In this guide we will discuss the relationship between deep thinkers and depression. We will take a closer look at whether deep thinking causes depression and what we can do to manage our thoughts.
Are deep thinkers more likely to be depressed?
If you are a deep thinker, it does not mean that you are more likely to be depressed. The practice of thinking deeply does not have any cause and effect relationship to depression.
However, if you indulge in deep thinking without mindful awareness and intent and your process of thought turns more into overthinking and rumination, there is a likelihood that your thoughts might negatively impact your mood and cause the onset of depression.
What is deep thinking?
When we talk about historical figures who were deep thinkers we picture socrates, aristotle- philosophers who have spent time ruminating over concepts, ideas, and truths upon which most of modern society has been built on.
When we consider their way of thinking, we are talking about the act of developing keen awareness of our own thoughts and allowing ourselves to explore and understand the world within ourselves- the human experience.
Deep thinking can be a wonderful way to get in touch with the deepest parts of ourselves- our fears, our challenges, our hopes, and our dreams.
Philosopher Aleksandra Veljkovic defines a deep thinker as someone who
“…who spends more time alone with his thoughts and this time is being qualitative, he gets valuable conclusions and becomes more conscious about himself, others, and the world around him.”
A person who is a deep thinker often spends time alone reflecting and analyzing events, people, situations, and life itself. They often prefer to be alone and are highly curious and observant.
They also tend to explore a certain concept from various perspectives which make them efficient problem solvers. They are also highly empathetic and seek out deep and meaningful conversations to understand the other person or life in general.
They are also avid learners who either learn by observation or by other material sources like books. Deep thinking can be highly beneficial as it allows you to learn about others as well as yourself.
However, It can become maladaptive when a person indulges in deep thinking without mindful awareness and intent. When it is not done mindfully, then it is no longer deep thinking- it borders along overthinking and rumination which can take a negative turn.
Deep thinking or rumination
Deep thinking can lead to wonderful insights that lead you to understanding yourself, the people around you, and the world better. When done with intent and mindfulness, it can also help you change the way you deal with circumstances you come across in more adaptive ways.
However, there is a very thin line between deep thinking and rumination. Rumination can be maladaptive and lead to various problems which can negatively impact your quality of life.
Melissa Stanger, on rumination, refers to rumination as,
“…obsessive thinking about an idea, situation, or choice. It can cause distress and frustration in an individual especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning.”
A person who ruminates is unable to get past what they are obsessing over which might affect their emotions and their behaviors. They might be unable to do a certain task because they are completely preoccupied with the thoughts of something else.
Rumination involves over-thinking about what has happened, or what can happen and is very different from self reflection and problem solving.
Adaptive deep thinking involves looking at a situation or a challenge in multiple ways with the intent of finding a solution. There is optimism and belief that there is a way to solve a certain problem.
However, overthinking in rumination is not done with any intent, instead dwell on possibilities and pitfalls. In fact, there might not even be a problem in the first place.
Similarly, self-reflection is a huge part of maladaptive deep thinking- it is done with the purpose of getting to know our patterns of thought, emotions, behaviour with the higher purpose of growing out of “bad” ones or gaining new perspectives which can ultimately help you grow as a person.
However, if you tend to be “stuck” on something that you don’t like about yourself without any intent of changing or that you are overthinking about something that you cannot control or change. That is obsessing and not part of self-reflecting.
When we tend to overthink, obsess, and ruminate it can impact our sense of well-being, life satisfaction and satisfaction with ourselves, and your mental health.
How does maladaptive rumination affect mental health?
When we ruminate on certain thoughts it can lead to more extreme negative thinking. Thoughts that are pessimistic and catastrophic then impact mood and behaviour. These thoughts are often a result of our beliefs and are regarded as cognitive distortions by Cognitive theorist Arron Beck.
When people tend to spend time overthinking every scenario in their lives based on these cognitive distortions, it can become a problem. Rumination, when it affects everyday life, can lead to mental health disorders such as depression.
For example, if your thoughts are impacting your sleep, your ability to socialize with others, or keeping you from eating well- it can lead to debilitating effects on your mental well-being.
Rumination can also affect physical health, people with rumination who have mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety can also experience headaches, constipation, and stomach cramps.
Overthinking and rumination is a misguided form of self-protection that people indulge in when they feel out of control. While deep thinking can help them find solutions or coping strategies, rumination does not.
Instead it can cause more fear, more anxiety, and lead to feelings of hopelessness and lead to a negative view of one’s capabilities.
