- 10 Tips to Help You Stop Ruminating
- How to Stop Ruminating Negative Thoughts and Permanently Upgrade Your Mindset
- 1. Call yourself out with a codeword.
- 2. Make a list of positive and neutral potential outcomes.
- 3. Pretend your worries belong to a friend.
- 4. Untangle your ‘problem’ web.
- 5. Give yourself permission to let go.
- 6. Practice mindfulness.
- 7. Take action or make a plan.
- 8. Redirect your thoughts.
- Final Thoughts
- Depression and Ruminative Thinking
- How to stop ruminating thoughts
- 1. Set a Time Limit
- 2. Write Down Your Thoughts
- 3. Call a Friend
- 4. Distract Yourself
- 5. Identify Actionable Solutions
- 6. Understand Your Triggers
- 7. Recognize When You’re Ruminating
- 8. Learn to Let Go
- 9. Try Meditation
- 10. Exercise
- 11. Practice Acceptance
- 12. Consider Therapy
- Rumination-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Obsessive Rumination Outlook
- When Ruminating Becomes a Problem
- Rumination And Anxious Thoughts – What You Can Do
- What Are Ruminations?
- Breaking The Cycle
- When To Seek Help For Rumination And Anxious Thoughts
- How to stop ruminating with these 3 techniques
- Ruminating and overthinking: why it’s unhealthy
- Rumination and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)
- Rumination: negative interpersonal effects
- Rumination: impaired brain function
- How to stop ruminating: three great techniques
- Stop ruminating and overthinking: the benefits
- Written by Dee Marques
- How To Stop Ruminating & Dwelling On Negative Thoughts
- How do I stop ruminating?
- Is it wrong to ruminate?
- What if negative thoughts are true?
- How to quit ruminating the easy way
- What is rumination?
- The negative effects of rumination
- 1. Is it worth it?
- 2. Set aside time to think
- 3. Imagine the worst case scenario
- 4. Identify your anxiety trigger
- 5. Focus on the positives
- 6. Talk to a friend
- 7. Distract yourself
- 8. Practise mindfulness
- 9. Learn to let go
- Further help and support
10 Tips to Help You Stop Ruminating
Once you get stuck in a ruminating thought cycle, it can be hard to get out of it. If you do enter a cycle of such thoughts, it’s important to stop them as quickly as possible to prevent them from becoming more intense.
As when a ball is rolling downhill, it’s easier to stop the ruminating thoughts when they first start rolling and have less speed than when they’ve gathered speed over time.
So, what can you do to stop these obsessive thoughts from running through your mind?
Here are 10 tips to try when you begin to experience the same thought, or set of thoughts, swirling around your head:
1. Distract yourself
When you realize you’re starting to ruminate, finding a distraction can break your thought cycle. Look around you, quickly choose something else to do, and don’t give it a second thought. Consider:
- calling a friend or family member
- doing chores around your house
- watching a movie
- drawing a picture
- reading a book
- walking around your neighborhood
2. Plan to take action
Instead of repeating the same negative thought over and over again, take that thought and make a plan to take action to address it.
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 disrupt your rumination. It will also help you move forward in the attempt to get a negative thought out of your head once and for all.
3. Take action
Once you’ve outlined a plan of action to address your ruminating thoughts, take one small step to address the issue. Refer to the plan you made to solve the problem you’ve been obsessing over.
Move forward with each step slowly and incrementally until your mind is put at ease.
4. Question your thoughts
We often ruminate when we think we’ve made a major mistake or when something traumatic has happened to us that we feel responsible for.
If you start ruminating on a troubling thought, try putting your repetitive thought in perspective.
Thinking more about how your troubling thought might not be accurate may help you stop ruminating because you realize the thought makes little sense.
5. Readjust your life’s goals
Perfectionism and unrealistic goal setting can lead to rumination. If you set goals that are unrealistic, you may start to focus on why and how you haven’t reached a goal, or what you should have done to reach it.
Setting more realistic goals that you’re capable of achieving can reduce the risks of overthinking your own actions.
6. Work on enhancing your self-esteem
Many people who ruminate report difficulties with self-esteem. In fact, lack of self-esteem can be associated with increased rumination. It’s also been linked with increased risk of depression.
Enhancement of self-esteem can be accomplished in many ways. For instance, building on existing strengths can add to a sense of mastery, which can enhance self-esteem.
Some people may choose to work on the enhancement of self-esteem in psychotherapy. As you enhance your self-esteem, self-efficacy may also be enhanced. You may find that you’re better able to control rumination.
7. Try meditation
Meditating can reduce rumination because it involves clearing your mind to arrive at an emotionally calm state.
When you find yourself with a repeating loop of thoughts in your mind, seek out a quiet space. Sit down, breathe deeply, and focus on nothing but breathing.
8. Understand your triggers
Each time you find yourself ruminating, make a mental note of the situation you’re in. This includes where you are, what time of day it is, who’s around you (if anyone), and what you’ve been doing that day.
Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can reduce your rumination.
9. Talk to a friend
Ruminating thoughts can make you feel isolated. Talking about your thoughts with a friend who can offer an outside perspective may help break the cycle.
Be sure to speak with a friend who can give you that perspective rather than ruminate with you.
10. Try therapy
If your ruminating thoughts are taking over your life, you may want to consider therapy. A therapist can help you identify why you’re ruminating and how to address the problems at their core.
If you’re a long-time ruminator who wants to bring an end to your repetitive negative thoughts, here are some simple changes you can make to your life that can help do just that:
- Be proactive in trying to solve your problems. First identify problems in your life and then start taking actions to solve your problems, one step at a time
- Set your own expectations. Negative ruminating thoughts can creep in when we question our self-worth. Praise yourself for your successes and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Constantly work on building your self-esteem by taking care of yourself and doing things you enjoy and excel at.
- Create a support system. Having friends and family members, and maybe even a therapist, any of whom you can call on for help when something goes wrong or when you’re having a bad day, is so important. These special people may distract you from your ruminating thoughts and are also likely to boost your self-esteem.
How to Stop Ruminating Negative Thoughts and Permanently Upgrade Your Mindset
Rachel ClementsFollow Sep 11, 2018 · 10 min read Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash
“Rumination: (noun) a deep or considered thought about something; the action of chewing the cud.” -Oxford Dictionary
Adult cows will chew their partially digested food (“cud”) for 8+ hours each day. Re-chewing food that has already been swallowed — a process known as rumination — aids digestion.
Humans go through a similar process of rumination in the brain, but, contrary to our furry counterparts, chewing on partially digested thoughts throughout the day does not aid in mental digestion. In fact, rumination can actually make the original idea harder to swallow.
Considering alternative perspectives or solutions can be helpful — even crucial — for navigating our diverse world; rumination can be a positive form of self-reflection. Ruminating thoughts becomes dangerous, however, when you start to:
- Repeat a negative thought (typically an insecurity or self-doubt like “I’m not good enough”) over and over in your mind
- Create stories of possible negative outcomes (typically worst-case scenarios) of a situation or problem you’re currently facing
- Obsess over something said or ‘implied’ long after the conversation has ended or the situation has been resolved
- Replay an argument/painful situation from the past in your mind to analyze the details and look for meaning
- Hold a grudge against yourself or others for past mistakes, unmet expectations, or perceived unfairness
- Feel “stuck” or hopeless and unmotivated to move on or find a solution
Ruminating stories of self-doubt, looking for the worst possible outcomes of every scenario and rehashing emotional wounds will eventually start to negatively influence your behavior.
A perfect example is ruminating thoughts of “I’m not ____ enough” (i.e. smart/strong/young/creative/experienced).
Hearing your own thoughts tell you that you aren’t ‘good enough’ for XYZ will cause you to start believing those inadequacies to be facts. Your brain — hardwired to help you succeed- will ask:
What’s the point of even trying if I already believe I will never succeed?
