I've been an over-thinker 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.
Call it brilliance (ha!) – or label it anxiety... either way, I've needed to find ways to slow this pesky thought train down.
Sometimes over-thinking 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 our next meeting... or meeting up with a friend and sharing our thoughts and inspirations.
If it's the latter – if you're finding yourself obsessing rather than progressing – 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 new 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 and 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... I feel the shame deep down in my stomach. It's weighing me down and I can't seem to be able to shift it. It's like a rock, and 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
Then 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 – putting pressure on ourselves to come up with all the solutions. It's like we're pointing a harsh finger at ourselves and saying: “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.
What might self compassion look like to you when your mind just won't take a rest? For me it means doing something like filling a bath with Epsom salts and playing worship music – or going for a walk.
For others it might mean saying encouraging things to themselves in the mirror like “I'm proud of you – you're doing a great job!” - or simply, “this too shall pass”.
It 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 better – 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:
“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 lives in Thornleigh, Sydney with her husband and two sons. She is a part-time journalist who loves to take acting classes in her spare time, and is half-way through her Bachelor of Ministry at Morling College. She blogs about her faith here.