When Your Worrying Leaves You Brokenhearted
Overthinking is something we don’t always have control over.
“You call this thinking, but it’s walking…
I don’t see but you must continue
To use the gift you do possess,” — Robert Frost, “To a Thinker”
I have always been a big thinker, and overthinker of almost everything. I used to see it as the bane of my existence. Overthinking everything was not fun in the slightest, a curse among curses to my well-being, a trait that and is commonly linked to depression and anxiety. When I was younger, I always sought to get rid of my ruminating and overthinking tendencies. It was holding me back. My racing mind was not allowing my brain to shut off, not allowing me to relax or go to sleep.
As I’ve gotten older, I don’t know what has changed. Yes, I’m still an overthinker, but I can’t help but feel that my overthinking has some more direction. It is channeled into endeavors that come more in the problem-solving realm as opposed to rumination, as Amy Morin, the author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” differentiates. I run and write a lot more than I did when I was in middle school. I have more friends, deeper connections, have become more vulnerable with those friends, and generally just have good relationships with people. In addition, my anxiety peaked when I was in middle school, and that’s natural for any 14-year-old
I once saw a triangle between thinking, feeling, and acting, which, again, as I’ve gotten older, I have found greater balance in.
“Analysis paralysis is a real problem,” Morin says. “The more you think, the worse you feel.”
Morin seeks to differentiate overthinking and problem-solving also by showing how unhelpful overthinking is as opposed to productive problem-solving or healthy self-reflection. According to Morin here are some signs we might be overthinkers:
I rehash conversations I had with people in my mind and think about all the things I wished I had or hadn’t said.
I relive embarrassing moments in my head repeatedly.
I constantly relive my mistakes.
I spend a lot of time worrying about things I have no control over.
A lot of people have those tendencies, and it’s a matter of how often you have them. After all, who doesn’t relive their past mistakes? Who doesn’t think about things that you have no control over? Who doesn’t relive embarrassing moments of their lives?
Morin, however, gives actionable advice to stop overthinking things. First, she suggests not to wait until we feel like doing something. Instead, take action first and our feelings and emotions will change with the action. Psychologists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman find that smiling allows people to facilitate stress recovery.
“So don’t expect your emotions to magically change. Take action and make it happen,” Morin said.
I personally have heard advice like “attitudes follow action” and “just do it” all my life and while it’s valid advice, sometimes I feel like I personally can take it too far. It’s simply a lot easier said than done to get out of bed when you don’t feel like doing it at all. It’s simply a lot easier said to not take something personally when your mind still gravitates towards a perceived offense.
Sometimes, you have to think and reflect. You know the feeling when you stop trying to do something, and it only becomes more powerful? That’s how I feel with overthinking — and yet Morin suggests scheduling time for reflection for brief moments. It allows us to think about what we can do differently and how we can do better in the future.
In fact, for those of us that really rely on our schedule, she urges us to turn to “thinking time,” the time we spend letting ourselves ruminate and think about whatever we want. For me, “thinking time” often involves going on a run, or when I’m brushing my teeth and in the shower. I don’t have my life structured in a way that I adhere to such a strict schedule, but having “thinking time” helps us to just designate space for ruminating tendencies.
If I weren’t an overthinker, I wouldn’t write as much as I do. I wouldn’t be the person that I am that is just very thoughtful about how to treat the people around me. Just as King Midas’s greatest gift in the golden touch became a curse, over time, my greatest curse, my overthinking, eventually became more and more of a gift.
Life is complicated, and I’ve gotten very lucky. There have been dark, depressing situations, not only when I’ve gone through puberty but also various struggles with my family and various points of being ostracized in college. Sometimes, things just don’t go well. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like you can do anything right.
That’s fine — because according to W.B. Yeats, life is not a linear staircase to perfection, but rather a messy and muddled spiral staircase where it seems like we make the same mistakes and cover the same ground we covered before — only we’re higher.
“The journey is both repetitious and progressive; we go both round and upward,” Yeats said.
I have come a long way. A long time ago, I didn’t have Jesus, and I didn’t have hope when everything in my life was going wrong. And trust me, I’ve had plenty of long, exhausting periods of my life when everything was going wrong. As David says in Psalm 34:18:
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.”
I have worried that my faith was just another phase, that it would be too difficult to grow into Christianity when I was 20. But I was wrong — the friends and people who showed me the love of Christ taught me what no one else in the world would teach me: it’s not wrong to suffer. Sometimes, you have to give yourself permission to not only think, but to feel. It doesn’t mean that you should wallow all the time, but I learned this during the stage of my conversion to Christ:
Feeling bad for feeling bad only exacerbates our agony and pain. Beating ourselves up for parts of ourselves that we cannot change does as well — and me being an overthinker was always something I could not change. I always have been, and always will be — I just find better ways to deal with it and channel it.
The poem “To a Thinker” from Robert Frost captures the back and forth-ness of overthinking, where we go:
“From bound to free and back to bound,
From sound to sense and back to sound.
So back and forth. It almost scares
A man the way things come in pairs.”
And things do, as a matter of fact, come in pairs — I know that I do. My overthinking personality can make me obsessive and fixate, but it can also make me thoughtful and loyal. When my mind is channeled on service, I bring passion and intensity to my job, friends, and faith that makes me almost like General Sherman, single-minded, and relentlessly devoted to accomplishing a goal. But when it is channeled on a past mistake, something I shouldn’t have said, or something I have no control over, all I feel is shame.
It scares me the way things come in pairs, that my greatest curse is also my greatest gift. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.