We have a million and one things on our minds at all times, and I am not even exaggerating with that number. Even when we ‘put our feet up’ us women are always thinking of one thing or another in the back of our minds. We never really ‘shut down’ our brains and that is one of the main reasons causing all of our stress and anxiety.
While it is a common stereotype, the tendency for women to overthink just about everything also has scientific backing. According to ground-breaking research detailed in Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim your Life by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema:
- Overthinking is more common among young and middle-aged women than older ones
- 73% of 22-35 year-olds and 52% of 45-55 year-olds overthink compared to 20% of 65-75 year-olds
- Overthinking leads to severe depression and anxiety among women
- It also interferes with problem-solving
- Overthinkers are more susceptible to drug abuse
Most women are intelligent which means their overthinking is always almost justifiable to them. Being smart also means that they can envision up to a dozen different outcomes of the same thing. Women also drive themselves insane thinking of scenarios which are never likely to happen in the first place which makes overthinking frustrating above anything else.
While it may not make much sense to others, women believe that their overthinking keeps them in ‘control’ [Related: The Dating Struggles of Women who Overthink Everything]. Women don’t like to be taken by surprise and want to be prepared for everything which has the possibility of going wrong in a given scenario. To women, overthinking is logical. Here are five main reasons behind why she might be overthinking:
Worrier by nature
Women, by nature, have more maternal instincts as compared to men. They are natural worriers and when they find themselves in a troublesome situation, their mind goes into hyper-drive. They would think of all the reasons something could go wrong- and then some. This is why women are also more prone to panic attacks and hyperventilation [Related: 4 simple steps to end a panic attack].
Women, who find they are overprotective by nature, also tend to be overthinkers. When it comes to their family, friends, and children their safety would be a continuous concern in the back of their minds. Subconsciously, women would always find themselves anxious over keeping their loved ones out of harm’s way. This is why your mother might call you 12 times while you go to the grocery store to get some bread. Do not blame her for it. It’s natural.
Perhaps one of the most common reasons of overthinking in women is being ignored by their partners, colleagues or other people in their lives. Lack of attention, rude behavior and a change in attitude might trigger the fear of abandonment in a woman which would drive her on a frenzied overthinking rampage.
Let’s face it, women are born perfectionists. They want every aspect of their life to gleam and shine like a thoroughly washed and scrubbed tiled floor they show on advertisements. Whether it is their work lives, marital life, personal care or children they want it perfect enough to receive a Martha Stewart stamp of approval. A lot of overthinking goes behind this struggle for perfection. Dr. Alice Domar, a successful psychologist from Boston, says while talking to Time Magazine that, “… because we multitask, [women] tend to have more things we try to be good at. There is a study done about 10 years ago tracked married couples over three months. They found that men on average worry about three things every day, but women on average worry about 12 things every day. In which way are you going to be more neurotic? If you worry about three things or if you worry about 12 things?”
Insecurities about anything and everything are a great contributor of anxiety and overthinking. When women feel a lack of self-confidence and begin to doubt themselves or their abilities, they spiral into an abyss of insecurities. Overthinking gets the best of them and they might assume things about themselves which aren’t even true, to begin with. Read more about the 3 most common causes of insecurities and how to beat them here.
Consequences of Overthinking:
In the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy article, Nolen-Hoeksema and Zaje Harrell describe that overthinkers are more likely to turn to alcohol and other abusive drugs for support and comfort. This multi-year study shows that overthinkers, especially women exhibit ‘negative memories of the past, depressing explanations of the present and hopelessness about the future’.
Personal relationships also tend to suffer when a woman overthinks about every little thing. People in their life, spouses, and children find this habit irritating which may spark regular arguments. Learn more about why overthinking is the biggest relationship killer.
Women Who Think Too Much also explains how depression is likely when we overthink. In her book, Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema defines this as “getting caught in torrents of negative thoughts and emotions that overwhelm us and interfere with our functioning and well-being”. She describes this through the example of a woman who might spend days worrying about her boss’s sarcastic remark at work. She might spiral into a torrent of thoughts about her self-worth, boss’s opinion of her and self-doubt about her performance triggering anxiety and depression.
Overcoming the Plight of Overthinking:
While men and women, boys and girls are all vulnerable to this plight of overthinking it is women who are more prone to depressive thoughts. Overthinking is equally frustrating to the person who is doing it as it is for those around her. Fortunately, there are strategies and self-help techniques, besides seeking professional help, which can significantly help women, cut back on their overthinking habits.
As with anything else, the realization is the first step towards betterment. Try to accept the fact that you cannot control everything around you. Overthinkers need to realize that what they are doing is beyond logical and unnecessary. They should understand like Nolen-Hoeksema puts it, that overthinking is “not your friend” and that it can be self-destructive in the long run.
Taking an action doesn’t mean acting out on your impulses or running off to somewhere. Taking an action means to layout plans and arrive at a deciding factor. For example, if you are thinking about switching jobs and keep overthinking about it, instead make a pro and con list. Make comparisons on why you should or shouldn’t. Make a financial plan and set timelines and goals. Who knows, by the end of it you might even arrive on a solid plan and decision. Author Bob Miglani writes for the Huffington Post, “One tip that I’ve learned that did more than detox my mind from overthinking is to turn my often worrisome thoughts about the future into effort and work. Taking action, doing something, working on your craft does wonder for your soul.”
The human mind is a sponge which picks up on the vibes that you surround yourself with. Know that happiness is a choice. Choosing to remain happy and calm despite one’s circumstance calls for a great deal of strength. For the overthinker, while it can be a great challenge to think on the bright side of things, with a little practice anything is possible.
[Related: 6 tricks to becoming a more positive thinker]
1. Stop talking about it
They say that too many cooks spoil the broth. When we are worried about something we tend to turn towards our friends and family and go over a particular scenario so many times that we end up overthinking it. As explained by Psychology Today, “The human mind hates uncertainty. Uncertainty implies volatility, randomness, and danger. When we notice information is missing, our brain raises a metaphorical red flag and says, ‘Pay attention. This could be important…’ When data is missing, we overestimate its value. Our minds assume that since we are expending resources locating information, it must be useful.”
Overthinking will slow you down and inhibit your growth as a human being. Distract yourself by taking up healthy activities and hobbies. Instead of unwinding, women often find themselves overthinking in their spare time. Take up activities which would help you relax while focusing your mental energies elsewhere. While you do that, you delay and eventually get rid of overthinking altogether. Author Haruki Murakami talking about this in his book What I talk About When I talk About Running, “When I am criticized unjustly, or when someone Is sure will understand me doesn’t, I go running for a little longer than usual. By running longer, it’s like I can physically exhaust that portion of my discontent. It also makes me realize again how weak I am, how limited my abilities are. I become aware, physically, of these low points… I quietly absorb the things I’m able to, releasing them later, and in as changed a form as possible…”