04/22/2014 05:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Are You a Thinker?

Tom Merton via Getty Images


I Think, Therefore I Am.

When I have a problem, I think about it.

I imagine it from every angle. The pros and the cons, the yeses and the nos. Sometimes, that's really helpful; it guides me to make good decisions.

But sometimes, I think too much about the same thing, over and over. Have you ever done that? That sort of over-thinking is called rumination.

Women are particularly good at this. We don't know why. Maybe it's our biology or the way we're raised. Who knows? The only reason it matters is because rumination can lead to more than sleepless nights or misplaced keys. It can lead to depression.

And a 2013 study shows that dwelling on your problems can effect your body, too.

The Mind-Body Link

Turns out, women who were asked to dwell on a stressful experience showed higher levels of C-reactive protein in their blood -- a sign of inflammation -- than women who were asked to think about common things, like a boat or a car. And this inflammation has been correlated with heart disease and other illnesses.

Now, Don't Over-Think This.

I tell you this not to freak you out but to tell you there's good news. You don't need to stop ruminating on your problems. That's right. As a matter of fact, trying to put the brakes on your over-thinking can make it worse.

Instead, the trick is to distract yourself from your over-thinking, just like you'd redirect a curious toddler away from a light socket. Put your focus elsewhere.

Here are three simple ways to curb your rumination:

1. Do something pleasant. Go see a funny movie, listen to upbeat music or read a great book. Distracting yourself with your sense of sight or sound or your imagination lets your mind become immersed in something else.

2. Do something nice for others. Studies show when you do good for another person, you take the focus off of yourself and that shift can reduce your overthinking.

3. Focus on your breathing. For an instant mental break, notice the in-and-out of your own breathing, three to four times in a row. This simple mindfulness practice can redirect your thoughts and calm you.

If you're a thinker, like me, having a few go-to strategies to calm your rumination can improve both your happiness and your health. What strategies have you tried?

Photo used under Creative Commons from Victor Bezrukow