Because here's the thing: Whether you are a few months into dating a new person, are in that early and agonising (but fun) "talking" phase, or are years into a committed long-term relationship—the going-down-the-rabbit-hole habit can cause a ton of problems for both you and your bond. So I'm going to teach you how to stop overthinking and save you a lot of unnecessary drama.
But first, why do people overthink, anyway?
In practically every case, you're obsessing over a situation or interaction that went down with another person. I mean, how often do you stop to fixate on something that you did when no one else was around? Probably never.
Overthinking is almost always in relation to someone else, since you have no possible way of knowing what another person is thinking at any given time. Overthinking can happen with coworkers, bosses, family members, friends, strangers—anyone, really—but it most often occurs (or at least, you notice it most) in regard to a romantic interest or partner.
You see, thinking about someone you like is a way of being close to them, of, quite literally, keeping them on your mind. Then when a conversation or situation comes up that, for whatever reason, makes you uncertain of how they feel about you or your relationship, you go into "figure it out" mode as a way to have control.
Yep, it's often a control thing. Let's say a guy suddenly starts texting you less frequently, or a girl you're digging hasn't initiated a third date, much to your surprise. You start rehashing everything that you said on your last date, rereading messages, trying to find hidden meaning in whatever they've done or haven't done, all in an attempt to pin their change in behaviour or lack of engagement to a particular moment.
Because if you're able to "figure it out," then you're able to "fix it." Or, at least, so it seems. Truth is, in most cases, you'll never really know why someone didn't move forward with you, and even if you somehow do, it's probably not something that can be "fixed."
That doesn't sound so bad. What's the problem?
The extreme type of overthinking is likely the kind that brought you here—catastrophic overthinking. You may know it well: He's never going to call me again. Or, I totally blew it. Or, That's the worst thing I could have possibly said; I'm such an idiot. These are the overblown negative thoughts that you might unknowingly use as a defence mechanism, to protect yourself from the sting of anticipated rejection.
If you're worried that someone might be rejecting you or losing interest in you, it feels easier to jump to an absolute conclusion. That way, if you do hear from them again, you feel a sense of relief and surprised excitement. And if you don't? Well, you've already braced yourself for that.
That's not all that detrimental on its own (you need to protect your heart, after all), but when it becomes a regular habit, all that negative thinking can really take a toll on your self-esteem.
It can also damage your relationship with partners overall because you're so used to imagining reasons why someone might reject you. You could end up projecting those imaginary reasons on the next person you date—effectively turning yourself into an anxious, walking-on-your-own-eggshells body rather than a present partner and preemptively blaming someone for things that aren't really there.
If the person has already exited (or ugh, ghosted), listing all the possible reasons why and analysing each in an attempt to understand what happened will only drive you even crazier. Again, there's no way of knowing what someone is really thinking or why they do what they do, so playing Sherlock to figure it out won't do you any good.
Alright, I get it. Now how do I stop overthinking?
1. Figure out what's driving you to overthink.
First things first, check in to see if you're on pins and needles because the person you're talking to is sending you mixed signals. Ironically, when a situation is a little confusing, you might be tantalised by it because you want to "solve the puzzle" and get your goal (the guy/girl).
If they're not being confusing but you're still combing over every text and interaction because you have a hardcore crush, be kind to yourself (it's sweet!), but then move on to step 2.
2. Remind yourself of the truth.
If the issue is a confusing person, take a sec to tell yourself that you deserve better than mixed messages and that real excitement should come from mutual interest, not confusion. So instead of getting sucked in, focus on other people until this person can stop being all over the place.
And if they're just a confusing person in general? You don't want to start a relationship on a dynamic where you have to decipher everything they say and do. That's a recipe for disaster.
3. Note where you're coming from.
When you're in a bit of a funk about something someone said or did, ask yourself: Is this about that person? Or is it actually about me?
For example, if you just had a big fight with your dad and the next morning, a coworker says something that irks you, is it the nerves around your family fight that's making you more sensitive? That's crucial intel that can help you scale back your spiralling brain.
4. Suss out where the other person is coming from.
If you're pretty certain you aren't projecting, take a minute to consider things from the other person's perspective. Maybe this person is having a bad day, just makes regularly inappropriate comments, or perhaps they remind you of your sister who you've always been competitive with.
In that case, no need to overthink. Either show them more compassion or distance yourself a bit—do what feels right to you.
5. Consider the situational context.
If the answer is no to either of those, maybe the discomfort is about a current situation: In the case of a coworker, are you both vying for the same position? In a romantic scenario, have you been burned by a previous crush before? That could make you read into things unnecessarily.
Ultimately, understanding why you're overthinking can help you stop overthinking because it takes the sting out of it.
6. Acknowledge your vulnerability.
If your overthinking is all because you're crushing on someone, and regardless of how much enthusiasm they show, you're still in your head about it, I get it. It's hard not to look for clues in every single exchange.
Let yourself feel the feels—but remember that that means you're in sensitive territory. You don't want to over-focus on someone before they've proven that they're ready to do the same for you. So do whatever you can to spend time with friends or other prospects, not just to distract yourself, but to tell your brain that there are more important things/people out there, too.
7. Put down your phone.
Physically separate yourself from your phone, which is most likely the source of all your overthinking. Leave it at home when you go for a walk, turn it off when you're with friends...whatever you can do to get literal and figurative distance from your obsession.
8. Talk it out.
Confused by your almost or actual hubs/wifey? The advantage here is that you're in a position where you can (or at least, should be able to) comfortably ask them what's behind their unusual behavior, so you can both figure out if it's something you need to address together.
Just be sure that you are never accusatory (use the old "I" statements) and always compassionate, as your goal is to get them to open up, not shut down.
9. Own your overthinking.
If nothing else, when you find yourself inevitably overthinking, do whatever you can to notice it and understand why. Literally try saying to yourself, "I don't need to go there right now." And move on to something else (something that isn't confusing!).
10. Remember that you have no control over others.
Going with the flow is hard, but when you realise that you have zero control over what other people do or say, it suddenly becomes much, much easier.
Situations become less of a big deal, and that's freeing. Kinda like getting that bad zit...just let it be.
"Dr. Chloe" Carmichael, PhD, is a relationship therapist in New York City, author of Dr. Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating, and proud member of WH's advisory board. She's here to answer all your dating, relationship, and life questions—no holds barred.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.