Episode #200 - Overthinkers Anonymous

October 22, 2023 Damon Socha Season 1 Episode 200
Episode #200 - Overthinkers Anonymous
Show Notes Transcript

Let's face the fact that we tend to overthink problems when we suffer with mental health.  The question is what do we do about it.

Episode #200 – Overthinkers Anonymous.  If such an organization ever existed, I am certain to be one of its most prominent members if not its president.  I suppose that everyone of us who suffers tends to be addicted to overthinking life.  Except there is no real benefit to our addiction.  We don’t even get a minimal high or a moment of relief from the effects of overthinking.  No, our addiction to overthinking life has very few advantages.  Personally I can’t think of one real benefit, except that in some ways it provides some form of relief to our anxious minds.  In some perverse way, we use our brain to analyze every possible outcome to a stressful situation in an attempt to calm our fears and anxious feelings about what might happen.  Naturally our minds do not drift to the most likely outcome or even the most plausible one.  No that would be far too easy.  Our minds find the remote, the unlikely and then turn it into what is most likely to happen.  But strangely, this doesn’t easy our fear, it compounds it. For the least likely outcome generally carries the greater costs.  When we overthink life, we take the view that our spouse who is driving to get groceries might die, rather than the most plausible outcome which is that nothing will happen.

Somewhere in our brain we have programmed ourselves to see life from this perspective.  Our mental health challenges seem to reprogram our very nature and how we operate on a daily basis.  We spend far more time in the future analyzing what might happen than we do in the present.  In fact, it seems we are almost always in the past or in the future contemplating what problems we have faced or might face and our inability to manage them in the moment.  We fear that we will do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, think the wrong thing, look the wrong way.  And when we do it only serves to reinforce our overthinking mindset that we have serious inabilities.  Our weaknesses are often glaring to us.  So glaring and bright that we cannot see that for the most part we handle situations very well.  We cannot see the good we do, the positive impact we have, the people we help and the service we render.  Our glaring faults are so bright that we see only those negative lights and unfortunately that is where we focus.

When it comes to living the gospel, overthinking finds a new level of disfunction.  We now have sin and judgment to compound our problems.  We give our faults and failures the weight of iron and our positive impact the weight of dry wood.  So even small faults and minor failures seriously outweigh the positive impacts that we make.  Of truth, we don’t often think about any of our positive impacts.  We contemplate, ponder, worry over and emotionally distress our minds with how we could have done better, what we should have done, why we won’t be forgiven, why our lives seem to be so full of failures rather than success.  We worry over the small and insignificant in the grand scheme of the gospel.  We worry about things such as our small words that truthfully no one else remembers.  We worry that when the Lord said that he judges every idol word, he meant every word and that every mistake would be used against us.  We build a case that if celestial life is even possible for us, we are going to make it there by the very slimmest of margins.   We are not concerned with large mansions in the celestial kingdom.  We hope that we can simply function as a guard to the gate of heaven.  Living just within its walls on a small plot of land.  That is even if we can see ourselves in that kingdom, which I admit is rare.  To overthink life and to see oneself in celestial habitations does not occur.  They do not run in parallel planes.  To overthink life is to judge in the harshest sense of judgment and to do so in the worst possible way.  We tend to overthink our way out of celestial life not into it.

So why do we do this?  What drives us to overthink every aspect of the gospel of Christ and of life?  Why do we weigh the negative with such heaviness and the positive with such levity?  Why are we so often bogged down in the mire of life when often so much of life is actually not that bad and in fact is quite good?  Where did this misery start with us and why is our addiction so strong to those overthinking forces?  I suppose in some ways each of us is a little different individually.  Certainly my weaknesses are not yours and most certainly different cultures, sexes, communities value one objective over another.  We worry about different things depending upon who we are, where we grew up, our parents, our peers, our life experiences.  So in that sense we are different.  My fears are not your fears.  However, our differences are not my concern.  Because we worry about different things does not make us that much different.  The pattern and process is the same whether we are worried about what someone will think of our hair or whether we are concerned about something we said and how it was interpreted.  The object of our obsession is not the main issue.  The pattern of our addiction is.  How we get into these patterns of obsessive overthought is really our issue.