Eventually, you’ll start avoiding the things you perceive to be unfit/unqualified for altogether (i.e. if you tell yourself that you’re not good enough to be a writer, your motivation to write will quickly dwindle and you’ll probably never become a writer).
Your brain means well and wants to help you avoid things you aren’t good at, but it’s not smart enough to recognize the difference between a true threat to your success and one simply conjured up during rumination.
Fortunately, we all possess the ability to outsmart our brain and nip rumination in the bud before it spirals into anxiety, depression, or worse.
Below are 8 ways you can take action to stop ruminating negative thoughts right now.
1. Call yourself out with a codeword.
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Before a behavioral pattern can be changed, it must first be recognized.
A great way to bring rumination to your attention is to call yourself out with a codeword every time you slip into the vortex of negative thinking.
When you find yourself creating a story of self-doubt or searching for meaning in a negative experience, say your codeword aloud — something like “vortex” or “cancel cancel” — to remind your brain that your current thoughts are not a reflection of reality.
Use a codeword to put your thoughts on pause. Take a deep breath and ask yourself:
Am I looking through a lens of logic to find the solution to a problem, or am I letting my emotions overshadow reality?
2. Make a list of positive and neutral potential outcomes.
Photo by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash
The next time you catch yourself worrying about how an upcoming situation or confrontation might go, make a list of positives and neutrals.
‘Positives’ are the best possible outcomes — the outcomes that would bring you joy, reduce suffering, or otherwise improve your current state of being.
‘Neutrals’ are the possible outcomes that are emotionally indifferent — the outcomes that don’t actually help you but don’t necessarily harm you, either.
Listing outcomes of a situation that are positive and neutral can help retrain your brain to look for the good in every situation (or, at least, the ‘non-bad’) instead of focusing on everything that might go wrong.
3. Pretend your worries belong to a friend.
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Sometimes the easiest way to pull yourself out of negative-thinking is by considering an alternative point of view.
Let’s say you made a major mistake at work that cost your company thousands of dollars in potential revenue and you’re completely overcome with thoughts of what you “should’ve” or “could’ve” done to prevent this mistake.
Now imagine you’re catching up with an old friend over coffee; instead of expressing the frustrations on your mind, picture your friend voicing those same concerns to you. Listen as your friend lists all of the negative thoughts that have been ruminating in “their” mind about being so careless, so stupid, so clearly unqualified for the position; what would you say to this friend? Would you chime in and keep listing all of the potentially disastrous consequences they didn’t think of, or would you offer support and help him/her find a solution?
Stop the cycle of negative thinking by becoming your own best friend; listen to your thoughts, empathize with your emotional response, forgive yourself, and look for a solution with your best interest in mind.
This exercise is a great way to consider an alternative point of view and develop a sense of compassion for yourself. The more loving and forgiving you can be with your thoughts, the sooner you can move forward and start looking for solutions.
4. Untangle your ‘problem’ web.
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Ruminating thoughts can lure you into a tangled web of problems with no beginning or end in sight. If something seemingly trivial throws you off the negative-thinking deep end, take a moment to find the root of your frustration; choose one of your the most mind-consuming worries and trace it back to the original problem.
Untangle your problem web by asking yourself why something makes you upset. Go at least 5 or 6 “why” questions deep to trace back to the root source of rumination.
For example, let’s say you’re standing in line at your local coffee shop and the guy in front of you orders 17 different specialty beverages. You immediately start ruminating negative thoughts.
“Who does this idiot think he is? Why wouldn’t he order ahead of time? I can’t believe there are no policies in place to prevent this. Screw this place. I’m definitely leaving a bad Yelp review.”
First ask yourself to clarify, in one sentence, why you’re upset.
“I’m upset because the order in front of me is very time-consuming to make.”
Now ask yourself why his time-consuming order made you upset.
“I’m upset because his order will make my order take longer.”
Why does it make you upset that your order might take longer?
“I might be late for work if my coffee takes too long to make.”
Why does it make you upset that you might be late to work?
“I’ve already been late to work once this week and my boss is going to be mad if I’m late again.”
Why does your it make you upset if your boss is mad?
“I’m trying to get a promotion at work and tardiness will jeopardize my chance.”
And there you have it — the true root source of rumination. You aren’t actually furious at the coffee shop for allowing someone to buy 17 specialty coffees (although it may be a bit frustrating). The real reason you got so upset at the guy in front of you was that you’re actually worried about your chances of receiving an upcoming promotion.
Understanding the real cause of rumination can help you nip those negative thoughts in the bud and eliminate any misguided frustrations (like smiling at the barista when it’s finally your turn to order).
5. Give yourself permission to let go.
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Sometimes rumination stems from an inability to let go of a mistake we’ve made or a mistake someone else made that negatively affected us.
Perfectionists know this source of rumination well; they are known for holding themselves to a zero-tolerance mistake policy. Unfortunately for the high(est) achievers, setting an unreasonably high expectation of self is the fastest route to destination: rumination.
Taking time to reflect and learn from mistakes is a healthy form of character-building, but beating yourself or some else up for the same mistake over and over again is not.
Give yourself permission to let go of your mistakes. Accept the fact that you are human and the human experience comes with a learning curve; you’re not always going to get it right the first time.
Give yourself permission to let go of the mistakes others have made, too. Holding grudges against people who have done you wrong will do nothing but make you bitter.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” -Anonymous
Let go of any expectations you have for the way things are ‘supposed to go.’ Reality is out of your control, but your emotional reaction to reality is completely up to you.
Accepting reality as it is will diminish any further need to ruminate a mistake.
6. Practice mindfulness.
Photo by Aaron Lee on Unsplash
The most immediate way to snap out of rumination is by leaving your thoughts and coming back to the present moment — a practice called mindfulness.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but one technique that is particularly helpful in reconnecting with the present moment is by observing five things in your immediate environment that you can sense.
For example, let’s say you’re making dinner and your significant other is running late. Scenarios of why he/she was late start running through your head and you start to feel upset, frustrated and disrespected. You can use your codeword to call yourself out for rumination, then locate five things in your immediate environment that help you re-focus on the present:
- I smell garlic in the spaghetti sauce
- I feel the heat rising from the stovetop
- I taste the onion I chopped moments earlier
- I see a big bowl of salad ingredients
- I hear a gentle bubbling noise from the pot of boiling noodles
Bring your attention back to the task at hand to stop ruminating thoughts dead in their tracks. Mindfulness is not a practice of forgetting your thoughts, but rather prioritizing thoughts of the present moment over thoughts of anything else.
7. Take action or make a plan.
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If possible, combat rumination by taking action immediately. Determine an action step that can be taken in the next five minutes to overcome the problem on your mind and do it.
If you don’t have five minutes to spare, jot down a quick note in your planner or phone on what your next immediate step will be when you do catch a five-minute break.
If you’re dealing with a problem that seems too overwhelming to tackle in 5 minutes, just pick one aspect of the problem to tackle — namely whatever is taking up the majority of your thought cloud. If you’re planning a wedding and the catering is nagging your mind, take 5 minutes to research ‘local catering companies’ and write down the contact information of 3 companies that you’d like to look into further.
By taking an actual step towards a solution — or at least planning your course of action — you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. The problem won’t seem quite so intimidating once you’ve actually taken a step towards a solution.
Don’t overthink the ‘next step.’ It can be as simple as scheduling a meeting with someone (or yourself) to discuss the issue at a later date.
By giving your brain the satisfaction of saying “solution in progress,” you’ll likely quiet those pesky ruminating thoughts and refocus on the present.
8. Redirect your thoughts.
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Finally, one of the quickest ways to stop ruminating negative thoughts is by forcing your brain to redirect it’s attention elsewhere. Redirect your thoughts by getting out of your current mindset or physical environment.
- Write about it. If you just can’t stop thinking about a problem or situation, set a timer for 30 minutes and journal about it. Write everything that comes to you regardless if it makes sense. Sometimes the simple act of putting thoughts to paper can weaken their power and help us find clarity.
