Vietnamese youth suffer from overthinking, anxiety

By Kim Ngan   September 26, 2023 | 03:39 pm PT
A vicious cycle of overthinking and excessive worry is making it difficult for young Vietnamese people to be productive, according to psychologists.

Thanh Tung dropped his major in marketing after pursuing it for a year and realizing it was not the right path for him.

But for several months after switching majors, he’d been suffering from anxiety and insomnia over the decision.

"I went to bed late, woke up at around 3-4 a.m., and could not go back to sleep until the morning. I had negative thoughts and cried a lot."

The young man said he worried that his new major was just another "wrong decision." He felt like he didn’t have the energy to do anything other than lie down and surf his social media feeds. But this habit only compounded the problem from another angle.

"Seeing so many talented people around my age on social media made me feel inferior," he said. "I felt like no matter what I do, I would never be as successful as them."

Other aspects of his life had also been affected, including his relationships. Just a delay in the speed of his girlfriend’s text message replies made him wonder if she was tired of him or had something to hide.

"She couldn’t bear my overly sensitive thoughts after a while and eventually broke up with me," Tung said. "Many of my friends were also unable to understand my thoughts [which made us distant from each other]."

A large part of youngsters in Vietnam is suffering from overthinking. Photo illustration by Freepik

A large part of youngsters in Vietnam is suffering from overthinking. Photo illustration by Freepik

Dr. Tran Thanh Nam, vice president of the Vietnam Association of Psychological-Educational Sciences, said overthinking is a rising problem among Vietnamese youth.

He said the main problem with overthinking is not necessarily thinking too much, but overfocusing on negative thoughts.

"They [overthinkers] think about everything in a negative manner," he explained. "They always think about obstacles they might face before they do something, and because of that, they become indecisive and take everything personal."

A study led by psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema at Michigan University showed that 73% of people aged between 25 and 35 overthink. Compared to that, only 52% of 45–55-year-olds suffer from the same problem. Aligning with the global trend, Vietnamese youngsters are suffering from overthinking as well, according to experts.

Psychology professor Vo Minh Thanh from the HCMC University of Education said that overthinking is a symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Those that suffer from the disorder take everything too seriously, he said.

Dr. Truong Hong Son, head of Vietnam Institute of Applied Medicine, agreed with Thanh. He said that though overthinking itself is not a mental illness, but it could be a symptom of other more subtle disorders like GAD. Moreover, those who overthink are likely to suffer from several other problems, including headaches, insomnia, and a weakened immune system, he said.

Le Tin, 23, has been planning to launch a start-up for several months. But he’s delayed opening the business several times due to worries about finances, personal relationships, and issues with the current state of the market.

"My sleep pattern is ruined," he said. "I try going to bed at 11:30 p.m. and getting up at 6 a.m. the next morning, but I can’t sleep at all."

Stuck between the contrasting thoughts of committing to his start-up and dropping everything to return to his hometown, Tin has been staying up in bed thinking all night every night. But he hasn’t found a solution to any of his problems.

He’s gradually grown isolated from his friends, as he’s always "in his own world of thoughts" and wants to stay in his room instead of going out.

For Nam, Tin is one of many.

"The young generation is suffering from beliefs and values that are more negative than ever," he said.

According to Nam, Generation Z (people born from 1997 onwards) is in a state of worse mental health than previous generations. One of the main causes is how exposed they are to the peer-pressures of social media, which heavies the load of pressure imposed on them by themselves and other external sources.

"They [young people] have to put up with many expectations, so they have to think more compared to their previous generations," he said. "They have to guess whether their choices can bring them success, and calculate risks they may have to face if they choose that particular direction."

Nam suggested that in order to save themselves from this situation, young people should learn to both take care of their mental health and improve their objective critical thinking skills, instead of letting their emotions cast a shadow over their logical thought.

"Someone who overthinks may feel mad if, say, they see two friends of theirs stop talking as they pass by," he said. "They may think those two people were talking bad behind their back."

But Nam explained that such assumptions are subjective and only worsen the problem.

"In cases like that, they should confront their friends and let them have a chance to explain, instead of immediately doubting and thinking negatively about their friends."

A failure to apply this mindset will keep these young people in a permanent battle with their own thoughts, Nam said.

go to top