Ruminating is a term that has been gaining popularity in recent times. The term is used to refer to the tendency in people to continuously and repetitively keep on analyzing their problems, feelings of distress, or concerns without making any effort or taking any action to bring about any positive changes. Ruminating is a common pattern of thinking that can happen to anyone, especially when they are feeling stressed or anxious. People who ruminate have a tendency to replay past events or conversations in their minds, continuously worry about future possibilities, or constantly focus on their own perceived shortcomings or mistakes. This type of thinking can be unproductive and lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, or a sense of being stuck in one’s own thoughts. If you find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle of ruminating, here are some tips to help you stop ruminating.
What is Rumination?
It happens to all of us at some or other time in our lives that we are unable to stop thinking about something embarrassing or distressing that happened to us. However, when this thought continues to repeat itself persistently, it can be difficult to break free of this vicious cycle. This process of persistently thinking about the same thing, which is usually negative or sad, is known as rumination. This habit of rumination can, in fact, prove to be quite dangerous for your health as it only prolongs or even intensifies depression while also impairing your ability to think and process your emotions. Rumination can also make a person feel isolated and even cause you to push your loved ones away.(1,2,3)
Rumination often involves dwelling on negative experiences or emotions and it can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, or hopelessness. Rumination is often seen as a common symptom of depression and anxiety disorders.
Many people think that rumination is not something to be concerned about. However, rumination can be problematic because it can lead to a cycle of negative thinking that can be difficult to break. People who ruminate often find it challenging to focus on the present moment or to engage in activities that bring them joy or satisfaction. Rumination can also interfere with sleep, appetite, and other aspects of daily functioning.(4) In some extreme cases, rumination may even lead to suicide.(5)
There are several strategies that can be helpful in breaking the cycle of rumination, including mindfulness meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and self-compassion practices. It can also be helpful to engage in physical activity, connect with supportive people, and to challenge negative thoughts with positive and realistic self-talk. Seeking professional help can also be an important step in managing rumination and related mental health concerns. Keeping all these in mind, here are some tips to help you stop ruminating.
Tips To Help You Stop Ruminating and Take Control Of Your Life
It is important to understand that medical experts do not consider rumination to be a mental health condition, but it can be a symptom that accompanies other conditions, including depression, anxiety, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While it is not a mental health condition, but if you find it happening regularly and it is especially intense, it can cause a significant amount of distress and also affect your well-being negatively.(6,7)
Once you get stuck in a ruminating cycle, it can be difficult to get out of it. If you find yourself getting stuck in a ruminating thought cycle, it is absolutely necessary to stop the thoughts as soon as possible in order to prevent them from getting more intense and taking over your existence. Remember that it is always easier to stop the ruminating thought cycle when it first begins and they are less intense instead of when they start taking over every other thought in your mind.
Some tips you can use to help you stop this ruminating thought cycle are as follows:
Distract Yourself as Quickly as Possible
When you first realize that you are ruminating, it is important to distract yourself at the earliest. This makes it easier to break the thought cycle. No matter where you are when you start to ruminate, look around and choose something else that you can do. Remember not to overthink. Do not give it a second thought and consider doing the following to immediately distract yourself:
- Calling a family member or friend
- Start doing chores around the house
- Watch a movie
- Read a book
- Take a walk around the block
- Draw or color a picture
While it is easier to say to distract yourself than actually doing it, the key to distracting yourself depends on finding a different thought or activity to occupy your mind with so that it replaces the repetitive and adverse thoughts. There are many activities that will help keep your brain engaged as they require concentration. This will prevent you from continuing into the ruminating thought cycle. Solving a crossword or puzzle, playing a musical instrument, or even playing a game can help you distract your brain and stop the ruminating thoughts. There are many other creative activities that can help distract you. It is important that you choose an activity or task that you enjoy so that you do not get bored and slip back into the negative ruminating thoughts again.
