How to stop overthinking things at work all the time


Intense reflection is a sign that you're someone who is conscientious and wants to assess risks thoroughly. You just have to remember not to let a tendency to worry get out of hand. Photo: dpa

Did the boss ignore me when I said "Hello" to them this morning? Can I really call the client on holiday if it's urgent? Was my presentation good enough?

If you think too much about every step, every call and every conversation at work; you'll never get ahead.

Over time, employees can drive themselves and their whole team crazy. But how much thinking is normal? How much is too much? And how do you get out of the rut of constant overthinking?

Thinking a lot is not necessarily a bad thing. "It doesn't hurt to think before you do something. Not even at work. It's a personality trait," says Florian Becker, a professor of business psychology.

Intense reflection is a sign that you're someone who is conscientious and wants to assess risks thoroughly. You just have to remember not to let a tendency to worry get out of hand. "That's when it can become a problem."

Conscientious reflection

But where is the fine line between conscientious reflection and more pathological levels of overthinking?

"You can tell what is a healthy amount by the personal level of suffering and whether your behaviour is having a negative impact on your life," says career counsellor Ragnhild Struss.

Some people brood on things for so long that they feel blocked, and end up not taking action on things and postponing important meetings and deadlines because not everything has been thought through yet.

Typical characteristics of overthinking include formulations in the subjunctive and asking neverending questions in an inner dialogue. You often end up thinking about situations that could possibly occur in the future, "even if in the present there are no signs of them happening".

But how do you stop yourself going round in circles?

"The first thing we should be aware of is that we can consciously remodel our brains," says Becker.

Just as we should pay attention to healthy nutrition, we should focus on more helpful thoughts for our mental health. For example, it can help to surround yourself with people who radiate good vibes and positive energy.

Struss says it's important for all of us to pay more attention to ourselves and practise self-care.

"Ask yourself: What is good for me? What do I need to feel safe and good?"

In the long run, your self-worth will be strengthened and you'll be able to take action again instead of feeling at the mercy of circumstance.

Build up your inner resistance

The "worry chair" – an exercise from psychotherapy – can also help: Take a seat on it every day, set a timer for 10 to 30 minutes, which you then use exclusively for thinking and contemplating. It's a good idea to write down all of your worries.

Then, at some point, the worry chair starts to become annoying. "Over time, you build up an inner resistance to overthinking and worrying," says Struss.

According to Becker, a pro-and-con list can also help prevent you from constantly imagining in your head how bad everything is. The goal is to take the problem out of the abstract and make it into something that can be rationally understood and analysed. "This makes it manageable."

But what can you do in intense moments?

"The most important thing is to establish a relationship, to communicate," says Struss. This can mean telling your manager or the team openly that you are afraid of next week's big presentation and asking for more time or support.

"Being able to stand up for your own weaknesses with confidence ultimately shows more courage than covering up your weaknesses."

Another tip: Wash your hands off responsibility. If you're thinking about whether your boss ignored you when said "Hello" this morning, be pragmatic.

"The answer is: They might have, but I can't know," says Struss. If their behaviour really had something to do with you, it would be up to the boss to communicate that. "Otherwise, I don't need to worry about it anymore. Period." – dpa/Katja Sponholz

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