The space between our ears can be a wonderful place to be. It’s where much-needed creativity and problem solving emerge. But too much time inside our own thoughts can create clutter, so to speak. Which is why it’s so important to unplug your brain regularly.
As a recovering overachiever and perfectionist, it’s really easy for me to spend a lot if time thinking. About anything…and everything. Dreams, ideas, tasks, problems, you name it. I’m bent toward over analyzing.
Tell me if you can relate.
In our culture of praising high-productivity, having our brains constantly “on” has been praised. What we often overlook is what this hyper activity is really doing to our brain, emotions and health.
Is thinking harmful?
That’s a funny thought, isn’t it? We tend to think the opposite (I just had a flashback to my childhood and all the times my mother told me to think before acting. Oy.) In truth, the trick isn’t all-or-nothing, but finding balance. Too little thinking, you get poor decisions. Too much thinking…you get poor decisions.
In this study, too much introspective thinking was found to damage focus and mental processing (Tordesillas and Chaiken, 1999). Instead of helping people make good decisions, it actually stopped them from being able to properly factor in variables and damaged their perception of reality.
Which feeds directly into the next point: emotional and physical health. What we think about — and how much we think about it — has an effect on our emotions. In fact, overthinking or over-analyzing is typically categorized with worry and anxiety. Physically, it creates an overproduction of cortisol and other stress-related hormones. When these hormones are constantly produced and don’t have anywhere to go, they start impacting our health.
Our brains simply aren’t meant to be “on” all the time.
My husband and I were talking one day while driving. I had just finished a rant about all the things I was thinking (a.k.a worrying) about. From the corner of my eye I saw him look at me. Then he gently said, “No offense, but being you must be exhausting. You’re always thinking.”
I was torn between finding his statement amusing and sad. It was true, I was tired all the time. Brain tired, which I find worse than being physically tired. And what did I have to show for my mental exhaustion? It certainly wasn’t solutions. If anything, my problems felt even bigger because I was thinking about them all. the. time.
It’s a dangerous cycle and we often fall into it. And a key trait of perfectionists is constantly striving for “better.” Which means never being satisfied and always looking for a way to improve.
I believe this is one of the reasons 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands us to take every thought captive. Not just because of what we’re thinking about, but also how much we’re thinking.
Why is it so hard to unplug our brain?
I know in my case, unplugging is agony. Because somewhere along the line I’ve chosen to believe my problems are so big, I’ve got to fix them all myself and the only way I can do that is to be “on” all the time.
We all have our bents for why unplugging our brains is so hard. I strongly encourage you to spend some time figuring out what the root factor is for you. Maybe it’s fear or worry or striving or expectations… Once the root is identified, it’s easier to take steps toward unplugging.
In an ideal world, we all could just — plink — pull the plug for a few hours to rest our brains. Unplugging doesn’t necessarily mean completely disengaging with life. Sometimes it simply means getting out of your own head for a while.
For example, recently I had spent a day mentally calculating new moves and ways to do my job better, not realizing I was winding myself deeper and deeper down the hole of over-analyzing. Then I got a phone call from a young friend and we chatted for 40 minutes about life. It wasn’t until about 15 minutes after we ended the phone call that I realized how much better my mental state was. Not because of anything that was said, but because for a few minutes I got outside of my head, outside of my little world, and inside of hers.
Did it fix any of my problems? No. Did it give me any brilliant Insight on how to better present and improve my writing? Not exactly. Mostly, it reminded me that there is so much more than the space inside my own head. And taking the time to unplug is so desperately needed for the sake of maintaining perspective.