How overthinking can ruin your professional relationships

Date: 27/06/2023| Category: Best Practices Glossary|

Many of us are sometimes overwhelmed with anxieties, thoughts or feelings that are beyond our control, draining our emotions and our energy. We then suffer from overthinking – torrents of worries and negative emotions that undermine our daily life, our well-being and can even ruin our career.

First of all, it is worth remembering what overthinking or also called, mental rumination is. It is worth your time to understand the different types, learn how to recognize the phenomenon, its main causes and how to get out of it.

Overthinking definition

The word Overthinking literally means “to think too much”, understood in the article as the propensity to rehash, in an obsessive way, a certain number of negative thoughts or feelings.

Over the course of her research, psychology professor and researcher Susan Nolen-Hoeksema noted that overthinking affects women more than men. She also discovered that women are capable of ruminating on anything and everything, from their appearance to their family, their health, their career,… According to her, women are twice as likely to suffer from depression and it seems that chronic overthinking is one of the main causes.

Different types of overthinking

In her book, the researcher describes 3 types of overthinking, which are often combined by overthinkers:

  • Aggressive overthinking: focuses on the wrongs you imagine yourself to be the victim of
  • Autonomous overthinking: we look for the causes of the feelings we experience
  • Chaotic overthinking: all the problems invade the mind at the same time

How to recognize overthinking?

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema has developed a short questionnaire to become aware of your degree of overthinking. It exists of 10 different statements that you need to answer with the degree of times you think about it.

overthinking cause

Overthinking versus anxiety

Although often confused, overthinking and anxiety are two different things. Overthinking mainly refers to a pattern of repetitive thinking, while anxiety is a broader term that encompasses a range of mental health conditions. Anxiety can  that can be defined as follows:

“Anxiety is an emotion often felt as unpleasant that corresponds to the more or less conscious expectation of a danger or a problem to come. Anxiety is a normal phenomenon, present in all individuals. However, it can take on an excessive and pathological character in different situations: we will then speak of anxiety disorders.

Subjects suffering from anxiety disorders are invaded by this feeling of discomfort or fear secondary to an excessive anticipation of possible difficulties even before the problems have arisen, or even before the subject has identified precisely what he fears. ”

Anxiety then translates into the question “What if?”, for example “What if I forgot my text?”, “What if my connection did not work?”

Overthinkers can suffer from anxiety disorders. However overthinking can also be about events from the past, actions, situations that they would have liked to be different and that they rehash over and over.

For example, your boss comments to you about your work and you spend hours wondering what he meant, dwelling on your guilt or shame, wondering if he despises you, if you are in a professional stalemate…

What is the main overthinking cause?

One of the explanations for overthinking is biological. Brain function and organization facilitate mental rumination. But that is not all, other factors come into play and our researcher suspects the cultural upheavals of our history of playing a role in the development of this syndrome.

Following numerous studies, she concludes that this phenomenon affects above all the younger generations, who seem to have great difficulty in overcoming the obstacles of life; results confirmed by the survey conducted by Gerald Klerman and Myma Weissman of Columbia University.

For good reason, we find:

  • Lack of values: We live in a time when the questioning of societal norms is at its peak. The notion of success is more and more fluctuating and society locks us into the idea that we have never been successful enough.
  • Obsession with “everything is due to us”: always in search of justice and reward, we tend to let ourselves be overwhelmed by anger, anxiety and our need for recognition when we do not get what we want.
  • The compulsive need for palliative: we are constantly looking for quick solutions to our problems, which can provide some satisfaction in the present moment but do not solve the root of the problem.
  • Navel Cultivation: Modern psychology has emphasized the importance of self-awareness and the expression of feelings.

Overthinking consequences

The danger of overthinking or mental rumination is often to create problems that do not exist. To invent more and more dramatic explanations and to tend to draw conclusions without taking into account the other side of the story. In the long term, overthinking can have dramatic consequences on your quality of life, such as:

  • increased stress, reduced responsiveness and decision-making
  • deterioration of relationships with others
  • the contribution to behavioral or mental disorders such as depression, alcoholism, ..

