Most of us experience overthinking: that vicious, broken record of negative thoughts regarding a spectrum of topics, ranging from your personal health and career to your family, relationships, social image and much more. Many of us wish for a button to simply turn it all off so we can get enough sleep during the night or focus on a task at hand. It seems like a constant battle between rationality and emotionality, wasting so much time trying to clean up what feels like a hundred thoughts a minute polluting your brain(1,2). Consequently, overthinking is not only computationally wasteful but after a certain threshold, becomes destructive as our neural networks begin to misclassify received input(3).
- Overthinking and other Disorders
- Types of Destructive Thoughts
- ADHD and Overthinking
- Review of ADHD
- Knowing Your Triggers
- The Side Effects of ADHD Overthinking
- Balance in Key
- Coping Mechanisms and Strategies
- Medication to treat ADHD & Anxiety
- Monitoring your Thoughts with CareClinic
Crossing the Threshold
Once you step over that line, your thoughts can become intrusive, unhealthy, and put plainly, harmful. For example, imagine you’re having a conversation with someone, describing a story about how you once pulled a funny face that made your little brother laugh so hard, the milk he was drinking sprayed out of his nose! The person you are talking to gives a distracted smile and asks you how old your little brother is now.
While the conversation continues, you wonder why the story didn’t make the person laugh. That story has been a hit with every person you’ve told it to. Maybe the face you pulled telling the story was so unattractive, they just found it repulsive rather than funny? Maybe they think you’re just weird and have terrible taste in humor. But what if they tell this to other people? What if rumors start spreading that your are gross and annoying after telling such a story? Maybe everyone will think your are weird and decide not to be friends with you. What if you really are just bad at telling stories and weird for telling a story about nose milk? Do you really have a terrible sense of humor? What if, what if, what if!
Yet, the reality of the situation may be simple: they did chuckle at the story and were willing to carry on a conversation. Perhaps they just had other things on their mind, and it wasn’t anything you did to damper their reaction. Perhaps they just didn’t find it super funny, but that doesn’t mean they judge you for it or think any less of you.
The Destructive Nature of Overthinking
An overthinking mind never stops. This constant ruminating over your actions, words, future, and past, can take a dark turn, severely damaging one’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth, causing additional stress and worry. Much like a magnet; one bad thought can attract another and another until you’re drowning and too exhausted to swim back up to the surface(4). Furthermore, overthinking can be a symptom of a host of other mental health issues, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)(1). For individuals with ADHD, it is essential to understand the differences between overthinking vs. ADHD, if overthinking is a sign of ADHD, if ADHD causes overthinking and how to stop overthinking altogether.
Overthinking and other Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Overthinking and anxiety go hand in hand. In fact, generalized anxiety disorder is commonly defined as excessive worry regarding several things, ranging from relationships, to money, much like overthinking. Additionally, more often than not, anxious overthinking is often related to future endeavors, while overthinking related to depression encompasses thinking about the past. While we all have experienced worry, overthinking related to this disorder must be regarding unrelated topics for a minimum of 6 months to be considered a symptom of GAD. Individuals suffering may also find it difficult to control their thoughts, and may notice interference in their functionality, restlessness, agitation, difficulty concentrating, and sleep impairment(1).
An example of this: is procrastination. If you are anything like me, procrastinating is probably a common word in your everyday vocabulary. Leaving your tasks until they simply cannot be ignored any longer may be a result of overthinking. It is easy to ignore what needs to be done when you can justify your actions in your thoughts – maybe your essay would be better if you wait to get as much information as possible from the latest lecture, or perhaps your friends haven’t started their assignment yet and you don’t want to be labeled a nerd. Whatever the reason, overthinking can easily be pinpointed as the source of your procrastination.
Racing thoughts are one of the first symptoms of a manic episode for someone with bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. While bipolar II is a milder version of bipolar I, both are characterized by a dramatic shift is moods from mania (or hypomania in relation to bipolar II), to severe depression. Overthinking and crowded thoughts are frequently reported as a sign of the beginning of a manic episode and have been used as a key identifier in this disorder(5).
Types of Destructive Thoughts
In clinical terms, overthinking can cause anxiety due to cognitive errors – that is, worry due to mistakes in your logical thinking. These errors can be sorted into 3 categories: catastrophizing, all-or-nothing thinking and overgeneralization(1).