- Exercise. Get up to get out of your head. Whether it’s an hour-long CrossFit class or a brisk 5-minute walk down the hallway, exercise can be the perspective shift and endorphin release you need to work-out those ruminating thoughts.
- Talk to a friend. Hop off the merry-go-round of negative thinking by striking up an unrelated conversation with a friend, colleague, family member, or even a stranger. A face-to-face conversation takes a lot of brain power (listening to words, observing body language, forming a response, etc.) and can serve as a great distraction from your thoughts.
There are some cases in which these techniques simply won’t be enough to combat the vicious cycle of rumination. If you are unable to remove negative thought patterns on your own or develop signs/symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to a professional healthcare provider. This blog is not written as a source of medical advice.
I hope you enjoyed this article! Go forth and stay present, my friends; leave rumination to the cows.
Depression and Ruminative Thinking
Do you constantly replay negative situations in your head or agonize over what you could have done differently? You could be a ruminative thinker, which may be a roadblock to overcoming depression.
According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, people with depression have a harder time shaking negative thoughts than those who are not depressed. That’s because depression can make turning your attention to other things feel nearly impossible. And here’s the kicker: the more people ruminate, the more depressed they may become.
“Many people believe that when they feel down or depressed they should try to focus inwardly and evaluate their feelings and their situation — they think this will help them gain insight and find solutions that might ultimately resolve their problems and relieve their depressive symptoms,” explains psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor in the department of psychology at the University of California in Riverside.
Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Penguin Press, 2008), says research indicates that people are better off if they can fight this inclination to brood over the causes and consequences of their depression.
“These studies have shown that repetitive rumination about the implications of one’s depressive symptoms actually maintains those symptoms, impairs one’s ability to solve problems, and ushers in a host of negative consequences,” says Lyubomirsky.
Instead of overcoming depression, ruminative thinking leads people to:
- Feel even more sad, anxious, angry, and depressed
- Think more negatively and pessimistically about themselves, their problems, and their futures
- Use fewer effective problem-solving strategies
- Feel less motivation to act
- Have a reduced ability to concentrate
- Experience even more stress and more problems
Ruminative thinking not only complicates the process of getting depression help, but can lead to other problem behaviors such as binge eating, binge drinking, and self-injury.
There will be times when you have to seriously consider problems in your life and how to solve them. The difference between ruminative thinking and normal worrying is that ruminating makes you feel less able to solve the problem, thereby adding to depression, while worry should prompt you toward problem solving.
Ending Ruminative Thinking to Help Your Depression
To stop the effects of ruminative thinking, try these strategies:
- Distract yourself. Engaging, pleasant activities, such as exercise or hanging out with friends, are best. Once you are feeling more positive, you will be better able to solve problems.
- Stop that train of thought. Think or even tell yourself “Stop!” or “No!” when you start to ruminate.
- Schedule rumination. If you plan a 30-minute rumination session, chances are you may not even feel like ruminating when the time arrives.
- Share. Talking through your concerns can help, but make sure you pick someone who won’t simply ruminate along with you.
- Write it down. Tracking your ruminative thoughts in a journal can help you overcome depression by organizing those thoughts and relieving yourself of their burden.
- Solve a problem. Even taking a small step toward solving one problem that is weighing you down will help with overcoming depression. Data show a strong link between goals you cannot achieve and depression-inducing ruminative thinking, so start problem solving.
- Identify triggers. Figure out which places, times, situations, or people are most likely to cause a bout of rumination, and find ways to avoid those triggers or manage them better. Mornings and evenings are the times when ruminative thinking is most likely.
- Meditate. Mindfulness techniques can help you get some distance from the thoughts that trouble you, while at the same time reducing stress.
- Stop linking small goals to big goals. For example, you may need to challenge a belief that achieving big goals (such as happiness) completely depends on succeeding at smaller goals (such as losing five pounds).
- Get therapy. Seek cognitive therapy techniques to help you question your thoughts and find alternative ways of viewing your situation.
When you sense your thoughts are moving toward ruminating over your moods and problems, take steps to stop this downward spiral. Overcoming depression could depend on your ability to interrupt this ruminative thought process as soon as it begins.
How to stop ruminating thoughts
Numerous strategies can help with rumination. People with depression, anxiety, or other mental health diagnoses may find that they need to try several strategies before one works.
It can be useful to keep track of effective strategies so that when rumination feels overwhelming, it is possible to turn to a list of methods that have worked previously.
People may find the following tips helpful:
- Avoid rumination triggers: Some people find that specific factors trigger rumination. They may wish to limit access to these triggers if it is possible to do so without undermining their quality of life. For instance, a person could try putting themselves on a media diet if the news makes them feel depressed, or they could stop reading fashion magazines if these publications make them feel unattractive.
- Spend time in nature: A 2014 study found that people who went on a 90-minute nature walk reported fewer symptoms of rumination after their walk than those who walked through an urban area instead.
- Exercise: Numerous studies have found that exercise can improve mental health, especially over time. However, a 2018 study reported that even a single session of exercise could reduce symptoms of rumination among inpatients with a mental health diagnosis. People may find that pairing exercise with time outside gives them the best results.
- Distraction: Disrupt ruminating thought cycles with something distracting. Thinking about something interesting and complex may help, while fun, challenging activities, such as complex puzzles, may also offer relief.
- Interrogation: People can try to interrogate ruminating thoughts by considering that they might not be helpful or based in reality. Perfectionists should remind themselves that perfectionism is unattainable. Those who tend to concern themselves with what other people think should consider that others are more concerned with their own perceived shortcomings and fears.
- Increase self-esteem: Some people ruminate when they do poorly at something that is very important to them, such as a beloved sport or important academic achievement. By expanding their interests and building new sources of self-esteem, a person can make a single defeat feel less difficult.
- Meditation: Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, may help a person better understand the connection between their thoughts and feelings. Over time, meditation can offer people greater control over seemingly automatic thoughts, making it easier to avoid rumination.
Read about different apps that can help treat mental health issues such as rumination.
Alternatively, therapy may help a person regain control over their thoughts, detect signs of rumination, and choose healthier thought processes.
Some forms of mental health therapy, such as rumination-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (RFCBT), specifically target rumination to help a person gain more control over their thoughts.
While traditional cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing the content of thoughts, RFCBT attempts to alter the thinking process instead.
Learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy here.
By The Recovery Village Editor Renee Deveney Reviewer Dr. Anna Pickering Updated on01/27/20
Ruminative thoughts are thoughts or ideas that keep recurring in your head. The act of rumination is defined as the tendency to repetitively and passively analyze problems, concerns or feelings of distress without taking any actions to make positive changes. It often involves negative thoughts or bad memories. Such thoughts can interfere with your daily life and mental well-being if you can’t stop thinking about them repeatedly.
Rumination is linked to some mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). These in turn can increase your risk of developing a substance use disorder and other unhealthy conditions. Fortunately, there are techniques you can learn to control these kinds of thoughts. Here are 12 useful tips to help teach you how to stop ruminative thinking.
The following is a list of common methods to try out. Some are based on cognitive behavioral therapy ideas to help you learn better ways to manage your thoughts. For more thorough and individualized advice, a therapist or counselor would be of great help.
1. Set a Time Limit
People who ruminate can spend hours at a time over-analyzing a problem, even after they have already settled on an action plan to deal with it. Setting a schedule for your rumination sessions can trick your brain into losing enthusiasm for it. When your time is up, tell yourself “Stop!” and focus your attention elsewhere.
2. Write Down Your Thoughts
Putting your thoughts into writing can help organize them so they aren’t cluttering your head. This can help you find simple steps toward a solution that you can act on. Some people also find that it is easier to let go of such thoughts and worries once they have been transferred to paper.
