it’s a good statement. For example, instead of saying “I’m not going to miss an assignment,” think, “I am confident I will finish my homework.” Do you see how that sounds so much more positive? When we put negatives into our words, our thoughts seem to go negative. It’s very easy to go from “I’m not going to miss an assignment,” to “I have to finish it,” (Perfectionist) to “I can’t do this,” (Victim) to “I’m so stupid,” (Critic). Do you see how those all link together? Instead, if you say you are confident and that you can do it, you’ll be more prone to believing in yourself.

Be affirmative. I am able to do this! I’m doing awesome! I’m so worthy! Do not say things like “I’m not doing great, but I’m sure I can get there…” No. Do not doubt yourself for even a second. You can. You are. You will.

Always stay in present tense, use first person, and use I statements. I can. I am. I will. I can do this. I am doing this. I will continue doing this.

The most important thing – believe in yourself! You have to have some sort of belief in what you’re saying. The more you lift yourself up, the more belief you will have in yourself.

If none of these work, try this approach when you find yourself overthinking. Answer these questions (we’ll use my grocery store situation):

  • Is there substantial evidence to my thought? (Did anyone actually say I’m stupid?)
  • Is there evidence contrary to my thought? (Nobody said anything…)
  • Am I jumping to conclusions? (I mean, nobody said anything, and they looked away pretty fast…Yes, I am jumping to conclusions.)
  • What would a friend think about this situation? (They wouldn’t even say anything!)
  • If I look at this positively, how is it different? (I dropped something. Everyone drops things. Nobody said anything because it wasn’t a big deal. It was normal!)
  • And my favorite, will this matter a year or five years from now? (NO!!!!!!!)

We are already dealing with so much in our lives. We do not need our own thoughts to destroy us. We need our thoughts to lift us up and tell us that we are indeed going to be okay, because guess what? We are going to be okay!

I think the most important thing, though, is to talk about it. Talk about your feelings. Talk about your thoughts. Talk about your mental illness. Do not be ashamed. Your mental illness is a part of you but it will never define you unless you let it define you. Don’t ever let it define you. We are more than our anxiety. We are more than our depression. We are more than our bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorder. We are more than any of our mental illnesses. Don’t let your thoughts take over how you feel about yourself unless these thoughts are clearly positive. Please, take care of yourself.