I’ve been an overthinker for as long as I could – well – think.
My brain is often whirring, whirring … full of possibilities, problems, what-ifs, and worst-case scenarios.
You’ll often find me weighing up pros and cons, highs and lows, analysing ‘life’ from a subjective – then an objective – perspective – and writing lists of ways to tackle everything from the housework to my current relationship crisis.
My brain just won’t stop taking trips to different destinations – and those places aren’t always postcard-pretty.
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Call it brilliance (ha!) – or label it anxiety. Either way, I’ve needed to find ways to slow this pesky thought train down.
Sometimes overthinking can be exciting, productive, adrenaline-inducing. Other times it can be stressful, burdensome, depressing.
When it’s the former, we need to find ways to channel it into something creative or productive – like writing a blog post, or brainstorming ideas for our next meeting, or meeting up with a friend and sharing our thoughts and inspirations.
If it’s the latter, you need activities that help you hit the re-set button. Here are five things I’ve found helpful in shifting my brain from overdrive to cruise control.
1. Get a journal
Yes, I know. You’ve heard this one before. But the evidence is mounting up, with numerous studies showing that journaling is “the Swiss army knife of healing and growth” – if positive psychology educator Reb Rebele is to be believed.
Disclosing emotions through journaling is believed by most psychologists to be therapeutic, and research published by the American Psychological Association reveals that gratitude journaling can even help those suffering from physical problems.
For me, journaling, whether in point form or long-form, helps me articulate my thoughts and be extra-specific about my emotions – which is also said to be helpful.
2. Tell the story to God
If I’ve had a hard day at work, I might start by “telling the story’ of what made it hard, then lead into articulating what specific emotions I feel – maybe I’m “perplexed” or “astonished” or “ashamed” about something. Then I allow the emotions to be. I don’t try to push them away. I acknowledge them and give them space.
Then, importantly, I take the emotions to God. I might write down or pray something like this:
“God, I’m feeling shame about what X said. It’s weighing me down. It feels like the other times I’ve felt shame. Lord, I want to bring the shame to you now and ask you to speak your words to me. Speak to me the truth I need to hear. Lead me to your word. Lead me into healing I pray…” Then I wait, and respond to what I feel he’s saying.
3. Simply ask
Next, I might ask God to give me ideas for how to process the shame – or whatever the emotion or feeling is – and wait for him to lift it off or speak words of comfort and strength to me.
He might also give me a fresh strategy or approach for when I feel this way again.
4. Show self-compassion
Often, when our mind is going in different directions it means we’re giving ourselves a hard time. We put pressure on ourselves to come up with all the solutions: “It’s down to you. You work it out – or no one will.”
Not only does this type of thinking stress us out and take us away from a child-like trust in God, it’s not very kind.
There’s been a bit of a shift away from the heavy emphasis on ‘self-esteem’ in society lately, and a move towards ‘self-compassion’. It’s seen as a much healthier, more sustainable path to mental health. While self-esteem is dependent on ‘tags’ and ‘labels’ we place on ourselves, self-compassion is about being nurturing and kind in practical ways and more caring self-talk.
For me when I’m overthinking again, self-compassion means doing something like filling a bath with magnesium salts and playing worship music – or going for a walk.
Perhaps for you it will might mean cooking a nutritious meal – or making a meal for someone else who’s going through a hard time. Or maybe, spending an hour with a friend and asking them to pray would be just the answer.
It’s all about making healthy, kind choices for yourself.
5. Get to know God’s love – again
Knowing you are loved by God allows you to like yourself more – with compassion and gentleness. Knowing you are beloved, forgiven, and set free by the God of the universe goes a long way in slowing down the voices in your head that tell you to “try harder”, “do more”, or “get it together”.
Knowing God’s love allows you to rest in the arms of a Father who says: “I see you, I know you, and I’ve got this. You are not alone.”
God doesn’t take our busy thoughts away, but he calms our minds with the truth about who he is and how much he loves us – right now, in the middle of the chaos and uncertainty, hardship or grief.
He says to you and me something like:
“Beloved child, slow down. I will be with you always. All you need do for now is this: Simply rest in the deep love I have for you. Trust in me for today and tomorrow, and I will show you which way to go – one step at a time.”
Alison Leader combines ministry work at Beverly Hills Baptist Church, Sydney, with a corporate communications role at South Eastern Community Connect. She’s a reflective thinker who advocates for stronger communities in her work.