3. Call a Friend
A solid social support network is a key tool in overcoming mental and emotional problems. Feeling isolated can cause recurring negative thoughts to surface. Plus, talking to a friend is simply a great way to distract your mind from repetitive thoughts. Just be sure you don’t talk to them about the specific problem causing your rumination.
4. Distract Yourself
Not thinking about something is easier said than done. They key is to find a different topic to occupy your mind in place of your repetitive, negative ones. Certain activities that engage your brain require concentration, and prevent you from spending energy thinking about your problem or worry.
Fun activities that are good at distracting your brain may include:
- Reading a book
- Watching a movie
- Solving a crossword or logic puzzle
- Playing a game
- Playing a musical instrument
There are many other creative ideas that can work for you. Choose an activity that you enjoy so you don’t get bored and start thinking your ruminative thoughts again.
5. Identify Actionable Solutions
The trouble with obsessive thoughts is that they feel overwhelming. You tend to keep thinking about the problem without doing anything positive toward a solution. Start thinking about simple, small steps that you can easily take to address your problem or worry. Even without fully fixing the problem, having a starting point that you know you can accomplish can help relieve your anxious thoughts.
6. Understand Your Triggers
Certain situations can cause ruminative thoughts to resurface. These might be particular social occasions, themes on TV or webpages. It might even be a time of day. Try identifying what factors are causing your thoughts to come up next time you notice them. This can help you avoid triggers and to prepare yourself with coping mechanisms.
7. Recognize When You’re Ruminating
Mindfulness techniques have proven to be quite useful for managing all sorts of mental health issues. When you act in a mindful way, you stay focused on the present and are aware of your own thoughts and feelings.
If you are thinking any recurring thoughts or obsessing over a problem, acknowledge that you are doing so. Simply recognizing that you are ruminating, and observing how it makes you feel, can help distance yourself from these thoughts. They might not seem as overwhelming or frightening when you do this. Recognizing when you are in a negative thought cycle can also help you break out of it.
8. Learn to Let Go
Letting go is far easier said than done. Sometimes, ruminative thinking can stem from unrealistic goals or expectations. When you start worrying about a problem, think about why it is upsetting you. Identify negative thoughts and emotions that come from social pressures or expectations you placed on yourself. Call them out for what they are when you think about them. When you learn to accept that some expectations are not reasonable, you can develop healthier goals for yourself.
9. Try Meditation
Meditation is a specific mindfulness technique that can be very calming and mentally refreshing. There are several different meditation techniques that you can try out. In each, you typically focus on one specific sensation, such as your breath. You could also focus all your attention on the sounds around you or physical feelings in your body. Some websites have free videos or recordings to walk you through a guided meditation. Try a few types and see which works best for you.
Exercise is an excellent way to distract your mind from ruminative thoughts. The physical act of exercising also has a direct impact on your mental health. When you do aerobics, your brain produces endorphins, chemicals in your brain that cause feelings of happiness and improve your cognitive function. It can also reduce stress hormones that make ruminative thoughts worse.
11. Practice Acceptance
Many of the problems that consume your thoughts cannot be solved. Tell yourself that they aren’t your concern. When you find yourself thinking about them, acknowledge your concern, then tell yourself it is OK to let it be. If the thought resurfaces, acknowledge it again and accept it for what it is. After enough practice, your mind will be better at quickly moving away from nagging thoughts.
12. Consider Therapy
The best way to overcome negative thinking patterns is under the guidance of a trained professional. Sometimes, the extent of your challenge is beyond your ability to manage alone. A psychotherapist or counselor who works with anxiety and similar disorders can help you learn effective mindfulness techniques, coping strategies and other healthy behaviors. They can also customize your rumination treatment plan to your individual needs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, is often used to manage ruminative thinking. This therapy uses mental exercises and thinking techniques to help you change your thought patterns. It is a popular therapy tool because it can help people successfully overcome disruptive or harmful thought processes.
Rumination therapy can also help you address other underlying conditions which may be making your ruminative thoughts worse or harder to kick.
Over time, you can learn to manage ruminating thoughts with healthy coping strategies. Sometimes, rumination and other mental health conditions can lead to unhealthy patterns or coping mechanism, like drug or alcohol use. If you or someone you know struggles with substance abuse because of a mental health condition like rumination, The Recovery Village can help. Contact a representative today to learn more about therapy and treatment options for addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions.
Adrian, Molly; McCarty, Carolyn; King, Kevin; McCauley, Elizabeth; and Vander Stoep, Ann. “The Internalizing Pathway to Adolescent Substance Use Disorders: Mediation by Ruminative Reflection and Ruminative Brooding.” J Adolesc. 2014; 37(7): 983-991. Accessed March 15, 2019.
Lu, Stacy. American Psychological Association. “Mindfulness holds promise for treating depression.” Monitor on Psychology. March 2015; 46(3):50. Accessed March 15, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
10 Shares By The Recovery Village Editor Megan Hull Reviewer Kim Langdon Updated on01/28/20
Rumination, or dwelling on negative thoughts, is thought to be associated with both anxiety and depression. Women tend to ruminate more often than men, which helps explain the higher incidences and persistence of depression in women. One of the most effective ways to stop rumination is to treat the underlying anxiety and depression causing it with medicine and behavioral therapy. Treatment options include:
- Positive self-reflection
- Walks in nature
- Medications for underlying anxiety, depression or substance abuse
Obsessive rumination may benefit from Ed Watkins’ rumination-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (RFCBT) and traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which both shift ruminative thoughts to more adaptive styles of thinking. Other interventions that address rumination are mindfulness-based interventions that improve attention control issues.
Rumination-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Rumination is a common symptom that remains after standard CBT for depression. RFCBT is a psychobehavioral therapy that specifically targets rumination. RFCBT is undergoing clinical trials in comparison to CBT for depressed patients who are unresponsive to current behavioral therapy or counseling.
The idea of RFCBT is to develop strategies to promote concrete, specific thinking by modifying the thought process, whereas CBT tries to alter the content of the thoughts themselves. The ongoing trials will measure the severity of depressive symptoms after RFCBT and the level of worry, anxiety, rumination and the quality of life of the patients. Six months after the RFCBT, setbacks are assessed. Problem-solving training and substituting positive thinking for negative, unproductive thoughts are included in the ongoing process. Planning activities to avoid rumination and using compassion for oneself and others are two more goals of rumination-focused cognitive behavioral thinking.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Historically, CBT for rumination showed some usefulness, especially for those with mild rumination. CBT is more useful for single negative thoughts rather than ongoing and successive ruminations that build upon each other. Rumination loops negative thoughts, so each thought precedes or follows the same thought. If the thought that begins the rumination can be changed or stopped, then thought-challenging CBT tools may prove useful. To date, there have been no randomized, controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness of CBT for rumination.
Mindfulness exercises for rumination start with identifying when a negative incident happens, accepting that it occurred, facing the truth of the matter honestly, being creative with addressing the negative thought, being thankful for all the good things in your life and developing inner self-control. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, a mindfulness activity as simple as going for a walk helps reduce rumination and the associated cognitive stress.
Schedule a time for self-reflection or problem-solving each day and vow not to think about negative thoughts until that time. If you happen to fixate on certain thoughts before that time, remind yourself that there is a time scheduled for such thoughts later in the day.
Another positive mindfulness tool is meditation. Thinking about positive experiences make people want to experience those happy emotions again, while painful thoughts cause a person to want to avoid that pain. Avoidance can lead to numbing or placating activities such as alcohol use, eating, sex, gambling or compulsive working. Mindfulness helps regulate emotions and reduces anxiety and depression.
According to a 2012 review published in Alternative Medicine Review, yoga has a beneficial impact on anxiety and stress. Some behaviors, supplements and herbs have shown promise addressing many psychological issues, including:
- Omega- 3 fatty acids
- 5-HTP (5-Hydroxy Tryptophan)
- Vitamin B complex
- Kava root
- Essential oils such as lavender and Roman Chamomile
The best medications for managing rumination are those that treat an underlying mental health condition such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are no FDA-approved medications for rumination specifically.
