Career Woman

Why women over-think and how to stop it


Over-thinking has reached epidemic proportions, particularly among women, who are more prone to it than men, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema wrote in ‘Women who think too much’.

So, what is over-thinking?

Over-thinking is when you go over and over your negative thoughts and feelings, examining them, questioning them, kneading them like dough, making them bigger and bigger. When you over- think, your questions lead to more questions.

To be clear; over-thinking is not the same as worrying. It is much more than that. It encompasses events that have happened in the past, and it can easily be set off by minor events

Over-thinking can start off as innocuously as hearing a colleague say that she will be wearing thongs to a corporate event. You then start to question ‘why did she say it in ear shot’? Is she doing it to show you up? Then you remember the time she did humiliate you. Your thoughts go through any number of possibilities until you reach the conclusion that you will probably lose your job as she is setting you up to fail. But it doesn’t end there. You can keep going further; worrying about how you will survive without income, worrying about who will employ you and worrying that you will be evicted. One comment about casual footwear sets you spiralling in to a journey of negativity.

Over-thinkingis not to be confused withdeep thinking which involvesdeeply analysing a problem in order to understand the reason behind it. For instance, with deep thinking you may wonder why you are bothered by a person’s offhand remark about thongs. You may think about other times you felt like this and you may even spend a session or two with yourcounsellor unpacking it. In this instance, you are not worrying or over-thinking, you are working it through.

Worry and rumination involves more specific thought; going over the same thing again and again, questioning whether or not you should take a specific action. Should I, or shouldn’t I? Will I look bad? Am I weak if I let it go?

What kinds of things do we over-think?

Women can ruminate about anything and everything – our appearance, our families, our career, our health- anything! And, we should stop it. Over-thinking is not good for us. In fact, it is toxic.

  • It interferes with our ability and motivation to solve our problems.
  • it drives friends and family members away.
  • It can wreck your emotional health. It makes life harder, and our stresses seem larger.
  • It hurts our relationships
  • It may contribute to serious mental disorders including depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse.

The causes of over-thinking

Understanding the origins of over-thinking can help us to change our tendency to fall into this harmful habit. Suggested causes of over-thinking include:

  1. The vacuum of values. When we live lives that are not driven by a values set it becomes harder to navigate choices because everything is possible. For instance, if you respect dress codes, you will stick to your belief that wearing thongs to a corporate event is inappropriate and you will not be swayed by another person’s decision. However, if everything is an option, deciding what shoes to wear becomes a quagmire.
  2. The entitlement obsession. People today have a highly developed sense of entitlement leading us to over-think about why we are not getting what we deserve.
  3. The compulsion for quick fixes. If we are feeling down, we think there must be a quick solution.We ruminate over whether we should get out of a relationship, or stop talking to our parents, or stop binge drinking.
  4. Our belly button culture. We have taken self-awareness too far. By analysing every twist and turn of our emotions, we become totally self-absorbed, pondering the meaning behind something as small as a slight rush of anxiety, or a twinge of sadness.

If you feel that over-thinking is a problem for you there are strategies to help you overcome it:

  1. Understand that over -thinking is not your friend. It is not providing you with deep insights; it is draining the power from your thoughts and feelings.
  2. Do not let the thoughts win. Separate your observer-self from your thoughts. Mindfulness and meditation courses can teach you how to do this, and the key is to keep practicing it on a daily basis.
  3. When you observe yourself spiralling, literally imagine a Stop sign, say to yourself ‘stop this’, then get up and get moving.
  4. Clarify your values. Write them down so you can refer to them when you are over-thinking. For example, if you value dress codes, youwould stop the over-thinking by saying to yourself ‘I choose to follow the corporate dress code. Her choice of thongshas no bearing on what I choose to wear’.
  5. Engage in pleasant distractions such as getting your hair done or going for a bike ride.
  6. Inject positive emotions into your day by helping others and laughing.
  7. Schedule a specific time to over-think. When you notice yourself lapsing, tell yourself ‘I can’t do this now, but I will allow myself to go over it again later tonight.’ Set a time and commit to it. At the designated hour sit down and tell yourself “OK, I have 30 minutes now to over-think”. Paradoxically, doing it willingly takes away its power. Do this daily.
  8. Hand it over to a higher power, share the load. In other words if you have a problem that seems insurmountable, pray or hand it over to the universe to solve. Or join a group and ask them to help you solve it.
  9. Talk to a trusted friend. Talking to others helps break the cycle of over-thinking.

By employing any or all of these techniques, you will quickly notice the difference in the quality of your life and will have freed your mind for useful thinking.

About Renee Mill

Renee Mill is a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Anxiety Solutions CBT, and author of Anxiety Free, Drug Free and Parenting Without Anger. She has worked as a clinical psychologist in private practice for over 30 years and is the owner of stress and anxiety clinic Anxiety Solutions CBT, located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. She has successfully treated hundreds of individuals, couples and families, and has appeared as an expert commentator on stress, anxiety and depression for TODAY, The Morning Show, ABC Radio, and more.

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