The Dangerous Side Effects of Overthinking

Overthinking is my talent. I’m a natural. If you ever need someone to overthink a situation, call me up and I’ll get the job done.

But seriously. The same qualities that contribute to my vivid imagination and ability to notice small details also cause me to overthink…overly. Having lived with this quality for over a quarter of a century now, I’ve noticed a few side-effects that may occur–some not so bad, others worse.

 

#1) People get confused.

The ability to overthink means that I can process a lot of thoughts very quickly, so that when I actually say something aloud, others are not able to follow my thought processes. For example, at work I’ll be thinking and thinking until I think of something that my coworkers might need to know. So, after minutes of silence, I’ll blurt out something like “Yeah, we really need to do that today” (or something else similarly vague). And my coworkers will just stare at me with confused expressions until someone asks me what in the world I’m talking about–to which I usually jokingly respond, “Can’t you read my thoughts?”

 

#2) People get offended or hurt.

There are times that I overthink situations so much that a person may make me angry without even doing anything. For example, I may imagine someone responding to something a certain way, and this imagined response makes me very annoyed. Sometimes, my imagination proves to be correct. People will respond exactly how I expect them to and–since I’ve already built up so much frustration from my imagined experiences–I’ll immediately snap. In these situations, I must seem completely insane and in need of an anger management session. From the outside, it looks like I just pounced on someone for saying one thing–but there is so much going on behind the scenes.

 

#3) Decisions are not simple.

I’ve especially had to deal with this the last few weeks on deciding where to live, since I’m moving to a new town. Now that I’ve settled on a decision, I feel at peace. In the middle of the decision-making process, however, I did not feel peaceful at all. To everyone looking on and not drastically affected by the outcome, the decision was simple–do you want this or this? But my mind doesn’t make things that simple. For me, one big decision equals eight plus sub-decisions.

 

#4) Anxiety galore.

Unless I’m completely relaxed like I was during the massage I had last week (ahh, lovely), then my mind is typically racing with thoughts, which is probably why reading and writing is good for me because it helps direct them. When something stressful is going on (like change, for instance), my thoughts run wild with unpleasant imaginings. Like I told my mom the other day, my thoughts bounce around in my mind without permission, no matter how hard I try to slow them down. (She was amused by this illustration, but I was completely serious).

 

A little more on anxiety…

In my case (though I understand it’s not this simple for everyone), most of my anxiety can be helped by redirecting my thoughts. I’ve mentioned Philippians 4:6-7 in a past post on a similar subject.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I’ve repeated these verses to myself so many times lately. “Let your request be made known to God…” Okay, I was doing that, but it dawned on me the other night that I was leaving out the thanksgiving which is mentioned. I prayed so much for God to give me my new job, but I forgot to thank him in the midst of feeling anxious.

In her book Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow highlights the same passage from Philippians 4 and also reminds us to read on through verse 8:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy or praise, think about these things.”

Verses 6-7 say to give all anxieties to God with thanksgiving. Verse 8 tells us what to think about instead!

~~~

Meanwhile, I have been reading The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, which is a true account of ten Boom’s experience hiding Jews during WWII, as well as her time in a German concentration camp. After finishing her story a few days ago, I felt ashamed about my petty anxieties and about my lack of thanksgiving. In one scene, ten Boom and her sister discover that their sleeping quarters are infested with fleas. To face the situation, the two sisters follow the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), even thanking God for the fleas. This is a reminder to give thanks even for the ugly parts of our lives because we don’t know how things are playing out. In the end, as the ten Boom sisters found out, the fleas actually served a useful purpose by keeping the German officers away.

Even weakness, ten Boom discovers, is something to be thankful for, as she says in this passage after fully realizing the meaning of 2 Corinthian 12:8-10:

“Three times, he said, he had begged God to take away his weakness, whatever it was. And each time God had said, Rely on Me. At last Paul concluded–the words seemed to leap from the page–that this very weakness was something to give thanks for. Because now Paul knew that none of the wonders and miracles that followed his ministry could be due to his own virtues. It was all Christ’s strength, never Paul’s” (ten Boom 2006).

Throughout her journey, ten Boom discovers that “whatever bravery or skill [she] had ever shown were gifts of God–sheer loans from Him of the talent needed to do a job” (ten Boom 2006). This reminder is encouraging when dealing with anxious thoughts of how can handle a problem, especially when I feel insufficient. All I really need to remember is that whatever God wants me to do, He will provide strength and knowledge for me to do. Yes, I am weak, but–thankfully–I’m not acting on my own.

~~~

Lastly are some thoughts of why my tiny problems even matter. Anxiety in the first place makes me feel terrible, but then I feel even more terrible after remembering that I have it good compared to most of the people in the world.

In response to this, I have a small story: The day after I heard back about my new job, I walked outside to find a dead bird laying on my car as if it were asleep. It was one of those plump, slow-moving doves that are so comical to watch. At the time, I was cracking up (because how often does this happen?) as I picked up the bird by the foot with a trash bag and took it out to the dump. Even though it was funny at the time, my imagination kept seeing the bird as a bad sign. This is exactly what I was thinking about the other day when the song “Sparrow” by Audrey Assad started playing. This song references Matthew 10:29-31:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

And then I thought, God know exactly how that bird got onto my car. How much more does he know and care about me? I may be an odd one, but this thought brought me amusement and comfort.

I would like to conclude with the following thought’s from Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity about the “small” worries of life. She says:

“The point is that we have to learn to trust in little things, even in what may seem like silly things, if we are ever going to be privileged to suffer in the big things.”

“It’s no use trying to measure suffering. What matters is making the right use of it, taking advantage of the sense of helplessness it brings to turn one’s thoughts to God” (Elliot 1984).

~~~

This post, which has run longer than I thought it would, is just an example of my overthinking habits. But I hope, in this case, it has done a little good. 🙂

 

Capture

Photo credit to my sister Molly! Here’s another little bird she found in the road, this one actually living. 🙂

~~~

References

Elliot, Elisabeth. 1984. Passion and Purity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell.

Ten Boom, Corrie. 2006. The Hiding Place. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Chosen Books.

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