A study of 455 people between the ages of 18-84 who experienced the loss of family found that people who ruminate on the loss after the fact were found to be more severely depressed than those who did not.
Another survey also found that rumination tends to counteract the positive effects of self-reflection. Which has been backed by other studies that have found that the negative thoughts that accompany rumination may make it difficult for ruminations to come up with strategies to solve a problem and act on them.
Even when they do come up with a positive solution, they may fail to act on them because rumination induces self-doubt and uncertainty making it hard for them to trust their own strategies.
This causes them to be stuck in this loop which further increases the frequency and likelihood of these maladaptive thoughts impacting their sense of self, emotions, behaviour, and quality of life.
Rumination has also been found to be a risk factor in adolescents who are high in neuroticism making it more likely to develop depression. Researchers tentatively suggested that rumination could be the mediating factor which makes it more likely for people who are pessimistic, maladjusted, and unable to regulate emotions more likely to be depressed.
Years of study gives rise to enough evidence that dictates that rumination is related to depression in some way. So how can you, if you are a deep thinker, protect yourself from rumination and possible depression?
Coping with rumination
As highlighted above, rumination hardly allows a person to gain more insights and solutions to their challenges. It can also lead you to feel worse about yourself.
Even if you tend to get stuck in a cycle of overthinking and ruminating, there are a number of ways to prevent or stop it. Let us take a close look at some of them:
Mindfulness, or paying attention to the here-and-now can keep your mind present and away from various preoccupations you might have or negative thoughts you might be ruminating over.
To start being more mindful, you can choose activities that you do during your daily life. By paying attention to what you say to yourself or by paying attention when you are doing certain tasks.
Being mindful means being present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. It means being able to walk yourself through what you are doing, thinking, and feeling rather than it being an automatic process.
You can choose to practice deep breathing, yoga, meditate, or do body scans in a meditative and relaxed state to bring your body and mind to a state of awareness and being rather than be stuck in a loop of irrational ruminations.
Examine your thought patterns
Take time to pay attention to your thoughts- the ones that you ruminate over and cause distress. You can also develop keen awareness of where your mind wanders to. By gaining awareness of your thoughts you can take the time to evaluate these thoughts or the subject of your rumination.
By evaluating them you can identify whether your thoughts are rational and adaptive or whether they are based on biased beliefs that are mostly a distorted view of yourself and the world.
Once you identify the distortions and the irrational beliefs you can challenge them by putting them against evidence that is contrary to these intrusive thoughts.
Schedule your anxiety
As much as it might feel like allowing yourself to overthink is the best way you can manage your anxiety and fears, taking control of your rumination can be done by other means.
One such strategy is timing your anxiety. You are the boss of your life, not your fears. So one way of asserting control is by giving a specific time to ruminate after which you can engage in other activities to occupy your time- activities that you can engage and immerse yourself in. For example, colouring a mandala.
Talk to a Therapist
If overthinking and rumination is impacting your ability to function, lowering your self-esteem, or negatively impacting your quality of life, talking to a therapist is something you should consider.
A professional can help you get a deeper insight of your ruminations and actually steer you towards adaptive deep thinking which can help you learn about yourself and even rebuild new persectives of yourself, others, and the world.
Frequently asked questions related to “Deep thinkers and Depression”
Can excessive thinking cause depression?
The unpleasant nature of negative thoughts can lead to disorders and conditions that affect the mental health of a person. The occurrence of intrusive thoughts in a person which can bring about a sense of hopelessness about their lives and worthlessness of themselves can invariably result in depression
Does overthinking cause unhappiness?
Overthinking is related to psychological problems and it’s likely that overthinking causes mental health and our sense of well-being to decline making you feel unhappy or dissatisfied about your life and yourself which can further lead to more overthinking and obsessing.
What are the signs of overthinking?
Over thinking is often maladaptive and often looks like this:
- Thoughts are not Solution-Focused.
- Thoughts are repetitive with no value or insights
- They keep You Up at Night.
- They impair your ability to make decisions.
- You tend to second guess everything.
What causes someone to overthink?
The two factors that cause overthinking is stress and anxiety. Stress can impair a person’s ability to be optimistic and adaptable, it can also impair emotional regulation and rational thinking.
Apart from these, issues with one’s self-esteem and self-doubt are other common causes of overthinking.
Why do I overthink past conversations?
Ruminating thoughts is a misguided strategy to assert control over a situation. It may mean you’re replaying life events such as a conversation in an attempt to make sure that next time, you’re prepared and won’t feel as anxious or it could be because you are criticising yourself for your poor presence in the conversation.