Catastrophizing is more commonly known as the worst-case scenario. During this error, we tend to overestimate the likelihood of the worst-case scenario occurring due to our own ruminating thoughts.
All or Nothing
All or nothing thinking is exactly what it sounds like: the notion that there is no gray area, there are simply 2 extreme scenarios that can take play. You may feel as though you are either the best student in class, or the worst of the bunch, but no in-between.
Imagine your trying a new recipe for the first time and it comes out not quite what you expected. You may try again, but still, it doesn’t turn out quite as you had hoped. You may conclude that trying to make this dish will always go badly for you, when in reality, a few tweaks may have it coming out perfect. This is an overgeneralization, the assumption that things that go wrong, will go wrong across all events.
ADHD and Overthinking
While we all have our bad days, dealing with intrusive overthinking, individuals with ADHD can have a particularly difficult time quieting the noise, leading to frustration and even depression. The ADHD mind is creative, overly active, and restless, the perfect partner to overthinking(6). So, when comparing overthinking vs. ADHD, it is clear to see how the 2 go hand in hand. Once a certain event has triggered a train of thought, the mind can get easily consumed and run with it, thinking in loops faster than a non-ADHD mind and wasting so much time(2). So, is overthinking a sign of ADHD? Short answer: yes, it very well can be. Does ADHD cause overthinking? Well, while it may not be a direct cause, it can certainly make you overthink more often to greater extents. This is why it is important to know how to stop overthinking.
Review of ADHD
What is ADHD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects the individual’s behaviour, making them restless, unable to focus and impulsive. In most cases, these symptoms become noticeable at an early age, leading to most diagnoses made between the ages of 3 to 7, affecting approximately 4 to 12% of children(7,8). While symptoms may improve with age, many people struggling with ADHD may continue to do so well into their adult years(7).
A direct and distinct cause for the disorder is currently unknown, however, the disorder does appear to run in families, suggesting a genetic component. However, clinical studies have hinted toward several potential common key features in individuals with ADHD, including possible differences in brain structure, premature birth and low birth weight, and smoking or alcohol use during pregnancy. While ADHD can be classified as a learning and behavioural disability, this disorder has proven to occur in people across a span of intellectual abilities but is more common in individuals with proven learning deficits(7).
Symptoms are broken down into 2 types of behavioural problems: inattentiveness, and hyperactivity and impulsiveness. While the symptoms of many may fall into both categories, about 2 to 3 in 10 people with the disorder may only have issues with inattentiveness, but not hyperactivity, leading to a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD), rather than ADHD. Additionally, ADHD is more common in boys, while ADD is more common in girls comparatively(7).
Childhood and Teenage Symptoms
Symptoms of ADHD change during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Childhood and teenage symptoms are well-defined and noticeable up until the age of 6(7).
Inattentiveness Symptoms Include…
- Short attention span(7)
- Easily distracted(7)
- Making careless mistakes(7)
- Appearing forgetful or losing things(7)
- Being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming(7)
- Appearing to be unable to listen to or carry out instructions(7)
- Constantly changing activity or task(7)
- Having difficulty organising tasks(7)
Hyperactivity and Impulsive Symptoms Include…
- Constantly fidgeting(7)
- Inability to Concentrate(7)
- Excessive physical movement(7)
- Excessive talking(7)
- Being unable to wait their turn(7)
- Acting without thinking(7)
- Interrupting conversations(7)
Anywhere from 10 to 60% of adults diagnosed with ADHD in childhood continue to experience symptoms(8). Adults’ symptoms appear much subtler as compared to childhood, with less hyperactive symptoms but steady maintenance of inattentiveness(7). These symptoms may include:
- For example, Lack of attention to detail(7,8)
- continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones(7)
- poor organizational skills(7,8)
- inability to focus or prioritize (7,8)
- continually losing or misplacing things(7)
- restlessness and edginess(7)
- difficulty keeping quiet, and speaking out of turn(7)
- blurting out responses and often interrupting others(7)
- mood swings, irritability and a quick temper(7)
- inability to deal with stress(7)
- for instance, extreme impatience(7)
- chaotic lifestyles (8)
- for instance risky and chaotic lifestyles (8)
- substance abuse(8)
The CareClinic platform has a built-in symptom tracker to stay ahead of your symptoms and monitor them closely with ease. Record and track symptom patterns and themes, all in one place, at any time of the day!