There is no doubt that no real benefit comes from overthinking a problem.  And certainly jumping to the worst outcome or conclusion removes any minor benefit we might have received.  What benefit or relief our anxious mind might have received from working through a problem before it occurs is consistently outweighed by the anxiety of jumping to the worst outcome.  Now we have escalated a future problem to a level where our anxious and depressed mind feels worse than when we started thinking about it.  Not only do we dwell upon those outcomes that are most depressing and weigh heaviest upon our minds.  We also tend to dwell upon things over which we have little to no control.  When our mind ceases upon the idea that we have no control over a situation, it elevates the problem to the frontal cortex and keeps us focused upon what terrible thing might occur over which we have little to do.  

There are three types of fears which we must confront.  The first is a fear over which we have full control.  Most often these things have nothing to do with other individuals.  They are personal issues to us alone.  The second is the most common.  These are future problems over which we have some control but not all control.  Finally the last category is those things over which we have no control.  While our mind doesn’t sort them this way, if you look at the last few things that consumed your mind, it is likely that all of them fall in the second and third category and maybe the third category entirely.  The reason for this is simple.  We each have a tolerance for uncertainty in our lives.  Individuals who are not prone to overthink life tend to have a high tolerance for uncertainty and surprises.  When I think of these type of individuals my mind always reverts back to a Dreamworks movie about the lost city of gold in the Americas.  The movie is called, “The Road to Eldorado”.  Two con artists embark somewhat of a forced adventure to find the city of gold.  There is one moment in the movie when Miguel remarks to Tulio that he worries too much.  Tulio responds, “You can never worry too much.”  Us overthinkers are most solidly in the camp of you can never worry too much.  We tend to have a low tolerance for uncertainty in our lives and our mind really fights the idea that much of life might not be in our control and has a reasonable level of uncertainty.  Thus our overthinking corresponds directly to our level of comfort with the uncertainties of life.  When I suffered with bipolar and even for many years after, my addiction to overthought was about as dependent as one can be.  I was rarely in the present because I was always worried about something in the future.  I also freely admit that at times it still is a problem for me.  I will run through stressful scenarios over and over again in my mind.  To the point that is consumes my every thought for periods of time.

I have learned that much of my thought patterns are dictated by my emotional state.  For instance, I have good days regularly along with bad ones.  And I am able to compare and contrast between those days and my tendency towards my overthinking addiction.  I find when my depression is active so is the overthinking problem.  The greater the stress, anxiety and depression, the more the patterns present themselves.  During my more normal emotional days when stress is low I find that I am far less prone to thinking about my issues.  Interestingly enough, the issues don’t often vary.  What does vary is my emotional connection to them.  So often the patterns in our thinking are highly dependent upon our emotional status.  I know that this makes life sound as if overthinking cannot be avoided if you have mental health issues.  Perhaps in some way this is true.  It is one of the symptoms of the illness.  However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the symptom is meant to rule our lives every time we find ourselves in another episode.  We don’t need to entirely immerse ourselves in its downward spiral.  We can provide for some remedy even if it does not entirely remove the symptom.  Meaning we can fight against it and learn to have moderate control of the issue.  I know of individuals who have significant control of those thought patterns.  However, it takes time, effort and most certainly the Savior.

One cannot find any real measure of relief unless they fully embrace a very important part of the gospel.  The doctrine of it is quite simple.  The Savior is far more involved in the details of your life than you realize.  He is concerned not just with the big moments but the very small ones. When you come to fully realize just how interwoven he is in your life, you can begin to place your trust in him, knowing that no matter what event or outcome may occur, it is part of his plan for you.  This takes time and experience to fully understand and know the depth of the Savior’s involvement in your life.  That if you are willing he will direct every part of your life and the outcomes that occur.  This is to understand that a Liberty Jail moments may occur in your life because the Savior sees value in the experience.  But this is also to fully understand that he will ever provide for you.  If he desires that a Liberty Jail moment come then he will prepare you before, strengthen you during and allow for the growth you need.  Trust is the key element that quiets our anxieties and calms our mind.  Trust that the Savior is in our lives and knows what we need.  

