Overcoming Overthinking: the warning signs & strategies to help your team

by Dominic Atkinson

In our previous issue we discussed the rapid changes happening due to the adoption of AI. The constant experimentation and speed of change with new AI tools and skills can ironically bring things to a grinding halt for some.

This brings us to today's topic, ‘Overthinking’.

We’re going to cover what it is exactly, the warning signs you need to be aware of, and four ways to spot solutions and deal with these warnings.

As always we’ll share with you insights into — how we do it as coaches!

Thinking things over… and over… and over.

We think a lot about work because we spend so much time there. Our career is important to our sense of self, so it’s not surprising that we often think about it, even when we’re not working.

Overthinking in an organisation leads to slower decisions, less innovation and missed opportunities. So getting a handle on it brings a distinct competitive advantage.

Here’s a quick example: A colleague says something critical about a presentation you worked hard on. You feel hurt by their comment, and then you keep replaying it in your mind, thinking about it over and over again.

According to overthinking expert Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, the thoughts of overthinkers very frequently revolve around:

  • Recent events they wish had gone better
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Feelings of fatigue or physical pain
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Lack of motivation or feeling passive
  • Feeling trapped or unable to escape
  • Feelings of sadness or anxiety.

Some root causes of overthinking

: Striving for flawless work can lead to excessive analysis and fear of making mistakes.

Imposter Syndrome: Feeling inadequate or undeserving of one’s position can cause constant self-doubt and second-guessing.

Anxiety and Stress: Worrying about potential negative outcomes or consequences can lead to overthinking.

Lack of Clarity: Ambiguous roles, expectations, or strategies can cause confusion and overthinking.

Fear of Failure or Criticism: Concerns about negative evaluations can lead to excessive caution and indecisiveness.

“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”

English Proverb

Warning signs to be aware of

Excessively examining negative thoughts can impact our work in a number of ways.

Common signs of overthinking include:

  • Avoiding work
  • Slow to respond
  • Confusion or misunderstandings around strategy
  • Lower productivity
  • Reluctance to take on tasks or contribute to discussions
  • Less effective decision-making (so-called ‘analysis paralysis’)
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Potential problems with interpersonal relationships.

It is important to remember, however, that overthinking is NOT a choice. Instead, our brains simply slip into automatic and unproductive patterns of thinking when we are feeling low emotionally.

Strategies you can implement

To support team members who are struggling with overthinking, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Here are some strategies you can implement as a manager.

1. Foster a Psychologically Safe Environment

Encourage an environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their concerns. Regular one-on-one meetings can provide a safe space for employees to discuss what’s on their mind.

  • Emphasise that mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth, not punishment.
  • Model vulnerability and share personal experiences to normalise imperfection.

2. Provide Clarity and Structure

Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and goals. This can help reduce uncertainty, which is often a trigger for overthinking.

  • Establish clear decision-making processes and timelines to minimise uncertainty.
  • Break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps to reduce overwhelm.

3. Encourage Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

When a team member is stuck in a cycle of overthinking, guide them to focus on solutions rather than ruminating on the problem. Encourage a healthy work-life balance to ensure team members have time to recharge, which can reduce stress and overthinking.

Foster a team culture that focuses on positive outcomes and learning from mistakes rather than dwelling on them

  • Reframe setbacks as opportunities for growth and encourage calculated risk-taking.
  • Celebrate progress, effort, and learning, rather than just outcomes.

4. Provide Support & Resources

Share resources that can help with managing overthinking. For example, Stay Nimble offers an article on “Overthinking — What is it and how can we control it?” which could be beneficial.

  • Encourage peer support and collaboration to share knowledge and reduce individual pressure.
  • Ensure access to mental health resources, such as employee assistance programs or counselling services.
  • Offer coaching, mentoring, or training to help team members build confidence and skills.

5. Professional Development

Encourage team members to engage in professional development opportunities that can boost their confidence and reduce feelings of inadequacy that may lead to overthinking.

6. Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques

Introduce mindfulness exercises or stress reduction techniques that can help team members break the cycle of overthinking. This could be through workshops, training, or even simple daily practices.

  • Provide resources or training on emotional intelligence and self-regulation.
  • Encourage self-reflection to identify patterns of overthinking and develop strategies to shift focus.

7. Delegate and Empower

Give team members autonomy over their work where possible. This can help them feel more in control and less likely to overthink.

Remember, as a manager, your support can significantly improve your team members' coping with overthinking. It’s also beneficial to seek the guidance of a career coach who can provide additional strategies and support. Stay Nimble coaches are trained to assist with such challenges and can be a valuable resource for you and your team.

How we do it as coaches

While those management strategies can certainly help improve the environment and reduce the root causes for overthinking, in the end, the individual needs to be able to identify, cope with and move beyond the state of overthinking.

Talking to a Stay Nimble Career Coach can be a good starting point for exploring overthinking. All of Stay Nimble’s Coaches are trained to support your team members in gaining perspective on their situation, and often the process of talking things through can help identify what is going on and what is getting in the way of moving forward. With permission, the Coach may also challenge them by asking how the way they are thinking is helpful to them.

The following approaches are examples of how we might help individuals identify and challenge their overthinking patterns, develop coping strategies, and cultivate a more balanced and productive mindset. Every approach we take is tailored to the needs of the individual so this isn’t a prescription!

Cognitive Restructuring:

  • Help individuals identify their negative thought patterns and cognitive distortions related to overthinking.
  • Teach them to challenge these thoughts by examining evidence, considering alternative perspectives, and reframing situations more realistically.
  • Encourage the development of more balanced and adaptive thinking patterns through techniques such as a Thought Record.

Exposure and Response Prevention:

  • Gradually expose individuals to situations that trigger their overthinking, such as decision-making.
  • Help them develop and practice coping strategies to manage anxiety and stay focused on the task at hand, using activities such as grounding techniques like 5–4–3–2–1 Sensory Awareness.
  • Encourage them to tolerate discomfort and uncertainty, building resilience over time. Using coaching time to reflect on these instances helps to reinforce the progress being made.

Goal Setting and Celebrating Progress:

  • Work with individuals to set clear, achievable goals that align with their values and aspirations.
  • Break down goals into smaller milestones and action steps to maintain focus and motivation.
  • Celebrate progress and successes along the way, helping individuals build confidence and momentum.

Throughout the coaching process, it’s essential to establish regular check-ins which provide a safe space for sharing concerns and challenges to really make significant progress.

By combining these expertly facilitated techniques with the supportive management strategies discussed earlier, the impact of overthinking in your organisation can be greatly reduced. All the while, developing the skills and mindset needed within your team to navigate challenges more effectively, improve their performance, and enhance their overall well-being in the workplace.

In addition to talking to a Career Coach, you might wish to try:

  • Breaking the cycle of overthinking by taking the smallest of actions — distraction can work wonders;
  • Giving yourself dedicated thinking time and rewarding yourself for sticking to it;
  • Increasing physical activity so that you are not always living in your head;
  • Trying to see situations/relationships from others’ perspectives. Remember, we each live our own reality;
  • Avoiding reading emails / engaging in work activities outside of regular working hours, particularly late in the evening;
  • Assuming positive intent on the part of others when reading emails, messages, etc;
  • Developing new interests and relationships outside of work so that self-esteem and social support is not overly reliant on career and colleagues;
  • Practising mindfulness meditation as a means of achieving distance from your thoughts and noticing that thoughts are not reality;
  • Accepting that the explanation for feeling upset, low, nervous, etc, is being ‘human’. This fact can save you lots of (over)thinking time!

Take Action!

Do you need support to support your team? Let’s chat about how Stay Nimble can ease the brain bandwidth and set out a framework for your team to flourish.

Book a consultation today.

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