Do you often dwell on your choices or get trapped in a tunnel of “what if” scenarios or regrets? Or aren’t you able to get your mind off your worries? Well, you’re probably an overthinker.
Midlife women can ruminate about anything and everything: their appearance, their families, their career, and their health.
We often feel that this is just part of being a woman – that it’s a reflection of our caring, nurturing qualities. This may be partly true, but overthinking is also toxic for us. It interferes with our ability and motivation to solve our problems.
The overthinking toll
We are all familiar with the nagging thoughts that just won’t let us sleep. Even if it starts on a positive note, thoughts have the tendency to quickly change course and “there are times when the worry about the problem is a lot worse than the problem itself“, as American psychiatrist Dr David Spiegel explained.
Overthinking is the habit of thinking too much and/or too long about something. Often, it’s about things that haven’t even happened yet.
It refers to having the same thought repeatedly, like going around a circle with no exit. Basically, it means getting stuck in your thoughts, obsessing about problems, a loss, about any kind of a setback, stopping yourself from taking action, draining your mental energy and eventually leading to irritability and anxiety.
In fact, overthinking creates so many options, choices and scenarios that you end up unable to make a decision. Sounds familiar? Research shows that overthinking is prevalent among midlife adults (45-55-year-olds) and tends to be worse among women.
As the late Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a Yale-educated expert psychologist, a pioneer researcher on rumination and author of “Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life” has shown, women are predisposed to rumination more than men, largely because they value relationships and situations and thus devote a great deal of time and mental energy to processing the often-ambiguous content of them. And there they get lost, obsessing about issues without taking action.
“Over the last four decades, women have experienced unprecedented growth in independence and opportunities. Yet, when there is any pause in our daily activities, many of us are flooded with worries, thoughts and emotions that swirl out of control, sucking our emotions and energy down“, she wrote in her book. That’s why for some of them, “trying to overcome overthinking is like trying to escape from quicksand“.
How to stop ruminating
Thinking is an important function that the brain serves, however, when the thinking goes out of control, it begins to affect our daily life. It is important to break the habit as soon as it starts, because, like any other, the rut of overthinking is a difficult habit to get rid of, especially after a certain age.
Here are five quick steps to break free from it according to Nolen-Hoeksema’s method.
1. Understand that overthinking is not your friend
Don’t think you are doing something right or gaining new insights when you overthink. Don’t think it would be wrong to stop overthinking about the major issues in your life.
Actually, ruminating only focuses on what is wrong in your life, until your thoughts get out of control. So anytime you find yourself overthinking, tell yourself to stop. Another solution is asking a friend or partner to help and talk about what you are overthinking.
2. Give it a rest
Simply give your mind a rest by doing something pleasant to lift your mood, like exercise, reading, cooking or helping others. Though a pleasant distraction can only provide temporary relief, it can set the stage for longer-term strategies. Journaling and practising mindfulness can often help combat overthinking, too.
3. Seek your bliss and use it
Counteract overthinking by creating opportunities to experience positive emotions even while under stress. Don’t neglect yourself. Get your hair done, take a bubble bath, watch a funny movie, play with children, etc.
4. Get up and get moving
Stop overthinking through activity and concentration. If you can’t sleep, when you start overthinking in the middle of the night, get up and move about. If you lie in bed ruminating for more than 20 minutes, get up and leave the room. If there are places that trigger overthinking, change the look of the place.
5. Don’t let the thoughts win
If you find yourself starting to overthink a possible situation that’s been bothering you, take control of your thoughts. Decide when you will really focus on the problem and how you will figure out a solution.
In your head, outline each step you need to take to address the problem or write it down on a piece of paper. Be as specific as possible and also realistic with your expectations. Doing this will help to break out of your rumination.
If the trap feels unavoidable and overthinking is ruining your life, try to set more realistic goals that you’re capable of achieving in a reasonable time and work on enhancing your self-esteem. Reclaim your brain and create stronger foundations by considering speaking to a therapist who will support you in making sense of your path and the new chapters of your life.