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Therapy for Overthinking

Full disclosure: I have sat here overthinking how to PERFECTLY begin this blog post for WEEKS. No cap, as the cool kids say. (My teenager would murder me for typing that. Also no cap.) Do I focus the conversation on the therapy for overthinking? Should it be titled, “Perfectionism and its Pitfalls” or something more pithy? Do I need an outline? Pictures? Memes?? GIFs?!!

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m tired already, and (chatGPT aside) this blog won’t write itself. So here we are.

A good friend and colleague told me once, “Done is better than perfect.” I forget the context of our conversation, but no doubt it was connected to something I was avoiding getting started on because I wasn’t EXACTLY SURE how to lay it all out, so I was engaging in one of my favorite mental pastimes: Procrastination. Ah, yes, the beloved cognitive cousin of overthinking and perfectionism, the seemingly endless cycle of “well, if I just put off doing the thing, I won’t screw it up, because I can’t even think of how to get started on it.” My favorite. (All the teenager cap here, y’all. All of it.)

How do you know if these things are beginning to (or continuing to, if you’re a veteran overthinker, perfectionist, or procrastinator) turn against you? Here are some things you might experience, if you’re getting really good at overthinking or you’re becoming a perfectionist (AKA you’re a people-pleaser):

  • You feel anxious. You think and think and think and think EVEN MORE about a looming deadline, a stack of chores, or something that’s now in the past but which won’t leave your brain, even when you’re trying to sleep. You might even feel anxious and overthink something enjoyable, like planning a long-overdue vacation. Shoot, you might notice you’re stressed out while ON that vacation, worrying about the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” aspects of your trip, or–gasp!--the vacation not taken because you had the nerve to choose THIS ONE RIGHT NOW instead. (Honestly, who wants to overthink their vacation while they’re taking it? But it happens often.)

  • The other side of the emotional overload coin: depression. You feel sad, hopeless, lacking energy or appetite, you can’t sleep, you’re just uninterested in anything you usually enjoy. Maybe you feel suicidal, too. For adolescents, depression can show up as irritability, avoidance, and withdrawal; some adults act this way, too, when they're depressed.

  • You’re burned out. What’s burnout? It’s the physical, mental, and emotional byproduct of overdoing whatever it is you do at the expense of your own needs. People experience burnout when they put everyone’s needs and tasks ahead of their own. Burnout happens in the absence of life balance. (More on this topic later.) What’s really interesting is that so many, many people experience burnout but can take YEARS to realize it–but what they DO notice might be things like high blood pressure, skin conditions, autoimmune reactions, insomnia, poor relationships with loved ones, and the like.

  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors might show up. This hearkens back to my first paragraph: I put off writing this blog because I needed to think of the PERFECT opening line (and oh, the irony of the one it now has!), and because I didn’t want to mess it up. The hallmark trait of OCD is a significant devotion to the need for order and control at the expense of being able to engage in a “normal” or typical set of life roles. We shrinks call something “disordered” when it significantly impairs a person’s ability to be them the way they want to, so to speak.

  • Relationship problems erupt. Maybe you don’t see problems in ALL of your relationships due to overthinking and perfectionism–but maybe some of your relationships are more obviously susceptible to harm from this process than others. You might have a lot of trouble saying “No” to people (incidentally, this two-letter word is an actual full sentence. Try it sometime. Just say, “No,” to the next request you get. Don’t explain, don’t offer alternatives. Just. Say. No.) and may begin feeling resentful of all the help you offer to others, when you don’t necessarily see it return back to you when YOU are the one needing help.

(Spoiler alert: the last person folks will recognize as in need of help or support is going to be you, because you show up to everyone else as in charge, ready to tackle their problems, offering yourself and your energy and your time and your resources. It’s hard to turn that urge off, isn’t it? But it’s likely even harder to ASK FOR HELP FROM OTHERS.)

Don’t despair. There is a light at the end of this perfectionistic, overthinking, stress-riddled tunnel. I’m not saying the work will be easy all the time, because nothing worthwhile truly is easy, but it’s possible to disentangle yourself from the trap of overthinking and overdoing and overhelping and begin to find ways to put yourself and YOUR needs…first. Okay, maybe not ALL the time right away, or maybe not ever; some habits are really difficult to break.

Truth bomb: you are absolutely capable of learning new habits and new ways to put a pause on the immediate urge to fix, help, save, manage everything for everyone. Superpowers like being an overachiever are super in part because they aren’t called on for ALL THE THINGS, just when they’re most needed.

Therapy for overthinking, perfectionism, and all of the associated mental health struggles and pitfalls is one of my specialties, and I’m here to help. I know this process well (see the start of this blog and exactly how long it took me to get going on it…), and I know that the drawbacks and negative consequences of trying to do too many things or doing things to perfection are ones you’d probably like to avoid, or reduce. Reach out and schedule your appointment soon. Don’t overthink it. ;)

(For more information, click here)



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