Medications to treat the symptoms of GAD include:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are used to treat anxiety, depression and panic disorder. They work by steadying the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Some SNRIs include:
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
Studies regarding the efficacy of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in treating anxiety are conflicting. It appears that a placebo pill has an equal benefit to those with GAD and the side effects of some SSRIs can be significant and include sexual dysfunction and weight gain.
SSRIs and SNRIs for depression have shown efficacy and would likely help severe rumination. Once major symptoms are under control, therapeutic methods like RFCBT may prove even more useful.
Obsessive Rumination Outlook
Obsessive rumination is obsessive thinking. The underlying cause of rumination is unclear except that it is perhaps a learned behavior in response to childhood trauma, excessive criticism and helplessness. Genetics may play a role as many who ruminate have parents who also ruminate. The key to managing rumination is getting help early so that self-destructive behaviors (like alcohol or drug use) can be avoided. The outlook for obsessive rumination is fair to good with interventions like CBT and RFCBT. Medications can be used as needed for underlying conditions such as anxiety or depression.
If you or a loved one use substances to cope with rumination or another mental health disorder, contact The Recovery Village to discuss treatment options. Using individualized treatment plans that cater to each patient’s specific needs, The Recovery Village provides treatment that addresses substance use and co-occurring disorders to help patients attain a healthier future.
Aw, Li. “The Effects of Yoga on Anxiety and Stress.” Alternative Medicine Review, March 17, 2012. Accessed March 13, 2019.
Bratman, Gregory. “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.” PNAS, July 14, 2015. Accessed February 25, 2019.
Ciesla, J. A. “Self-Directed Thought and Response to Treatment for Depression: A Preliminary Investigation.” APA PsycNET, 2002. Accessed February 25, 2019.
Hsu KJ. “Rumination is a risk factor for anxiety.” Anxiety.org, March 16, 2017. Accessed February 25, 2019
Hvenegaard M et al. “Rumination-focused cognitive behaviour therapy vs. cognitive behaviour therapy for depression: study protocol for a randomised controlled superiority trial.” Trials, March 25, 2015. Accessed March 13, 2019.
Neale, M. “The Guide To Mindfulness Meditation: How and why mindfulness can help.” Anxiety.org, June 6, 2017. Accessed February 25, 2019
Sugarman, Michael. “These antidepressants may have limited effectiveness.” Anxiety.org, January 30, 2018. Accessed February 25, 2019.
Watkins, Edward R. “Depressive rumination: investigating mechanisms to improve cognitive behavioural treatments.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009. Accessed February 25, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
When Ruminating Becomes a Problem
Everyone ruminates. We especially ruminate when we’re stressed out. Maybe you’re ruminating about an upcoming test—you have to score an A to keep your scholarship. Maybe you’re ruminating about an upcoming presentation because you want to impress your boss. Maybe you’re ruminating about an upcoming date and the many ways it could go. Maybe you’re ruminating about a bad performance review. Maybe you’re ruminating about an injury that’s really been bothering you.
“We are evolutionarily wired to obsess,” according to psychiatrist Britton Arey, M.D. We are wired to sense threats and dangers in our environment—like lions who are waiting around the corner to consume us. “The people who didn’t ruminate about the lion were more likely to get eaten by it, and therefore, much less likely to pass along their genes, from an evolutionary standpoint.”
Today, with less lions and other predators and less looming threats, ruminating isn’t particularly helpful. But, again, it is normal—to an extent. As Arey said, normal ruminating passes after a period of time after the stress is over; is susceptible to distraction by someone or something that pulls away our attention; and doesn’t interfere with our ability to function.
And that’s the key. Because ruminating becomes problematic when it impairs our ability to function healthfully. It becomes problematic when we’re unable to maintain an optimistic mood, to connect with others, to sleep or to attain inner peace, Arey said.
Most of the patients Arey sees at South Coast Psychiatry, her private practice in Costa Mesa, Calif., struggle with ruminating. They obsess about things they can’t control and traits they despise. They fixate on fears that they’re not good enough. They ruminate about their regrets and their future. They seek help because their ruminating has affected their mood, their quality of life and their daily functioning, she said.
In fact, rumination is one of the most common symptoms of almost every disorder, Arey said. It might be part of depression, the ruminations revolving around hopelessness and negativity about yourself, your future and your world. She described it as “self-bullying” because the criticism is that intense.
It is like looking through “gray-colored glasses,” Arey said. “Everything looks dark, gray and dismal.”
The rumination might be part of post-traumatic stress disorder, focusing on past traumatic experiences. It might be part of an eating disorder, the obsessions focused on food and weight. It might be part of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the ruminations fixated on specific numbers, diseases or fears about loved ones’ health and safety.
In fact, rumination is common to all anxiety. And it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, according to Arey, “those who tend to obsess and ruminate, believing the worst possible scenario is likely to occur, will often act in ways that will make these scenarios more likely to occur.”
Ruminating can stem from childhood. Individuals may internalize the critical voices of others. We “play out their fears and insecurities in ways that seem outside our conscious control,” Arey said.
Ruminating also is subconsciously seen as an effective armor, as a successful shield. “[T[here is an illusion that obsessing, worrying or ruminating about something gives us some kind of power or control over its outcome, which is a rampant misconception.”
Telling someone to stop ruminating, to simply let it go, to snap out of it doesn’t work. That’s akin to advising against thinking about an elephant—and we all know how effective that is. (In fact, you’ve probably pictured several elephants already.)
Instead, a holistic approach is helpful. Arey takes a “biopsychosocialspiritual” approach with her patients. This includes: addressing any biological issues; delving into how a person’s upbringing has shaped the way they see themselves; exploring their social interactions and ability to be authentic; ensuring adequate support; and connecting to something outside of themselves, which “can help anchor our thoughts outside of a loop inside our heads that may be consuming our thinking.” (After all, “so much of ruminative thinking occurs when people get ‘stuck inside their heads.’”)
The key is to first identify the underlying condition because treatment will vary depending on the disorder. Is it anxiety? Depression? An eating disorder? Something else altogether?
Once there’s a proper diagnosis, treatment can start. For instance, according to Arey, if it’s OCD, treatment might include: taking antidepressants, which “can help patients get out of obsessive thought loops and more easily turn their thoughts to other things”; attending cognitive behavioral therapy; joining a support group; practicing mindfulness to refocus on the present; and engaging in healthy, nourishing habits, such as getting regular exercise and restful sleep and cultivating authentic connections with others.
When you’re stuck in ruminative thinking, it can feel like there’s no relief. You’re drowning in your own distressing thoughts, sinking in negative thought loops that seem like they’re never going away. Which can feel incredibly lonely and demoralizing.
Thankfully, there is effective treatment. If you’re struggling with stressful thoughts that play on repeat, don’t hesitate to see a mental health professional. Doing so is a courageous act. It might not feel like it. It might feel like the opposite. But it is this century’s version of outsmarting a predator and saving your skin. Facing your struggles is the ultimate in strength and bravery, is it not?
When Ruminating Becomes a Problem
Rumination And Anxious Thoughts – What You Can Do
By Michael Puskar
Updated November 19, 2019
Reviewer Deborah Horton
Your thoughts are going around and around in your head like a hamster in a wheel and it seems like you can’t make them stop. You are ruminating and that rumination is creating a general lock-down on your memories. This is nothing to be afraid of. In this article, you will learn about ruminations and what you can do to keep them under wraps.
“Want To Learn How To Stop Ruminating And Having Anxious Thoughts? ” We Can Help. Chat With A Licensed Mental Health Counselor Now.
Are These Thoughts Abnormal?