Identify the Source of Your Rumination
Identifying the source of your rumination can be a helpful first step in breaking the cycle of negative thinking. While you may think that the actual situation or event that triggered your rumination is the root cause of your adverse thoughts, but oftentimes there are actually some other underlying causes to your rumination and it is important to identify these sources.
These may include:
- Personality traits
- Having an undiagnosed mental health or anxiety disorder
Here are some strategies that may be useful in identifying the source of your rumination:
- Journaling: Write down your thoughts and emotions related to the things you have been ruminating about. Try to identify any patterns or themes that emerge from your writing.
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a meditation technique that helps you bring your attention to your thoughts and emotions as they arise in the present moment. Try to notice where your attention is when you are ruminating and what triggers your rumination.
- Self-reflection: Take some time to reflect on your life experiences and identify any unresolved issues or unresolved emotions that may be contributing to your rumination.
- Talking to a Trusted Friend Or Therapist: Discuss your rumination with someone you trust. They may be able to offer insights or perspectives that can help you identify the source of your rumination.
According to a study carried out in 2015 by the Copenhagen University and the University of Western Australia, it was found that cognitive behavioral therapy focusing on rumination can help people who have depression and also experience ruminating thoughts.(10)
Plan to Take Some Action and Actually Take Action
Instead of falling into the cycle of thinking about the same negative and sad thoughts again and again, decide that it is time to take some action. Take that negative thought and instead of pondering over it over and over again, make a plan to address it. Decide that you will plan to take action and address that thought.
To do this, try to make an outline in your head of every step you are going to take to address the problem, or you can even write it down on paper. It helps to be as specific as possible, but at the same time, you should also be realistic about your expectations.
Making a plan to take some action will disrupt the cycle of rumination, and if ever you feel you are slipping back, immediately refer back to the action plan you have made to solve the problem that you have been obsessing over. As time passes and you move forward one step at a time, you will find that you are able to put your mind at ease as you start taking action as per your plan.
Think About What You Can Control
If you find yourself spiraling into a cycle of negative thoughts and ruminating, it may help to determine what it is that you can control at the moment in your life. For example, if you are ruminating about an upcoming job interview and are unable to find anything positive to focus on, instead of focusing on self-defeating thoughts about what all can go wrong, stop that thought pattern. Instead, consider and focus on what factors about the interview you can control, including facts like ensuring you arrive at the interview well-rested, properly dressed, and well-prepped. Determining what you can control and what you can do right will help you be proactive in the situation and help decrease rumination.
Get Out Of Your Mind, and Focus On Your Body
A rather large study done in 2018 found that indulging in short bursts of exercise can help reduce rumination and also improve mood in people who have mental health disorders.(11) This means to get out of your mind and focus on your body instead. You can consider indulging in activities like:
- Taking a brisk walk
- Enjoy activities in the midst of nature, such as gardening, hiking, etc.
- Cleaning and organizing the house
- Getting involved in a new hobby
Think About Re-Adjusting Your Life Goals
Having unrealistic goals in life or aiming for perfectionism can often be a cause of rumination. When we set unrealistic goals, we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment, which can lead to negative self-talk and rumination. Similarly, perfectionism can lead to a constant striving for an unattainable standard, which can also lead to rumination when we inevitably fall short. When we set unrealistic goals or strive for perfectionism, we may become hyper-focused on our perceived failures or shortcomings, which can trigger rumination.(12,13)
To avoid rumination, it is important to set realistic goals and expectations for ourselves. We should also practice self-compassion and recognize that failure is a normal and necessary part of the learning process. Instead of striving for perfection, we can aim for progress and celebrate our achievements, no matter how small. Additionally, developing healthy coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness or journaling as mentioned above, can help manage rumination when it occurs.
Build Your Self-Esteem
Instead of spending time on rumination, it will help if you take the time to work on building up your own self-esteem. Studies have shown that rumination stems from negative self-talk and self-criticism, which can erode a person’s self-esteem and confidence over a period of time.(14,15) By increasing our self-esteem, we can counteract these negative thoughts and break the cycle of rumination.