Our minds focus on the uncertainty of the outcome, and that uncertainty causes our overthinking problem.  When our emotions are of the negative kind and our mental health rears its ugly head, these outcomes can become all consuming in our lives.  The problem we have is no control over the outcome.  However, trust can replace the feelings of uncertainty.  Meaning trust in an all wise Savior, can if allowed and the mind trained over time, provide for the certainty one needs to face the problem.  What we are doing when we allow for trust in the Savior is saying we might not know the outcome but the Savior does and can alter the outcome to best suit our needs.  Depending upon our trust in the Savior we can then reduce the overthinking need in our minds.  It is likely to still happen but the addictive behavior and the incessant need to over analyze every event in one’s life will diminish.  As we place our trust in the Savior and that he knows what he is doing we will find greater rest to our souls.

Now this is not an easy task especially with an illness that provokes our emotions to dark, distrusting places.  So the process must start slowly.  We must ask the Savior regularly to show us how he is working in our lives.  We first must understand how involved he is.  We must see the evidence of it.  And the Savior is ever willing to provide that witness if we ask him.  As we see the depth of his participation in our lives, we will begin to build trust.  With that small amount of trust, we can begin to use it to quiet the voices in our head.  We must eventually say thy will be done and allow for the Lord to intervene in our behalf.  We must honestly say we trust the Lord.  That will take evidence and time as you give your anxious concerns over to him in prayer.  When we are faced with overthinking we take it to the Lord and pour out our hearts and then allow him to make up the difference.  We allow him to take the uncertainty while we plan for those things we can control.  Yes we still need to plan and work on our side to provide for solutions when we have some control over the situation.  We cannot just turn everything over the Lord and never think again.

Thinking, planning and providing for issues before they become serious in our life holds great value.  I work in the construction industry where planning and forethought can and often does mean the difference between success and failure.  Almost all successful projects spend more time planning than executing the project.  When you see a large building being erected in a downtown corridor, you should understand that the hours planning that building far exceed the hours to construct it.  Planning our lives working through difficulties and problems in our mind is essential to living.  And the Lord expects us to use our thinking and planning skills.  The Lord explains this to us beautifully as he discusses the design for the barges that would carry the Jaredites to the Americas in the Book of Mormon.  The brother of Jared was commanded to build barges based on a design that the Savior gave to him.  As these boats were being constructed the brother of Jared came to the Lord with two problems.  One once the door was shut they would run out of breathable air.  The second problem was light.  Individuals once inside the barges would have no light by which to see.  Interestingly enough, the Lord quickly solved the first problem by showing the brother of Jared how to provide holes for breathable air.  However, he did not solve the second problem.  He wanted the brother of Jared to work that out.  The Lord did mention that windows and fire were not options but he wanted the brother of Jared to solve the light problem.  We are not told if the brother of Jared came up with the solution by himself or if he counseled with the people he was leading.  In any case, he provided a solution to the Lord where by he would create glass rocks and the Lord would light them.

The importance of the discussion with the brother of Jared is exactly the way he works with us.  When we can plan and provide for solutions that our within our ability and the Lord’s commands, the Lord would like us to provide for solutions.  When outcomes are out of our control or the solution beyond our ability to grasp, the Lord can and does provide for and direct the solution to our needs and his needs.

Now I have to admit that for me this has not been an easy task.  My mental health challenges have trained my brain very well.  And because they started early in my life, patterns of overthinking are deeply engrained.  And so over many years, I have worked to leave it to the Lord and to watch for his hand.  I have regularly asked for him to aid me with those things out of my control and allow me to see his hand from time to time in the outcome.  Over years I have been able to reduce my overthinking patterns and allowed myself much greater peace than I would otherwise have.  I have not as yet been able to overcome all of my overthinking and planning and I may not entirely find it possible to do so.  I continue to work with the Lord and hope for the best.  But I have reduced it significantly.  I have found it to be an enlightening and uplifting experience to see the hand of the Lord come to bear on my small problems.  I admit that I still struggle from time to time to let go and allow the Lord to do his work.  That is part of the mortal struggle of life.  That is really the essence of the gospel.  Allowing the Lord to fully accomplish his work in our lives.  I know that I get in his way regularly and yet he is still patient with my weakness and tendency to overthinking even the smallest of issue.  I may have a ways to go but the path is far clearer for me. I have found a much deeper peace and lasting joy.  I hope that in your quest you might find your path through the Savior to a more lasting and uplifting peace.  Until next week.  Do your part so that the Lord can do his.