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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Overthinking leads to stress

A woman holds her hands to her head while sitting with a computer in front of her. Overthinking can cause problems for both your mental and physical health. (valentinrussanov | Getty Images)

Overthinking is when you over analyze every little detail and add on thoughts and ideas that aren’t true or necessary; it can lead to worry and stress. 

Suzanne Degges-White, chair of Counseling and Counselor Education at NIU and a licensed counselor, defined overthinking as constantly fretting over things. 

“When you spend too much time worrying about making decisions or something that’s going to happen in the future,” Degges-White said.

When you think about a decision you want to make over and over, you overlook the truth and the fact you’ve already made up your mind. 

Overthinking can cause you to underestimate your decision-making ability.

“When you can’t just say ‘this is enough; I made my decision; I’m ready to go, that’s how you know overthinking is at play,” Degges-White said. 

Overthinking is common and many people are aware of its impact.  

“Giving too much thought to an issue that doesn’t need it,” said Sidele Anyang, a sophomore nursing major, when asked about her definition of overthinking. 


The day is over and you think everything has gone well, but your mind begins to replay moments from earlier that day. 

You question your behavior or someone else’s; you start to feel ashamed, embarrassed or upset and the more you worry about it, the more you stress. 

“The chance of doing something you wish you hadn’t done increases,” Degges-White said. 

Instead of thinking everything is fine or will get better, you second guess your actions which only makes things worse. 

“Interactions I think went a weird way – if I say something awkward, that usually causes a lot of overthinking,” said Emileigh Williams, a sophomore communicative disorders major.

It’s hard to enjoy a beautiful day or move past something when you ruminate over the small things. 

Overthinking can hold you back in many areas of life. 

“Overthinking can become a habit that can get in the way of interacting with people, making decisions and it can create more stress,” Degges-White said. 

Williams gave an example of what happens when she starts overthinking. 

“My organization, I’m behind in classes because of my overthinking,” Williams said. “I don’t prioritize things at that moment. I lack motivation. It gives me a little bit of depression.” 

“Our brains are like plastic,” Degges-White said. “They can change over time, and when we worry constantly and overthink, it’s like we’re wiring this groove into our brain, metaphorically speaking.” 

It’s not too late to change how you think. Self-awareness can give you perspective which can help you see your thought process. Through this, not only will you think before you speak and act but also be able to see the bigger picture. 

“Recognizing when you’re getting stuck in your head and in your feelings is important because you want to make the best decisions,” said Degges-White. “Best decisions aren’t made when you’re wrapped into your feelings.” 

We aren’t perfect and neither are our thoughts, but if we can take a moment to be aware of them we’ll see it’s a step closer to gaining control of our overthinking brain. 

“We need to recognize it and once we do that we can move forward easily,” Degges-White said. 

“It happens in stages. I’ll start thinking and then overthink about what I’m thinking,” Williams said. “Once it starts being conflicting, I just snap back into reality, like, why am I thinking about it?” 

“It’s like why am I thinking about this subject, why can’t my mind get off this subject,” Anyang said. “I’ll overthink about a test, and I notice after that it was nothing.” 

Instead of sitting and worrying, you can do something to get yourself out of that funk you’re in.  

“You’re wasting energy worrying, you’re not the steps,” Degges-White said. “Worrying isn’t gonna solve the problem: do something constructive.”

For some, taking care of yourself is constructive, and it can lead to less overthinking.

“Self-care day: I already try to do it once a week,” Williams said. “I don’t do any homework. I’ll put on a show or YouTube, take a bath, do some self-care stuff, eat a snack and lay in bed.” 

You’re more than your mind, you are also your body. Sometimes, focusing on something in front of you, something you can do, can help you quiet your mind, can lead you to be more realistic about whatever it is you’re overthinking about. 

Know that you’re not the only over-thinker out there, ask a friend to lend a sympathetic ear. 

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