Have you ever replayed past conversations, actions, or events over and over, trying to figure out how to make "right" what went "wrong"? In anticipation of future conversations, actions, or events, have you ever thought through every possible outcome until you got to the worst case scenario? Many of us are guilty of overthinking in certain situations. It’s like our brains want to prepare us for the most horrible thing that could happen so we won't be caught off guard.
Fear, uncertainty, guilt, anxiousness, and remorse are all emotions that may lead to overthinking. Clinical anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders may cause someone to overthink the past or future to the point of becoming paralyzed into inaction. "Paralysis from analysis" is what we could call it—overthinking every possible outcome or reliving every misstep we’ve made until we've talked ourselves out of moving forward at all.
Not all those emotions are bad though, and it isn't sinful to feel emotions. God designed our bodies to emote negatively as a warning system when something isn't right. Considering options, seeking solutions, and contemplating past mistakes can be beneficial in helping us learn, plan, and exercise wisdom (Ephesians 5:15-17). Proverbs 18:15 tells us that "an intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge."
But when we start to get lost in those considerations and contemplations, when we allow an abundance of uncertainties to "move in" to our minds, we become filled with doubt or dread about what has happened, what we wish would happen, or what might happen. And that's when we find ourselves moving from helpful thinking to hurtful overthinking.
Sometimes we have to thoroughly think over problems, relational issues, or other plans—like getting prepared to leave for college, mending a broken friendship after a fight, or putting together a final project for school. Life often requires us to think through a lot of details and possibilities before we can make a move or plan, and that's OK! Thinking is perfectly fine, but we shouldn't allow a simple thing to turn into an overly complex one that causes unnecessary problems.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." —Philippians 4:6
Reliving past conversations, rehashing every word or phrase in an effort to figure out how you could have done things differently, is overthinking in a harmful way (Proverbs 12:25). It does no good to agonize over the past because what's done is done (Matthew 6:27). You have no power to go back and change the past, but what you DO have power over is how you proceed from this point forward.
The enemy, Satan, would love to gain an advantage by leaning into a person's tendency to overthink, nurturing doubts and fears about the reliability and reality of God's great love and compassion for us. When we start overanalyzing spiritual matters, our faith may crumble under the mountain of unknowns we create for ourselves. Rather than agonizing over the question of "Why would God give ME grace," allow yourself to rest in "the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3, KJV).
God has NO desire to reject you (2 Peter 3:9), nor is He waiting around for you to "mess up." Romans 5:8 says that "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Ephesians 6:10-20 talks about using the Armor of God to protect us from spiritual attacks designed to throw believers into a pit of inactivity and dying faith.
Some people can compartmentalize their lives to avoid overthinking the past or future, allowing that "what will be will be." But not everyone has that ability. If you feel like an anxious, uncertain overthinker today, Jesus has a message expressly for you. If you feel that constant worry has become the norm in how you function in life, please take a moment to look up Matthew 6:25-34. Read it, let it soak in, and ask God to remove your uncertainty and doubt about whatever it is that's causing you so much grief.
The Psalms are filled with the poetry and songs of those who were overwhelmed by danger, emotional unrest, fear, or despair—overthinking every agonizing possibility for their future. So please know that you are not alone. Psalm 6:6 reads, "I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears."
Yet many psalmists turned their anxiety into a prayer of worship. Psalm 94:19 says, "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." The psalmist David ends Psalm 6 with this: "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" (v. 9-10).
If you have a tendency to overthink or fall into the abyss of terrible possibilities, that doesn't mean all hope is lost. Turn your thoughts to meditation and prayer, relying on Scripture and discussion with a trusted community to help address whatever doubts or uncertainties are bearing down on you. Focus on solving the existing problem—not the 57 other things that might happen.
Making the intentional decision to change your thoughts or perspective from inevitable doomsday to potential opportunity is a great practice to help alleviate the pressure and fears that come with overthinking. Try pouring your nervous, anxious energy into creative pursuits, such as writing, music, art, or invention. (Like the psalmists did!) Take those damaging thought patterns and bring beauty into the world instead.
"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." —Matthew 6:34
Overthinking is when we get trapped in a cycle of envisioning every possible outcome or reliving every misstep we’ve made until we've become paralyzed into inaction. The Psalms are filled with the poetry of those who were overwhelmed by danger, emotional unrest, fear, or despair, yet many turned their anxiety into a prayer of worship (Psalm 94:19). God has grace for you too; He is NOT waiting around for you to "mess up" (2 Peter 3:9; Romans 5:8). Practice making the intentional decision to change your perspective from inevitable doomsday to potential opportunity to help alleviate the pressure and fears that come with overthinking (Matthew 6:34).
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.