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November 5, 2012

Is “Overthinking” a Blessing or a Curse?

How I turned my excitable stream of consciousness into a daily devotional practice.

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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 obnoxious amount of thinking, I googled overactive mind disorder. When no legitimate medical results popped up within the first page of search results, I breathed a sigh of relief.

With a clear prognosis, I perused the rest of the results and found I was in good company. 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.

Anyway, all of this is to say I over-think things. A lot. But 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 each day.

To help create margin in my cluttered mind and so I can better experience the presence of God throughout my day, I’ve developed some strategies:

1. Start each morning by “receiving the day.” This means turning my heart toward God, giving each day to him (Psalm 74:16), and receiving his agenda, with all its joys and frustrations, instead of obsessing over mine. What this looks like for me is sitting for one minute with my hands palms up and asking God to help me think the way he wants me to think today. I also take time whenever I’m doing something routine and frequent, such as washing my hands, to reopen my hands and my heart to God. Doing this helps me recenter my day around him who is before all things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

2. Take a break from music and other media. Instead of distracting myself from life as I go from one thing to another, I now use my driving time to transition and process in silence. I turn off the radio and pray about what I’m driving to—whether it’s about being sensitive to the friend I’m meeting or something else. Sure, I’m not up to date on the top 40 hits, but is that such a bad thing? The silence has helped me create space to notice beautiful things as I drive around town and it helps me hear God better.

3. Look at the sky at least once a day. This handy tip comes from Mma Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. She’s a fictional detective living in Botswana who has surprisingly deep insights into life. She often takes time to look at the endless skies in Botswana as she thinks about life and the cases she must solve. I started noticing the sky a lot more as I read these books last summer, and I realized there is something humbling and quieting about looking outside your world and worries to the beauty of the sky.

4. Set a physical boundary to stop thinking about work. A friend told me a rule her dad made for himself: he would stop thinking about work when he passed the bridge on his commute home. Brilliant! I do the same thing. Now on my way home, once I turn onto a specific street, I can’t think about work any longer. Work worries try to sneak back in within 10 seconds, but I say aloud to myself, “You can’t think about work anymore because you’re not on Geneva road.” Some days I have to remind myself four or five times on my 10 minute commute—sad, I know—but I’m thankful for the peace that eventually comes from this discipline.

5. Turn off the TV, computer, iPad, and smartphone at least an hour before bed. Although this may seem like a no-brainer, it is surprisingly easy to entertain or inform myself right up to the time I need to go to bed. And then I’m surprised that my mind is racing as I try to fall asleep! Well, there’s research that shows screen time before bed interferes with sleep. If research proves it, then I’ll put my information addiction on hold. This time has now turned into my daily quiet time. I thank God for his strength during that day, and I ask for his continued strength not to dissect and overanalyze it. I often remember this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” And then I move on to spending time with the God I love.

These five things have helped me create space in my mind and heart for God—he is with me! I want to be aware of his presence and delight in it, instead of getting lost in the maze of my mind.

What has helped you with worry, over-thinking, and practicing the presence of God?

Beatrice Schoenrock is Today’s Christian Woman’s marketing project and social media manager.

Related Tags: attitude, balance, busyness, god's presence, overthinking, peace, relaxation, simplicity

Comments

Great tips, Beatrice! I especially love when you said "I realized there is something humbling and quieting about looking outside your world and worries to the beauty of the sky." I will have to try this. All great ways to find time for our Lord in the busyness of life. Thank you!

I like your comment on having a spot on your drive home where you stop thinking about work. I always enjoyed my commute home to process the day and then move on to "home" time. Thank you for your insights I'll have to try the sky one, I love nature :)

Glad to know I'm not alone. Very helpful information! I thank you for sharing! One thing I do to try and combat mental exhaustion is a very very long quiet shower where I pray and ask God for peace. I find that as I let go of all the controlling thoughts and give it to God, it also helps me to visualize the water swirling and going down the drain as a "washing away" of the stress, pressure, and extra mental chaos that has invaded my mind. It's amazing how much it helps. I usually feel mentally refreshed afterward, and I smell better too- lol...

Hot baths! I have ADD and am extremely distractable which makes it hard to focus on any one thing for long. What I do is turn on the bathroom fan to drown out any outside "noise" (family, pets, tv, music, whatever) and talk to God about the day ahead or the day past (depending on what time I'm in the tub) - Friends are always asking me "Where'd you come up with that? (a creative idea or solution to problem or Biblical insight during Bible Study) and more often than not the answer is "It popped into my head while I was in the bathtub!" I think it's because I've stopped being distracted long enough to actually hear what God is trying to say to me. Try it and see!

Thanks for the feedback and ideas, ladies! I'm definitely going to be incorporating some of these strategies into my day. :)

I sometimes catch myself, that while I am praying, my mind jump from one thing to the other and I also thought I have a over active mind disorder! The only time I switch off is when Im sleeping. So, welcome to the club!!

The idea of looking at the sky really works. I read once that getting outside and experiencing the vastness of the heavens actually helps one to gain new perspective. I work at home, and when I get stuck or tired, often I will get up from my computer and head out to the deck for awhile. Also, my favorite place to start the day is on the deck, looking at the moon and bright morning star and talking to the Lord in praise and worship. Even in cold weather, wearing a heavy coat, it's a special time of fellowship with my Heavenly Father.

Thanks Beatrice for the sharing, It's helpful to receive each day from God with open hand. It is also a good practice to turn off computer, cellphone and all electronic gadgets an hour before bedtime. I find them useful and soon while reading a book or bible, I can fall asleep easily.

Amazing how God answers prayers. For the past 9 months or so, I have not been able to sleep very well because I can't shut off the mind. Several things have went on in my life over the past 4 years. My husband passed away, mom had breast cancer, my daughter married and moved 10 hours away, my son joined the marines, I have started dating again. And the list goes on. Thank you for sharing this. Just this morning, I woke up at 2 am and said "Lord, I have got to get some rest. I can't stay up and think all night" May God bless you for your ministry!!

Keep a paper and pen with you (if you're not driving!). When you think of something you must do later, write it down. Then you can immediately back to your pray time, Bible study, or one of the many good ideas above to quiet and clear your mind.

These are some great suggestions to clear the mind from overthinking. I am definitely prone to overthink, to dwell on things and repeat them in my mind instead of just acting on my thoughts or having closure over them.

God bless!

I'm so glad you've found this helpful! It's funny how you can struggle with something alone, or you can share and be encouraged and learn from your community. Glad I'm learning to do the latter! Thanks for your encouragement, friends!

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