Overthinking can lead to depression, anxiety, an inability to move forward, and wrecked emotional health, according to groundbreaking research from psychology professor Susan Nolen-Hoeksema of the University of Michigan. We may not even realize we are overthinking because we’re thinking all the time and it comes so naturally to all of us.
I find myself constantly living out scenarios in my mind that don’t come to pass. It gives me relief to know I am not alone in this. When we are nervous about something — whether it be a deadline for work, a conversation we are not looking forward to having, or a major event that could go well or poorly — it is so easy to let ourselves be consumed with the “what ifs.”
When I find myself in this trap, I will lose sleep, become irritable, and struggle to focus on anything else. None of the scenarios I imagine have ever come to pass, yet they already cause me stress! How backwards is that? And yet, most of us do this all the time.
Many of us believe that when we feel down about something, we should try to evaluate our feelings and our situation from every angle to attain insight and find solutions to relieve our unhappiness. Believers feel that God equipped us with minds because we need to be able to “‘figure out” some things for ourselves. Our minds are meant to be the logical conduit that connects spirit to body. Our spirits know, our minds think, and our bodies act.
But many times we find that our mind is trying to control our knowledge and actions. Believers may pray about some things, but think about all things. Somewhere, in the back of our minds, we are convinced that if we spend enough time problem-solving and analyzing, we will figure it all out.
I used to think I had an overactive mind, like it was some kind of disorder. It just never seemed to turn off. One day after a particularly excessive amount of thinking, I Googled “overactive mind disorder.” Though I don’t share all their worries and concerns, the Google search returned hundreds of stories from people whose overactive minds made my excitable stream of consciousness seem mild.
When all I hear is my own voice repeating my own problems over and over, I have little space to hear God’s voice and the encouragement and direction he has for me. The moment spiritual people start overthinking is the same moment they start blocking God’s voice and guidance into the things he has prepared. If overthinking is keeping you from doing something else you ought to be doing, then you’re overthinking.
Another way to see if you’re overthinking is to say: I am overthinking when I am being motivated by fear or driven by some unhealthy, controlling compulsion.
The worst way to solve a problem — and I’m guilty of this in particular — is when you find yourself driven in a kind of obsessive-compulsive way to meticulously think through every little choice in life.
I sometimes turn to scripture when I feel myself overthinking issues I can’t control. Based on what he wrote in Philippians 4:6-13, I think the apostle Paul would agree that we all, not just Christians, need to stop overthinking. In verse six, Paul gives three clear instructions for those of us who ruminate on our problems. He essentially says: don’t worry about anything, but be grateful, and put your trust in something greater than you.
Paul says in verse seven, we will begin to experience amazing peace, a kind of peace we can’t even imagine, if we follow these instructions. It’s a kind of peace that makes no earthly sense! This kind of peace is so powerful that it has a protective function on our hearts and minds that only makes it easier for us to stop worrying and be thankful.
When we allow ourselves to get caught up in all of the proverbial “what ifs,” we are essentially not trusting that our faith is big enough to help us in this particular situation. What we really should be considering is, “What is the right thing to do on my end?” The funny part about that question is that the correct answer is often far easier to find than we originally think.
The real root of overthinking comes from answering the question: Who do we trust? Do we trust that by playing out the scenario in our head 100 times somehow we will manage to make everything right when the time ultimately comes?
Or, do we seek the wisdom of our beliefs and of people who have come before us and have been in similar situations? Stressing over what you can’t do will stop you from doing what you can. Do what is in your power. Then trust in whatever you believe in to do the rest. Then amazing peace will rest upon you.