What about overthinking in professional life?

The professional environment is conducive to overthinking. It is an environment where we want to excel, where we are often judged, where we have to prove ourselves, achieve objectives and interact with a lot of stakeholders. Like all employees, we need recognition and recognition of the value of our work and our skills. In short, the perfect ground to give birth to ruminating thoughts.

Here are some examples of overthinking situations that can damage your professional relationships:

  • You made a small mistake during your last presentation, which did not go unnoticed by your colleagues. You constantly relive this embarrassing moment, and go over all your calculations in your head. Depending on your type of overthinking, your reactions may be different; “Why was I wrong? How could I miss this obvious detail? What will my colleagues think of me? Will the manager withdraw me from the project? …

Obsessing over past mistakes can limit your potential at work and hurt your self-confidence, when oftentimes others quickly move on and you’re probably the only one who remembers them.

  • Let’s take the example of your manager who gave you a reflection on your work. “Why did he say that? It’s not fair, I don’t deserve this reflection. Why is he after me? Will he terminate my contract at the end of my trial period? Why didn’t I answer that? …

Obsessing over what your boss or co-workers think of you is pretty unhealthy. Everyone wants to be well regarded at work, so it’s natural to want a good working relationship, however, if it becomes an obsession, there’s a risk it could escalate and end badly. Too much rumination ends up misinterpreting, making erroneous assumptions, looking for answers to problems that do not exist and this leads to a certain misunderstanding, constantly increasing tensions or even the formation of a certain hatred of others. It’s good to remember that people are often just busy or focused on their own tasks at work, which can make them seem brash or hostile, but most of the time they’re unlikely to have anything. to do with you personally. Try not to let other people’s comments or behavior negatively affect you or your relationships. And if you think your questions are well-founded, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to understand him or simply to speak directly with the person concerned to get his point of view, understand his words or his behavior.

  • Do you often ask yourself 50,000 questions in order to achieve perfection?

Perfectionism isn’t always a bad thing as it’s obviously important that you aim to do the best job you can in any task or project, but a lot of times you just waste a lot of energy and waste a lot of time and energy. ‘efforts. Perfection does not exist, moreover it is very subjective from one person to another. So you might as well set and prioritize the requirements upstream and ask for feedback from your interlocutor rather than ruminating.

These situations are not exhaustive but very often, regardless of the situation, the overthinker tends either to enter into extreme anxiety that can lead to burn/out or depression, or to devalue and demotivate themselves or to take refuge in the easy solutions, ie to change job or employer while thinking of finding a better situation without wondering about the real reasons of our problems. Obviously this does not solve anything, quite the contrary, so you might as well learn to get out of overthinking.

How to escape overthinking ?

The following advice applies to both your private and professional life.

  • Loosen the noose of thoughts that suffocate you
    • Recognize and admit that overthinking is hurting you
    • Take time for yourself and find positive distractions or physical activity to do as soon as you enter mental rumination
    • Set up a “thought police” by writing “stop” on your table or shouting it to yourself
    • Start meditating
    • Plan rumination times from such hour to such hour if you really cannot do without them, but at least they will be controlled
    • Talking about your problems with “positive” friends/colleagues or writing them down in a diary/intimate, for example
  • Take the height and determine the direction you want to give to your life
    • Look at your situation from another perspective, preferably objective or positive
    • Accept negative emotions without giving them much space
    • Write down all possible solutions
    • Take the first step towards a positive action/approach
    • Limit expectations and set “smart” goals
    • Learn to forgive, both to others and to yourself
  • Avoid the traps to fall back into them
    • Avoid situations that arouse overthinking
    • Experience the maximum of positive emotions
    • Working on self-image

To learn more about overthinking and the solutions to get out of it, the book “These women who think too much” provides many concrete examples and explains in detail the various possible ways to get out of overthinking.

Source : Women who think too much, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema 2018,

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