'Anxiety, overthinking have taken over my social relationships. Please help!'

"I've been meeting someone I like regularly at a common space, but don’t know how to interact," asks a compulsive overthinker

Hi Haya,

Recently, I have been struggling with a lot of overthinking, more than usual and about everything — particularly related to my social interactions. I have been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder for the last five years or so, but my overthinking has become excessive to the point where social interactions makes me question whether I was embarrassing or wrong or whether what I had said made any sense.

I beat myself up emotionally, replaying whole interactions all day and especially at night, and I’m unable to sleep till I’m exhausted. And during the day I feel like I want to disappear and not talk to anyone so that I’m not making a fool out of myself.

I have understood that it stems from low self-esteem and a fear of social rejection. And because of this I have been suffering in initiating romantic interactions with people I like. I shut down when I like someone, and this makes me feel miserable and alone.

Please help me, as I've been meeting someone I like regularly at a common space, but don’t know how to interact?

— A compulsive overthinker

Dear compulsive overthinker,

Navigating social interactions can be incredibly challenging, especially when dealing with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). Your experience of overthinking and self-doubt is a common struggle in what you are going through.

Below, I have broken down various therapeutic strategies to help you manage overthinking and enhance your social interactions, particularly with someone you like.

Firstly, it is essential to validate your feelings. Acknowledging that your emotions and thoughts are valid is the foundation for managing them. Overthinking often stems from a place of anxiety and low self-esteem, making it crucial to practice self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.

To combat negative thinking patterns, I would encourage you to try cognitive restructuring. This involves challenging the negative thoughts that fuel your anxiety. Ask yourself:

  • What evidence supports or contradicts this thought?
  • Is there another way to view this situation?
  • What would I tell a friend in my position?

Another effective technique is thought stopping. When you catch yourself spiraling into overthinking, use a physical or mental cue to interrupt the cycle. For instance, say "stop" aloud or visualise a stop sign, then redirect your focus to a more constructive activity.

I would also encourage behavior strategies. Gradual exposure to social situations can help reduce anxiety over time. Start with less intimidating interactions and slowly progress to more challenging ones. For example, engage in brief conversations with acquaintances or participate in group activities where the pressure is less intense.

Preparation also alleviates anxiety. Practice what you might say or do in social interactions, either alone or with a trusted friend. Setting realistic goals for your interactions, such as saying hello or asking a simple question, can also be beneficial. Celebrate these small successes to build confidence.

With chronic anxiety, the physical symptoms can be so intense that they need to be attended to and managed. Incorporate relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation into your daily routine in addition to regular movement. These practices can help reduce overall anxiety, making it easier to manage your thoughts. Additionally, maintaining good sleep by establishing a consistent bedtime routine and creating a restful environment can significantly improve your ability to cope with anxiety.

To enhance social skills, communicating openly with someone you trust about your experiences can provide reassurance and perspective. Having a support system is invaluable when dealing with anxiety. During social interactions, focus on staying present. Instead of worrying about how you might be perceived, concentrate on the conversation and the person you're talking to. Mindfulness practices can help you stay grounded in the moment.

Continuing or starting therapy with a mental health professional who specialises in anxiety disorders is highly recommended. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective in addressing overthinking and social anxiety.

In relation to romantic interactions, when it comes to interacting with someone you like, start with small, friendly gestures. Smile, make eye contact, and engage in light conversation. As you become more comfortable, you can gradually increase the depth of your interactions. Remember, it is okay to not be perfect. People often appreciate authenticity over perfection.

By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine, you can gradually reduce overthinking and improve your social interactions. Progress takes time, and it is okay to take small steps toward your goals. You are already showing great awareness and courage by seeking help, and that is a significant first step towards positive change.

— Haya

Haya Malik is a psychotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, corporate well-being strategist and trainer with expertise in creating organisational cultures focused on well-being and raising awareness around mental health.

Send her your questions to [email protected]

Note: The advice and opinions above are those of the author and specific to the query. We strongly recommend our readers consult relevant experts or professionals for personalised advice and solutions. The author and Geo.tv do not assume any responsibility for the consequences of actions taken based on the information provided herein. All published pieces are subject to editing to enhance grammar and clarity.