Knowing Your Triggers
We’re all different. We experience different events and react in different ways. Taking a step back and recognizing your personal triggers for overthinking is a fantastic way to avoid the seemingly never-ending loop and not waste so much time. Some of the more common triggers include a lack of sleep, stressful situations, lack of social interaction and substance abuse, but it is important to realize the list does not end here. Many different situations, whether broad or specific, can kick-start your overthinking, but knowing your triggers and avoiding or altering them can help to minimize the impact and stop the waste of time(10).
The Side Effects of ADHD Overthinking
Needless to say, ruminating over your thoughts, especially as an individual with ADHD, can have significant harmful side effects(4). Listed below are three of the more common ones.
Over-analysing even the most basic of conversations can take a significant toll on your social battery. It may feel as though anyone who meets you finds you repulsive, insults you or simply doesn’t like you(4). You may find yourself withdrawing from relationships, whether familial or otherwise, forcing you to isolate yourself from others in your life.
Decrease in Confidence
Imagine you’re late for a meeting. As an ADHD overthinker, you begin to beat yourself up about that same moment over the next week, and by the end of it, your confidence is shot. You may feel as if you’re a disappointment, a poor employee and may struggle due to the significant drop in your confidence levels.
Decrease in Immune Function
Since your negative thoughts are at the forefront of your mind, time spent thinking and considering your physical well-being can slip, causing you to experience a decrease in your immune system function. You may get sick easier or feel unhealthy due to your ADHD overthinking(4).
Balance in Key
You may be wondering how to stop overthinking altogether. When stuck in an overthinking spiral, it can feel impossible to divert your attention away from your negative thoughts, especially with severe ADHD. Life balance is essential in these situations, it keeps you going(4). Take for example, a woman diagnosed with a terminal illness.
She is given a few more years to live while undergoing treatment, but things don’t look good. Over the next year, she decides to make a conscious effort to prioritize the things that matter to her and distract from her condition. She emphasizes exercising, spending time with those she loves, and trying new hobbies and activities, all to keep herself busy and distracted from her illness. After the year, she feels better than ever and while she may not physically be in picture-perfect health, she feels fulfilled and positive.
Diversion of your thought is well within your arms reach, it’s just a matter of making a conscious effort to balance the other positive things in life to help keep away the negative thoughts. Now, it’s just a question of how? The CareClinic App is a great place to start by tracking things like you sleep patterns, exercise and nutrition to ensure you’re prioritizing the important parts of your health. These functions are easily accessible under the Activity and Sleep function on the general check-in page!
Coping Mechanisms and Strategies
Oftentimes, developing coping mechanisms is a great way to reduce overthinking and quiet the ADHD brain(6). Strategies are variable and each may work better for a different person, so try out as many as you would like until you find something that works best for you.
Writing is a great tool many uses to help process their emotions(6). Many of us, myself included struggle with expressing how we feel to others we know, or even ourselves, but bottling it in can build up the pressure until you explode. Stepping back and writing about a situation, and how you feel and rereading it helps to give you another perspective. You may read back what you wrote when you’re calmer and realize you’re thoughts were irrational, or you may come to a conclusion about what triggers you or a solution to a problem. Regardless, journaling allows you to release and process your emotions in a healthy manner, hence why it’s one of my favorite coping mechanisms. The Diary function located in the CareClinic App is a great place to log your mood, circumstance and situation on a daily basis to keep all your journaling in one place. Triggers, potential triggers, how you feel, and recent events can all be recorded without hassle.
Make a Plan, Stick to your Goal
No matter how many times someone tells me, I will always Google my symptoms. It is an unhealthy habit that easily leads to overthinking about what could be wrong with me and if it really IS life-threatening. The easiest way to reduce overthinking in this scenario: make a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes the simplest action can make a world of difference in putting your mind at peace(6).