In everyday life, it’s reasonable and rational to have some anxiety. You may feel anxious while a loved one is undergoing surgery, if your teenage daughter doesn’t return home until midnight, or if you are about to give a speech. Usually, these anxieties disappear once the problem is resolved – the loved one pulls through surgery, the daughter comes home, and you finished the speech without disaster. You can carry on.
However, if your anxiety is persistent and your thoughts seem to be stuck in a loop, you may be having a more serious problem. These thought patterns are common in various anxiety disorders, depression, and OCD, so if they are causing you problems, you are not alone, and treatment is available.
What Are Ruminations?
Rumination is defined as going over the same thought or a problem in your head without completion. You are ruminating if each time a loved one is ill you have the same anxious thoughts you had when your grandfather died during surgery, even though you know that your loved one is youthful and able to spring back to good health. You are ruminating if every time your daughter is ten minutes late, you start to worry that she was involved in something terrible. You are ruminating if you’ve told yourself so many times that your speech will be so awful that you don’t even try. You are projecting consequences that haven’t happened and most likely will not happen.
Brain function plays a role in rumination in several ways, but the most significant aspect is that brain function relates to memory. Our five senses trigger our memories. They are also connected with our emotions. When we remember a favorite classmate or our first date, the memory is associated with joy and tenderness. But when we remember being targeted by the school bully, the memory is associated with helplessness and humiliation.
Each time we repeat a thought associated with our anxieties, our memory of both the thoughts and emotions become more deeply ingrained. Just as we learned our alphabet through repetition, our memories of our fears, worries, and concerns and their causes become acuter each time we repeat them.
Psychological Effect Of Rumination
Rumination often accompanies trauma. As the mind processes the shock of things it had not been prepared to accept it may repetitively play back parts of the memory in an attempt to find an alternative to the facts. It may perceive in everyday actions the possibility of reliving the trauma. It usually takes a skilled professional to help guide a person through this.
Ruminating a cyclical disorder that is closely associated with depression and anxiety disorder. With rumination, repetitive thoughts tunnel into a very small circle, making it very difficult to concentrate on other stimuli. You list everything that could go wrong because you are anxious. Your anxieties berate you for failing to prevent things from going wrong and you become depressed. Over and over, the thoughts burrow into your neural network, triggering greater anxieties and their associated memories.
Breaking The Cycle
Ruminating thoughts can cause insomnia. It can interfere with your ability to concentrate, making it difficult to study or causing poor performance in the workplace. However, once rumination is defined as the root of your problem, there are things you can do on your own to break the cycle. Its identification as a culprit impacting your daily life is the first step. You’ve acknowledged that the imprint from your repeated thoughts have cut a groove in your neural pathways so deep that you feel like you need a shovel to get out. You need to jump the track.
Instead of negative memories, you need to start remembering the positive ones. Think about your successes and your favorite memories. Reunite with your long-term friends and close family members to reinforce those special moments. They may help you recall that great prank you pulled on your brother or wonderful visits to your uncle’s house in the country.
“Want To Learn How To Stop Ruminating And Having Anxious Thoughts? ” We Can Help. Chat With A Licensed Mental Health Counselor Now.
Flip through your photo album or rummage through old letters. You kept these scrapbooks for a reason. They were special to you. Try to recall your feelings in detail. Your sense of belonging. Your relationship to the subject. Focus on the events that originally made this memory so important.
Changing Your Rhythm
The best way to break any cycle of behavior is to change the rhythm of your daily life. Your regular routine could be reinforcing your rumination. If you habitually begin ruminating when you first wake up in the morning, set your schedule to include a morning walk. Walking and hiking are both excellent ways of giving your ruminating thoughts a work-out and it can help to draw them to a conclusion. The change of scenery will also help you break away from rumination. Choose pathways you know to be particularly pleasant or that you haven’t tried yet but have heard are well worth the visit. Parks, garden paths, and waterways can be particularly mood-elevating.
Add some music to your life. Music both reflects our mood and serves to place us in our desired spirits. If the last time you listened to music was to put on some angry, heavy metal or a sad song to cry to, then it’s time to try something more upbeat. Create a playlist of music that relaxes your mind, inspires you, or makes you want to start tapping your foot. This change to upbeat music will help reduce the anxieties associated with rumination.
You can also revisit locations where you have truly felt happy or at peace with yourself. This will help reactivate the memories that brought you these positive emotions.
Problems can overwhelm us, especially if we’ve allowed them to compile. As we’ve discussed, rumination is defined as unresolved thoughts and problems. At some point, we have to let those thoughts reach the end of their course. Separate your problems. The chances are, you know how to solve the smaller ones. Once the easier stuff is out of the way you can work on the big ones. Create a realistic plan for moving forward through them. If they are problems that have been shoved to one side for a long time, an overnight reversal in your plan isn’t going to solve them. It will take work, but you don’t have to approach it alone.
When To Seek Help For Rumination And Anxious Thoughts
If by definition, you have been ruminating for a long time, it’s not going to be easy to break the cycle by yourself. The pathways between your emotions and your memories that contain your anxieties have formed a rut, and your mind may have long ago found ways of avoiding the most deeply embedded issues.
If you have trouble clarifying your anxieties, or if your anxieties have become a fixation in your life, you should discuss guidance with a professional counselor. If you feel your problems are too overwhelming to be solved or if you have difficulty confronting them, professional guidance can help with sorting them out and looking at each one realistically. If your rumination is a symptom of an anxiety disorder or depression, seeking professional help can be the first step on the road to changing your life.
BetterHelp Can Help
If you are looking for help with managing anxiety and restless thoughts, support is just a click away. With BetterHelp, it’s easier than ever before to speak to someone one on one without making a great material investment. You don’t have to worry about driving to rush to an appointment. You can take your appointments from the comfort of home (or wherever you have an internet connection). There’s no prescreening and no doctor visits, just qualified and licensed counselors (many of whom are doctors and nurses) ready to give you advice. There’s no obligation, and you can log in any time when you’re ready to begin asking questions. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
“David supported me in becoming aware of my strengths and being the best version of myself. He helped me in a period of my life in which I was literally stuck and my negative beliefs were holding me back from being myself and shine.”
“I worked with another counselor for over 6 months before working with Arielle Ballard. In one 30 minute session, I got more accomplished in terms of structuring goals, building coping mechanisms, and recognizing thought patterns, than I had in the 6 months working with the other counselor. I’m pleased with my progress and am very greatful to Arielle.”
If you struggle with ruminations, help is available to you, and you can find relief from the thoughts that are burdensome to you. They might feel like they won’t go away right now, but through practice and with the help of a therapist, you can start living a happier and healthier life by reducing the effect that ruminations and anxiety have on you. Take the first step today.
How to stop ruminating with these 3 techniques
Rumination is a dangerous habit that has been linked to serious psychological conditions such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and acute anxiety. But it’s never to late to break away from this damaging (and common) habit and take control of your thinking patterns. Indeed, there are ways to stop ruminating and restore your well-being, peace of mind and happiness.
Ruminating and overthinking: why it’s unhealthy
People have ruminating thoughts for a variety of reasons. Some of the common explanations for rumination, according to the American Psychological Association, include:
- belief that by ruminating, you’ll gain insight into your problem/life
- a history of physical or emotional trauma
- dealing with ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled
Overthinking negative thoughts is also common in those of us who possess certain personality traits such as neuroticism and perfectionism.
Indeed, for most of us, it’s completely normal to replay or go over past events in an attempt to understand where we went wrong: the lessons we can learn from past mistakes. In fact, according to research by Matt Killingsworth, incredibly we spend almost half our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing! This includes contemplating on what happened in the past (positive or negative).
When taken to the extreme, this leads to rumination, which is the compulsive overthinking or dwelling on the negative aspects of one’s past or future. This type of over-thinking is associated with obsessive tendencies and has very elevated cognitive and emotional costs.
For instance, psychological research has shown that there’s a link between rumination and negative psychological states, like anxiety and depression. Sooner or later, ruminators fall into an obsessive cycle of negative thoughts, which in turn lead to feelings on helplessness, guilt, anger, or regret, as well as to heightened stress and anxiety levels.
