We overthink when we put too much time into thinking about or analyzing something in a way that is more harmful than helpful. We are overthinking when thoughts about problems, relational issues, and even plans dominate our waking hours. Everyone overthinks occasionally. When we are excited, afraid, worried, or elated, we tend to ruminate on conversations or actions we either participated in or wish we had. We may have seasons of overthinking when we are engaged in a major project, such as building a house or starting a company. The plethora of details that must be addressed consumes our thoughts for a time. Thinking is good, but overthinking can turn a simple matter into an overly complex one.
Certain emotions, such as dread, lead us to overthink more than others do. When an event looms on the horizon that promises to be painful or otherwise unpleasant, we tend to overthink it. Pregnant women sometimes overthink the upcoming labor and delivery experience. They mentally live through the anticipated agony and possible tragic outcomes as a way of “preparing” themselves for it. We can also overthink past events or conflicts, rehashing every syllable or action taken in an effort to process it. Of course, such overthinking does no good; what’s done is done. Introverts are more prone to overthinking than extroverts due to their natural tendency to live inside their own heads.
Our minds are always going. Many of us carry on running conversations inside our heads all day long. Thoughts about one situation overlap thoughts about another, and we return over and over again to the ones that elicit strong emotion. A few people, by design, can successfully compartmentalize their thoughts so that they do not overthink. But most of us will engage in overthinking at times. This is normal, but when it becomes a lifestyle of worry or anxiety, we need to change something.
One way to avoid overthinking a subject is to incorporate Scripture and prayer into one’s thoughts. The psalmists give us excellent examples of this. Psalm 94:19 says, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.” Many of the psalms were written by overthinkers who were facing danger, emotional unrest, fear, or despair. They boldly wrote out their anxious thoughts and then turned them into the worship of God. Psalm 6 is one such prayer. Verse 6 describes the condition of many who overthink: “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” Yet the author, David, does not stop there. The psalm ends with these words: “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame” (verses 9–10).
Satan capitalizes on our inclination to overthink by creating doubts and fears about spiritual things. Some Christians who overthink have difficulty resting in their salvation because they over-analyze their grace-based relationship with God rather than resting in “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, KJV). They fear that, if they haven’t thought of everything, God might reject them. This is unhealthy and an example of the fiery darts warned about in Ephesians 6:16. Spiritual overthinkers may scrutinize and dissect a Scripture passage until they convince themselves that they have found a new meaning, one that neither the apostles nor Christian leaders of the past have discovered. Cults and false religions have been founded by overthinking.
Overthinking can be transformed into a positive activity such as healthy meditation, prayer, or Scripture memorization. It is helpful to research specific verses that address overthinking and have them ready when the obsessive thoughts start. Quoting them aloud, purposefully transferring the issue to God, and telling ourselves, “No, I’m going to change my thoughts now,” are all ways we can resist the impulse to overthink. Giving our minds a constructive project also helps keep them away from harmful, obsessive thoughts. Many who struggle with overthinking have poured their energies into creative endeavors such as writing, music, and art and thereby bring beauty from otherwise damaging thinking patterns. Prayer, meditation, and productive outlets for expression can all help relieve the pressure that leads to overthinking.