overthink HSP

Do you overthink decisions? Highly sensitive people have a tendency to overthink in a way not everyone understands. Overthinking can make us anxious and self-critical when we feel like we just can’t turn it off.

That’s how I’ve felt most of my life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that it would do me some good to not think so much. I agree. Yet, small decisions can still be a struggle…

Deciding between two amazing, comparable caterers for an upcoming HSP retreat weighed on my mind unnecessarily for weeks.

My partner and I have been known to get wild with spreadsheets before buying a coffee maker.

Sometimes when there are no decisions to make, I’ll create ones if I’m not careful. And then I get down on myself for creating new decisions to overthink.

I probably don’t have to explain much more. If you’re a highly sensitive person, you know just how draining it can be to have a mind that won’t settle.

There are reasons we overthink decisions as HSPs. Before sharing them, I want to note the difference between deep thinking and overthinking. After all, most highly sensitive people do both.

Deep thinking versus overthinking

Deep thinking is an HSP strength. When it’s at play, we’re creative without giving too much thought to the best outcome. We put our abstract thoughts together into a masterful work of art that may or may not ever be finished. When we do get solution-focused, deep thinking allows us to explore and analyze details and moving parts before coming to a conclusion.

But when overthinking gets going, we often get bogged down in unnecessary details that keep us stuck. Our mind whirls in frenetic circles, as we stall in executing decisions. Just as we think we’ve arrived at a conclusion, we change gears and continue overthinking the matter. And then our inner critic shouts at us that we’re hopeless.

Why Highly Sensitive People Overthink Decisions

I have to be honest with you. When I began writing this article, I quickly had a couple dozen tabs open in an effort to research HSPs and overthinking.

I struggled to choose a direction and ideas just boomeranged in my head. I began to get frustrated and hypercritical of myself.

But then, as I noticed my pattern, the reasons HSPs overthink decisions were laid out right within me. Here are a few I think you may be able to relate to…

1. We’re deep processors.

One of four HSP characteristics, which author Elaine Aron talks about, is depth of processing. HSPs have brains that process information in a deep, complex way rather than taking words, images, or ideas at face value. We explore multiple angles and paths as we connect ideas to a bigger picture.

This means we need more time to process the multitude of information coming in before arriving at a decision. While depth of processing itself does not equate to overthinking, it creates the breeding ground for it.

Helpful Hint: There’s nothing wrong with processing slowly and taking time to play with options. Try practicing mindfulness techniques to become present with the tendencies of your mind.

2. We’re maximizers.

Information is everywhere. This means options are too, which is not necessarily a good thing for HSPs. Not only do we naturally take in a lot of information from our environments, we often seek out more information! With a wealth of information at your fingertips in modern society, it’s easy for HSPs to feel confused over too many choices.

When we maximize, we may put off decisions because we’re so wrapped up in analyzing every detail. We want the lowest price, the least environmental impact, the best for ourselves and others, the most efficient…the list goes on, right?

Helpful Hint: There are times you need to simply choose a path, rather than create unwarranted anxiety. But remember that the upside to maximizing is that you may be very adept at analyzing and come to sound, healthy decisions rather than settling. The trick is to find the balance.

3. We worry about others.

With such a high level of empathy and sometimes people-pleasing tendency, HSPs often want our decisions to benefit others. Sometimes this is at the expense of our own needs.

Many HSPs have a fear of letting others down. We may waver about attending a party. On one hand, we fear disappointing our friend, but on the other, our body may be saying no. As HSPs, we need to make a concerted effort to attend to our own needs first to practice good self-care.

Helpful Hint: When you find yourself adding others into your decision-making, pause for a moment and notice your body’s reaction to the two choices. As I’m writing, I just did this with a dinner invitation. As I took a step back, I realized I didn’t want to go and needed alone time.

4. We tend to be perfectionists.

HSPs tend to be more self-critical when it comes to making a mistake or hurting someone. We may hold ourselves to exceptionally high standards, so we do our best to prepare and mitigate any potential for making the “wrong” decision. We shoot for optimal choices and outcomes, even if part of us knows these don’t always exist.

Helpful Hint: Perfectionism usually comes from the unconscious belief that if you do everything right, you’ll be worthy of love and acceptance. So, it helps to bring the HSP empathy you have for others to yourself when you find yourself striving for the “right” answer. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and coach yourself through the matter you would a friend.

5. We may not fully trust ourselves.

A lack of self-trust tends to show up more for HSPs who were raised in environments that may not have been very accepting of their sensitivity. If we’re taught we should be different or that our needs are unimportant, we learn that there’s something wrong with us and others know better than we do. The result is that many of us adult HSPs still struggle to listen to our own voice and trust our decision-making.

Helpful Hint: Practice listening to yourself and taking action. Begin with some of the smaller decisions and simply alert yourself when you’re overthinking. When faced with some comparable options, use this as an opportunity to make a “good enough” choice and notice how you feel when you do that.

Just because you may have a propensity to overthink decisions, it doesn’t mean you have to continue down that road. You can become more aware of the inner workings of your mind and intuition of your body. And soon enough, you’ll be making more intentional decisions.

And chances are that there are some scenarios in your life in which decision-making comes more easily. Reflect on those. What is it about them that makes it easier to decide?

HSP Relationships

It can be hard for HSPs to navigate relationships and all the possible overthinking, overwhelm, and communication problems. Download my Highly Sensitive Person’s Relationship Guide for tools to create fulfilling relationships as an HSP.

introvert retreatMelissa Renzi is a Licensed Social Worker and Certified Trauma-Informed Yoga Teacher. She helps highly sensitive people transform anxiety and cultivate lasting self-love. Melissa leads global retreats designed for introverts and highly sensitive people that focus on renewing self-care and deepening our connection to the natural world. Access her Highly Sensitive Person’s Relationship Guide for concrete tools to overcome communication problems, build intimacy, and create fulfilling relationships.