“Rumination is the obsessive overthinking or dwelling on the negative aspects of one’s past or future. This type of thinking has very elevated cognitive and emotional costs.”
A link between rumination and depression has also been suggested: a study in the US found that ruminators were more likely to become and remain clinically depressed after traumatic life events, such as the loss of a loved one. So, it appears that rumination and depressive states reinforce each other. In fact, they can send individuals into a spiral of uncontrolled negativity.
Rumination and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)
In clinical psychology, rumination or brooding is classified as an element of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). The intrusive and distressing thoughts brought about by rumination soon become impossible to stop. It’s precisely this loss of control over one’s thoughts that has led many psychologists to make a connection between this condition and OCD.
Stop rumination: unhealthy worrying and overthinking can cause depression
Researchers have also found a connection between rumination and harmful behaviour, such as binge drinking and binge eating. A study published in 2014 suggested that rumination may cause binge eating or increase its severity in cases where this behaviour already exists.
In the case of binge drinking, a longitudinal study carried out among US university students found a causal link between rumination, depression, and heavy drinking. It appears that rumination leads to this type of uncontrolled behaviours. They become a coping mechanism, a figurative escape valve, and a way to regulate the negative emotions that are exacerbated by rumination.
Rumination: negative interpersonal effects
Eventually, rumination causes an inability to handle basic tasks in daily life. Since ruminators are so absorbed in unhealthy thoughts, these interfere with their ability to perform a job and to handle personal or professional relationships.
RELATED: What is NLP? These 4 techniques could change how you think
In addition to mental health consequences, rumination has serious interpersonal effects, as ongoing brooding may erode support from friends and relatives and cause a frustration and withdrawal cycle that becomes a cause for further rumination.
Rumination: impaired brain function
More importantly, rumination and overthinking is harmful because those who suffer from it focus exclusively on the minute details of a problem instead of finding a solution. Much like it happens in clinically depressed patients, brain function in ruminators is impaired in that it hinders their problem-solving ability. Instead, negative neural networks cause an unrealistic sense of despair: they doom along with the belief that there’s no solution in sight.
“Rumination and overthinking is harmful because those who suffer from it focus exclusively on the minute details of a problem instead of finding a solution.”
How to stop ruminating: three great techniques
There’s no doubt that rumination is a psychological burden. If you suffer from negative overthinking, you need to know that others in the same situation have managed to put a stop to unproductive thoughts.
In fact, there are many strategies available to help you out in the struggle of breaking a thinking pattern that has become a habit. Here are three techniques that can teach you how to stop ruminating and take a step forward towards a healthier existence marked by happiness and appreciation, instead of worry and anxiety.
1. Mindfulness training
Recently, psychologists have developed cognitive therapies that help patients stop ruminating by incorporating elements of mindfulness practice. This is effective because mindfulness requires us to think about how we think, instead of simply jumping into a spiral of negative thoughts.
RELATED: 7 mindfulness tips for staying engaged
Mindfulness also brings an increased awareness into your own thinking patterns and reinforces your ability to identify triggers or to realise when negative intrusive thoughts reach a point of no return.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy often involves psychological intervention and educational sessions, as well as training in yoga and breathing techniques. The objective is to help ruminators gain insights into how their own brain functions, and by making individuals focus on their present state. They help suppress the impulse of obsessively focusing on past events.
Yoga as a mindfulness practice can help stop rumination
2. Problem solving techniques
Rumination has been sometimes described as “problem solving gone wrong”, so it only makes sense that one of the key ways in which you can stop ruminating is learning problem-solving techniques so you can address and reverse the paralysing effects of rumination.
The first step is to ask the right questions: for example, instead of asking “why did that happen?”, you should choose an action-focused question such as “what can I do about it?”. Then move onto the basic steps of problem solving:
- identifying the problem
- deciding on your objective
- listing the resources that will help you tackle your goals
- tracing a step-by-step action plan
- putting it into writing if necessary
The third technique involves not giving your mind time or space to engage in harmful brooding. Instead, keep your mind occupied with something that you find interesting or motivating. This could be anything from singing, volunteering, or exercising. The important thing is to choose a constructive distraction instead of falling into unhealthy distractions like drinking or over-eating.
“Learn how to stop ruminating and take a step forward towards a healthier existence marked by happiness and appreciation, instead of anxiety.”
Admittedly, keeping your mind occupied with something else can be hard. It’s all too easy to unconsciously drift into rumination. But do your best to replace thinking patterns and it will get easier the better your get at mindfulness practice.
RELATED: Mindful people are happier due to clearer authenticity
Another suggestion is to only allow yourself to ruminate for a short period of time, setting a time limit or “scheduled rumination” sessions (but keep them short and stick to the schedule).
Stop ruminating and overthinking: the benefits
If you’ve decided to stop ruminating and focus on replacing this habit with positive thinking patterns, you can look forward to many physical and psychological benefits. Overcoming rumination will give your freedom from harmful and unproductive thoughts and have a positive effect on your overall well-being.
Just like rumination, depression, anxiety, and other destructive behaviours reinforce each other. So, breaking away from this circle can reinforce confidence in yourself and in your ability to take the reins of your own life.
Interestingly enough, ruminators are often on a never-ending quest for insight (asking questions that rarely have an answer), but only those who manage to break away from this habit can look forward to finally achieving a sharper awareness and a better understanding of themselves.
See the light: free your mind and stop rumination
With effort, practice, and support, you can conquer the heavy burden of rumination, overthinking and worry. You can move from a vicious circle of inaction to a position where you’re in control of your thoughts and future. If you can learn how to stop ruminating thoughts then you will be on your way to enjoying a more balanced view of your past, present, and future. ●
Main image: colourbox.com
Written by Dee Marques
A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
How To Stop Ruminating & Dwelling On Negative Thoughts
What is rumination in depression? And, more importantly, how does rumination cause depression?
Rumination is dwelling on negative thoughts and incidents, and replaying them over and over in you head, in a way that keeps you feeling bad, anxious, and depressed.
So to get out of depression and remain depression-free, it’s very important that you stop ruminating, if it’s something that you currently do.
Right now, you’re going to learn how to do that the easy way, so that you find it no big deal to let go of negative thoughts and change your thinking.
How do I stop ruminating?
To make it easier for you to stop ruminating, it’s helpful for you to understand why you do it in the first place.
If you ruminate a lot, you are not “cursed”, and you don’t have a disorder that makes you think negatively instead of positively. On the contrary, your mind is working just fine, and it’s bringing thoughts and incidents to your attention that it thinks are important for you to consider.
For example, if you find yourself repeatedly thinking “I’m depressed” and “I have no friends”, then your mind thinks it’s important for you to think those thoughts and address them! And this is why the thoughts are naturally on your mind.
So to stop ruminating, you’ve got to teach your mind why it’s not important to brings those types of negative thoughts to your attention, and why you’re much better off not even thinking those kinds of thoughts at all.
Is it wrong to ruminate?
There is nothing wrong with ruminating and dwelling on negative thoughts like “I am depressed”, since this can be a perfectly valid way of thinking about things.
However, it’s important to appreciate that there is nothing right about ruminating, either, since you can always think in other valid ways. For example, instead of thinking “I am depressed”, it’s also valid to think “I can eliminate depression”.
The idea, here, is that just like it’s perfectly valid to see a glass as half empty or half full, it’s perfectly valid to dwell on negative things that make you miserable and depressed, or to dwell on more positive things that make you feel happier and depression-free.
The difference is that dwelling on more positive things makes your life better in ever way, so it’s just a smarter, more sensible, and more beneficial thing to do, every way you look at it.
What if negative thoughts are true?
Many people struggle with rumination because they think their negative thoughts are true, and therefore important and worth remembering.
