Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life

Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life

by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema


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"Groundbreaking research . . . Women Who Think Too Much tells why overthinking occurs, why it hurts people, and how to stop." —USA Today

It's no surprise that our fast-paced, overly self-analytical culture is pushing many people—especially women—to spend countless hours thinking about negative ideas, feelings, and experiences. Renowned psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema calls this overthinking, and her groundbreaking research shows that an increasing number of women—more than half of those in her extensive study—are doing it too much and too often, leading to sadness, anxiety, and depression. She challenges the assumption—heralded by so many pop-psychology pundits of the last several decades—that constantly expressing and analyzing our emotions is a good thing.

In Women Who Think Too Much, Nolen-Hoeksema shows us what causes so many women to be overthinkers and provides concrete strategies that can be used to escape these negative thoughts, move to higher ground, and live more productively. Women Who Think Too Much will change lives, and is destined to become a self-help classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805075250
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/01/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 90,806
Product dimensions: 5.63(w) x 8.22(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. She received her B.A. from Yale University and her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Her award-winning research has been funded by major grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, and several private foundations. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband and son.

Read an Excerpt

Types of Overthinking:


This is the most familiar type of overthinking which usually centers on some wrong we believe has been done to us. Women prone to this kind of overthinking tend to take on an air of wounded self-righteousness and focus on designing retribution that will severely sting our victimizers.


This type of overthinking begins innocently as we notice we're feeling upset or when we ponder a recent event. Then we begin to entertain possible causes for our feelings about the events. Overthinking causes us to exaggerate problems and make bad decisions.


This type of overthinking occurs when we don't move in a straight line from one problem to another. Instead, it is as if all kinds of concerns, many of them unrelated, flood our minds at the same time.

Table of Contents


Part I: An Epidemic of Overthinking,
1. What's Wrong with Overthinking?,
2. If It Hurts So Much, Why Do We Do It?,
3. Women's Unique Vulnerabilities,
Part II: Strategies for Overcoming Overthinking,
4. Breaking Free,
5. Moving to Higher Ground,
6. Avoiding Future Traps,
Part III: Triggers for Overthinking,
7. Married to My Worries: Overthinking Intimate Relationships,
8. Family Matters: Overthinking Our Parents and Siblings,
9. The Parent Trap: Overthinking and Our Children,
10. Always on the Job: Overthinking Work and Careers,
11. Toxic Thoughts: Overthinking Health Problems,
12. Can't Get Over It: Overthinking Loss and Trauma,
13. Moving Our Society to Higher Ground,

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. What are some of the distinctions between destructive overthinking and prudent planning? How can you tell when you've begun thinking "too much"?

2. The first part of chapter one mentions the unprecedented growth in independence and opportunities experienced by women over the past forty years as well as the fact that women are twice as likely as men to become severely depressed or anxious. In your experience, have the liberating legal and societal changes of the late twentieth century simultaneously created new constraints for women?

3. The book's subtitle proposes that overthinking can prevent women from truly embracing their lives. What are some of the ways in which overthinking acts as a barrier to authenticity? In particular, what can morbid meditations reveal about sense of self?

4. How did you react to your results of the quiz on page 13? Which category presents the greatest challenge to you?

5. Pessimism and self-criticism are mentioned in the book as being especially harmful "thought pollutants." What are their societal origins? Considering the brain's impulse to connect otherwise unrelated negative thoughts, what are some of your own barriers to optimism and self-confidence? How can we heal thought processes without their metamorphosing into an outlook of entitlement and blame?

6. Consider the techniques listed on pages 78 and 79. What specific tasks could you apply to tailor this list to your own circumstances? Which loved ones could be enlisted to help, without risking a tit-for-tat escalation of negative thoughts? How could you apply the "breaking free" tactics to a particularly stressful situation or relationship in your life right now?

7. The drawbacks to "if only" thinking are numerous, but inaction is equally problematic. Consider some of your most frequently mentioned goals, and assess whether they serve as stalling devices or are actually healthy steps that deserve immediate action.

8. How does the concept of a nemesis, on the job or in a social context, fit in with the book's assertions about "if only" thinking?

9. Spend a few minutes outlining your life's narrative, without considering why your path unfolded as it did. Using the tools offered on pages 128 and 129, map out a vision for your next chapter. Which characters from your current "storyline" will need to play a diminished role? Which aspects will you enhance?

10. What is your greatest obstacle in simplifying your life? Remember to keep the response simple.

11. Explore the career sketch provided in chapter ten. Were you able to relate to Abby's impulsive job change? How would you have responded if you were Gina, Abby's roommate?

12. Chapter eleven mentions that optimists appear to fight illness more successfully than pessimists. Consider the ways in which this mind-body connection has affected your own health and that of your family.

13. How can readers avoid the conundrum of overthinking the problem of thinking too much? Discuss some of the ways in which you can implement Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema's advice through action rather than through rumination.

14. Women Who Think Too Much concludes with inspiration for changing the tide of history. Does your culture or community reinforce negative moods, including helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, and anxiety, in its daughters? Propose your own ideas for eradicating the problem of overthinking among future generations.

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