Spinning: Why overanalyzing increases anxiety
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10-05-15 Category: Anxiety, Depression


The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that approximately 18 percent of the adult population nationwide struggles with an anxiety disorder. Overanalyzing interactions or situations that have already happened or are going to happen, otherwise known as “spinning,” is common among those struggling with anxiety. As Vicki Botnick, LMFT, explains, “Sometimes, anxiety feels a lot like a little mouse running on a wheel inside our heads and chattering incessantly.”

Spinning can be a dangerous thought process that perpetuates anxiety long-term. Those who struggle with anxiety, which often co-occurs with other mental health disorders or substance abuse issues, are often led into a false belief that spinning is a productive way to relieve these feelings. However, any relief it provides is only temporary and subconsciously reinforces to the brain that it is the solution to anxious feelings, encouraging the exhausting yet futile behavior in the future. Replaying different scenarios and overanalyzing every possible way in which a situation can play out is an attempt to calm irrational feelings using rational thoughts. Anxiety doesn’t respond to rationality.

The key to stopping the internal mouse from spinning on that little wheel lies in alternative coping mechanisms. Botnick recommends that individuals identify and acknowledge any negative feelings of anxiety, then address them head-on. This can be done by determining the root of the thoughts that are spinning and reframing them in a positive way, through affirmations and other positive self-talk.

Dr. Rebecca Gladding of the University of California, Los Angeles, teaches that spinning occurs when negative thoughts are already present. She explains that the “Self-Referencing Center” in the brain absorbs information received and frames everything in relation to the individual. When people feel good about themselves, they typically do not feel the need to spin and obsess over what was said to an acquaintance or what is going to happen at work the next day. In fact, this natural thought process in which everything relates to the person absorbing the information can promote feelings of empathy and understanding regarding the circumstances of others. But in individuals grappling with anxiety, this distorts reality and sends negative messages to the brain. As Dr. Gladding explains, “Highly insidious, these erroneous messages can cause us to act in all kinds of self-destructive ways that lead us to feel regret, sadness, anxiety or despair…”

If you or a loved one is spinning or using other harmful coping mechanisms to manage anxiety, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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