To illustrate this, let’s say you tell me “I have no friends”, and I tell you to stop thinking this negative thought. If you respond with “But it’s true”, then this implies that you somehow think this thought is noteworthy and important, just because it’s true!
Unfortunately, when you think that true means important and worth remembering, then your mind will automatically bring all sorts of negative thoughts to your attention that it finds to be true. So you will naturally find yourself ruminating and struggling with depression and anxiety.
To resolve this, appreciate right now that even if something is true, that does not mean that it is important and worth remembering.
For example, the negative thoughts “I’m depressed” and “I have no friends” might be true. But they are not important or worth remembering, because they make your life worse just by thinking them.
On the other hand, the more positive thoughts “I can get rid of depression” and “I can make friends” are also true. In contrast, these positive thoughts are important and worth remembering, because they make your life better just by thinking them.
How to quit ruminating the easy way
As you have learned, rumination is neither right nor wrong. Instead, it’s useless and counter-productive, which makes it of no value to you whatsoever.
So right now, appreciate that there is never a good reason to ruminate and dwell on negative thoughts that make you depressed, even if they are valid or true. After all, you can just as easily think in valid, true ways that benefit you, instead.
This crystal clear understanding naturally helps your mind to stop ruminating, since it grasps that there is no value in bringing negative thoughts to your attention.
Furthermore, once you achieve this understanding, it’s much easier for you to replace negative thoughts with more positive thoughts, since your mind is already prepared to be fully cooperative with this type of a beneficial change in thinking.
This means that if you are using the Negative Thinking Buster to change your thinking (or changing your thoughts in some other way), you will find it much easier to do.
And by finding it easier to replace negative thinking with positive thinking, you naturally find it easier to become and remain depression-free.
Worried about work, your relationship, a dispute you had with the milkman, or if you left the boiler on before you left the house? If you constantly replay old events or worries in your head and fret about what you could have done differently, you might think you’re being productive by trying to solve problems, but obsessively dwelling on past events can actually do more harm than good.
If you really struggle to let things go and constantly feel the need to try and untangle old thoughts and feelings, then it sounds like you might be suffering from rumination. We speak to psychologist Niels Eék about how to stop ruminating and free your mind from constantly dwelling on negative thoughts:
What is rumination?
When people ruminate, they overthink or obsess about situations or life events. ‘The process of dwelling on past events that can’t be changed is called rumination,’ says Eék. ‘Some people are more likely to experience this than others, especially if they have an anxiety-prone personality.’
Examples include repeating in your mind negative experiences in the past, replaying conversations, dwelling on injuries or injustices or asking seemingly unanswerable questions such as “why me?” The key in all instances of rumination is that the person in question gets ‘stuck’ on a single subject, experience or emotion.
When people ruminate, they overthink or obsess about situations or life events.
Rumination can be twofold. If you find that looking back over the past and assessing various situations can give you answers and closure, then the effect can be positive. However, if you find that you’re repeatedly going over and over the same situation without getting anywhere, both your private and public life may be affected and your mental health could suffer.
The negative effects of rumination
It’s important to learn to move on from negative thoughts and feelings without letting them take hold of your life.
‘Rumination can have a number of negative effects on your mental health,’ explains Eék. ‘It is associated with anxiety disorders and depression and can even act as a cause for these conditions.
‘Researchers at Yale University have been studying this phenomenon and found that women are more likely to ruminate than men, which also explains why women have a higher risk of depression. Additionally, the research also found that rumination prevents people from acknowledging and dealing with their emotions, as they try to understand the situation instead of the feelings that the situation has caused.’
For those of you who think you might be struggling with rumination, try these expert tips to help you silence the demons:
1. Is it worth it?
If you find that your mind is fixated on a certain situation, ask yourself if the dwelling is actually worth your time.
‘Ask yourself if looking over a certain situation will help you accept it, learn from it and find closure,’ says Eék. ‘If the answer is no, you should make a conscious effort to shelve the issue and move on from it.’
2. Set aside time to think
Niggling worries often remain at the back of your mind, always there but never given your full attention. By dedicating time to whatever it is that’s bothering you, it’ll be easier to face the problem once and for all.
Write your thoughts down on a piece of paper and dedicate a time in the day to think about it.
‘Whenever you start dwelling, write the thought down on a piece of paper and dedicate a time in the day to think about it, ideally a few hours later,’ suggests Eék. ‘This will give you some distance from the dwelling, which will likely mean that it won’t bother you as much in a few hours, as well as allowing you to focus on other, more important things throughout the day.’
3. Imagine the worst case scenario
If you are constantly ruminating on something that happened, imagine the worst case scenario and how you would deal with it.
‘It may sound like a terrible idea, but actually, having a viable solution ready will leave you feeling calmer and less anxious, as well as pleasantly surprise you if things turn out better than expected, which is often the case,’ says Eék.
4. Identify your anxiety trigger
It’s possible that there is a pattern in your worries, and this means you can help identify potential causes and use practice preventative measures.
‘For many of us, rumination will occur after a trigger, so it is important to identify what it is,’ explains Eék. ‘For example, if you have to give a presentation at work and the last one you did didn’t go to plan, this can cause rumination and anxiety.
‘Once you identify this trigger, make sure to set aside some time to assess your previous mistakes and make sure that you don’t repeat them again, which will then remove the stimulus of rumination.’
5. Focus on the positives
More often than not, when we find ourselves ruminating, it is usually on negative thoughts, so a great solution for this is to focus on something positive in order to offset these worries.
‘Every day, write down two or three things that make you happy and think of the list whenever you feel yourself starting to dwell,’ recommends Eék. ‘Sharing these with friends and family can also help with reinforcement and prevent you from focusing on the negatives.’
6. Talk to a friend
A problem shared is a problem halved, which is why it’s important to get things off your chest when you feel they are weighing you down, so try talking to a friend – or seek professional help.
‘A great way to stop yourself dwelling is to talk to a friend or loved one,’ says Eék. ‘Whenever we ruminate, we tend to lose perspective, only seeing certain aspects of the situation. Talking to a friend will not only make you feel better, but it can also provide a different viewpoint, thus actually resolving the problem.’
7. Distract yourself
Taking on a task that requires your full attention can provide some much-needed relief from repetitive thoughts. Before you know it, you’ll have gone a whole day without ruminating once.
Taking on a task that requires your full attention can provide some much-needed relief from repetitive thoughts.
‘Doing a chore you’ve been putting off, going for a walk or even listening to some music can help,’ says Eék. ‘Focusing on something else for as little as ten minutes can shift your focus and ease anxiety caused by dwelling.’
8. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing on one’s awareness of the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. Anyone can do it, and mindfulness can be invaluable as a therapeutic technique.
‘One of the main problems with rumination is that we don’t even realise that we are doing it, letting the negative and obsessive thoughts take over our attention,’ explains Eék. ‘This is where mindfulness can be very useful – taking as little as three minutes to focus on your breathing and actually focus on what is bothering you, thus bringing you closer to a solution.’
9. Learn to let go
It’s easier said than done, but learning to let go is one of the most important steps to take if you want to stop rumination and ease your restless mind.
‘Accept that everyone makes mistakes and that they are in the past, and only take away what you learnt from the situation,’ says Eék. ‘While difficult at first, the more you practice compassion and understanding, the easier this process will become.’
Further help and support
If you continue to have problems with rumination after giving the above tips a go or have any concerns about your mental health, your first port of call should be your GP.
For additional support, try one of the following resources:
- Anxiety UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from anxiety.
- The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.
- Mind: a charity that makes sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
- CALM: helping to reduce stigma and reduce rates of male suicide.
Last updated: 19-11-19
Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB) Dr Juliet McGrattan Dr Juliet McGrattan spent 16 years as a GP, two years as a Clinical Champion for Physical Activity for Public Health England and is the Women’s Health Lead for the 261 Fearless global running network. Her award winning book, Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health was published by Bloomsbury in 2017.