Dealing with Persistently Irritating Thoughts (Or: My Stupid Mind!)

Most people struggle with annoying and unpleasant thoughts that get stuck in their heads. Here are some examples: “Why didn’t he say ‘hi’ yesterday at the store? Is he mad at me?” “I’ve had a stomach ache for the last two days. I think I have cancer.” “I’m sick of looking at her perfect life on Instagram. I hope she gets into a car crash.” “I always screw things up. I’m such a loser.” “The economy is getting worse. I’m sure I’ll lose my job this Summer.” The list goes on. All people have those kinds of thoughts – some more, some less. And for some, those thoughts are part of a “mind loop” that just keeps playing over and over. The person ends up being frustrated for having such thoughts, which makes for a new mind loop of being frustrated for being frustrated!

What do we do with such thoughts and mind loops? I’ve come to appreciate some aspects of ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). I don’t agree with all the facets of these methods, but generally speaking, there are some helpful aspects to them. These methods have been helpful for me, especially when I utilize them from a biblical perspective.

Speaking of, here’s an excellent Christian book on this very subject: dealing with repeated annoying thoughts: A Still and Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts by Esther Smith. This is not a “how-to-self-help” type of book. Instead, it’s a good resource for Christians struggling with constantly distressing thoughts. Wisely, Smith does not say: “Try not to think about your bad thoughts.” That doesn’t help! Instead, she explains how to know them, pray through them, and analyze them. These methods can, over time, help people change their thoughts. There are three main parts of the book: 1) General approaches for changing thoughts, 2) Holistic approaches for changing thoughts, and 3) Specialized approaches for changing thoughts.

Smith does get into detail in this book. In chapter two, she gives a helpful summary of meditation: focusing on Scripture’s truth and praying to God through it. She even has some guides on how to take terrible thoughts to God in prayer, fighting those thoughts with Christian truth. Smith talks about how our past can affect our thought life, including traumatic situations that have stuck with us. There’s also a helpful section on medication for people who may need that when their thought life becomes overly dark and oppressive. Other topics also come up in the book, such as OCD, anxiety, PTSD, depression, guilt, and so on. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

Our minds need rest just as much as our hearts and souls do. (p. 46)

High levels of smartphone usage increase people’s likelihood of anxiety and their perceived levels of stress. Experts have attributed alarming rises in teen suicide and depression in part to the introduction of social media and the smartphone. …It’s ironic that we often turn back to technology to alleviate our thought-related problems. Our phones have become “digital pacifiers” that help us to avoid difficult feelings and problematic thoughts. (p. 47)

To see ourselves and our thoughts more clearly, we need the active process of speaking our thoughts to another person and receiving feedback. (p. 57)

Taking every thought captive doesn’t mean seizing thoughts that are distressing and negative and replacing them with thoughts that are pleasant and positive. It means moving toward obedient thoughts that reflect a knowledge of God. (p. 81)

If you’re a Christian who struggles with constant negative or unwanted thoughts, I do recommend this book: A Still and Quiet Mind. It’s not going to necessarily fix your thought life in a week. But it will give you some solid Christian insight on dealing with those thoughts. The book has helped me, and I’ll be giving it to some friends I’ve talked to about this very thing. By the way, if you struggle with constant unwanted thoughts, you’re definitely not alone. And don’t forget that the Lord knows your struggles; you can take them to him. One day when Christ returns, none of us will have to worry about distressing thoughts and messed up minds because every part of us will be made new (Rev. 21:1-5).

Esther Smith, A Still and Quiet Mind (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2022).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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