Talk it Out
When you’re stuck in a rut, one of the best things you can do is seek advice from a fresh pair of eyes. Whether your mother, father, best friend cousin or neighbor, simply speaking to someone you trust can alleviate your racing brain and help you feel better overall(6).
Re-framing your negative thoughts sound harder than it really is. Instead of beating yourself up over being late to a meeting, remind yourself that you barely got enough sleep, and you need to prioritize your own health sometimes too. Remind yourself that next time, you can make sure you get to bed earlier and set an alarm on time to prevent it from happening again. Thinking about situations that upset you in a different way can reduce overthinking and help you move on with your day(6).
The simple act of acknowledging your thoughts but firmly stating that they will not have an impact on your state of well-being can work wonders on a restless mind. Meditating, breathing exercises, quiet space, and “me time” can quiet those all-consuming thoughts and remind us that while the future is uncertain, it wastes so much time worrying about the future, when we could be living in the present(6). Mindfulness allows us to attend to our present experience, abandon the notion of interpreting the experience and adjust our attitude as necessary(10).
Medication to treat ADHD & Anxiety
Medicine is commonly used to treat anxiety and ADHD and may be recommended by your doctor if your ADHD overthinking become debilitating. Currently, there are many different types of medicine licensed for the treatment of ADHD, such as(7):
- For example Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)
- For instance, Adderall (amphetamine)
- Concerta (methylphenidate)
- For example, Tenex (guanfacine)
- Wellbutrin for anxiety
While they are not a cure, the use of these medicines can help you feel calmer, less impulsive and may allow you to move on from many of the symptoms of ADHD, including overthinking(7). The CareClinic App allows you to record your medication and implement reminders to take your dose whenever you chose. Additionally, refill reminders can also be set up to ensure you never miss another dose and get ahead of your ADHD overthinking or any other symptoms. Taking care of yourself has never been easier! It is always recommended to speak to your doctor and discuss your options to decide if and which type of medication is best suited to you and your needs.
Monitoring your Thoughts with CareClinic
Managing ADHD is not easy, which is why you may find it helpful to use an ADHD planner. Moreover, the CareClinic App is a great resource that allows you to plan, track, and analyze your ADHD symptoms, triggers, medications and more while navigating this disorder. It can be difficult, but recording your thoughts, moods and circumstances can help you develop a strategy to eliminate overthinking and restore yourself to the best version you can be! Install the free iOS or Android App using the banner below.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2022, May 19). How To Stop Overthinking: Tips and Coping Strategies. Health Essentials. Retrieved from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-stop-overthinking/
- Roberts, W. (2021, April 5). The Link Between ADHD and Overthinking: Three Ways to Tame your Brain. Focused Mind ADHD Counseling. Retrieved from: https://focusedmindadhdcounseling.com/the-link0between-adhd-and-overthinking/
- Kaya, Y., Hong, S., & Dumitras, T. (2019). Shallow-Deep Networks: Understanding and Mitigating Network Overthinking. Proceedings of Machine Learning Research, 97, 3301-3310. http://proceedings.mlr.press/v97/kaya19a.html
- The ADHD Centre. (2018). Effective Ways To Fight Against ADHD & Overthinking. Retrieved from: https://www.adhdcentre.co.uk/ways-to-fight-against-adhd-overthinking/
- Weiner, L., Ossola, P., Causin, J-B., Desseilles, M., Keizer, I., Metzger, J-Y., Krafes, E. G., Monteil, C., Morali, A., Garcia, S., Marchesi, C., Giersch, A., Bertschy, G., & Weibel, S. (2019, August 1). Racing thoughts revisited: A key dimension of activation in bipolar disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 255, 69-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2019.05.033
- Maynard, S. (2021, March 24). How to Stop Overthinking Things: A User’s Manual for Your ADHD Brain. Retrieved from: https://www.additudemag.com/how-to-stop-overthinking-adhd-brain/
- (n.d.). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/
- Gentile, J. P., Atiq, R., & Gillig, P. M. (2006). Adult ADHD: diagnosis, differential diagnosis, and medication management. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 3(8), 25-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957278/
- Viveros, J., & Schramm, D. (2018). Strategies for Dealing with Life’s Difficulties. Utah State University. Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2865&context=extension_curall
- Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2005, December 29). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 373-386. https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20237