Here are some tips for building your self-esteem:
- Practice Self-Compassion: Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, as you would a good friend. When you would not think about pulling down or putting down your friend, then why do the same with yourself? Acknowledge your flaws and imperfections, but do not dwell on them and most of all, do not pitch a tent and stay there itself in your mind.(16)
- Focus On Your Strengths: Make a list of your strengths and accomplishments, and refer to this list when you are feeling down or self-critical.
- Set Realistic Goals: Break larger goals into smaller, achievable steps, and celebrate your progress along the way. Again, setting too high goals and failing at achieving them will lead to a worse setback than setting smaller goals and being unable to achieve them. Remember, for a person who is suffering from any type of mental health condition, even getting out of bed in the morning is a big achievement that accounts for a lot.
- Surround Yourself With Positive People: Spend time with people who uplift and support you, and avoid those who bring you down.
- Take Care Of Yourself: Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. When we feel well physically, it can positively impact our mental health and self-esteem.
It is important to remember that building your self-esteem takes time and effort. So be patient with yourself and remain committed to the process. With practice and time, you will be able to learn to silence the negative self-talk and cultivate a more positive and confident mindset, which can help in preventing rumination.
Meditation can be a highly effective tool for not only preventing rumination but to also getting out of a ruminating thought cycle. By practicing mindfulness meditation, you can learn to observe your thoughts without judgment, which can help break the cycle of negative self-talk and rumination.
Here are some steps to use meditation to stop ruminating:
- Find a Quiet Place To Sit Comfortably: Choose a quiet place where you can sit comfortably, either on a chair or on a cushion on the floor.
- Focus On Your Breathing: Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Notice the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body.
- Observe Your Thoughts: As thoughts arise, observe them without judgment. Try not to get caught up in the content of the thoughts, but simply notice them and let them pass.
- Return to Your Breath: When you notice that you are getting caught up in your negative thoughts again, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Practice Regularly: Set aside a few minutes every day to practice meditation. Over time, you will find yourself building up a habit of observing your thoughts without getting caught up in them, which can help to prevent rumination.
It is important to understand that it is very much possible to stop ruminating and to break free from the ruminating thought cycle. If you find yourself ruminating, it is important to try out some of the tips discussed here to stop your thoughts from spiraling out of control. Remember that by being proactive and taking the necessary steps, you can prevent yourself from turning into a ruminator and free yourself from a negative thinking pattern.
- Watkins, E.R. and Roberts, H., 2020. Reflecting on rumination: Consequences, causes, mechanisms and treatment of rumination. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 127, p.103573.
- Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B.E. and Lyubomirsky, S., 2008. Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on psychological science, 3(5), pp.400-424.
- Treynor, W., Gonzalez, R. and Nolen-Hoeksema, S., 2003. Rumination reconsidered: A psychometric analysis. Cognitive therapy and research, 27, pp.247-259.
- Berry, J.W., Worthington Jr, E.L., O’Connor, L.E., Parrott III, L. and Wade, N.G., 2005. Forgivingness, vengeful rumination, and affective traits. Journal of personality, 73(1), pp.183-226.
- Morrison, R. and O’Connor, R.C., 2008. A systematic review of the relationship between rumination and suicidality. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 38(5), pp.523-538.
- Raines, A.M., Vidaurri, D.N., Portero, A.K. and Schmidt, N.B., 2017. Associations between rumination and obsessive-compulsive symptom dimensions. Personality and Individual Differences, 113, pp.63-67.
- Dar, K.A. and Iqbal, N., 2015. Worry and rumination in generalized anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. The Journal of psychology, 149(8), pp.866-880.
- Deyo, M., Wilson, K.A., Ong, J. and Koopman, C., 2009. Mindfulness and rumination: does mindfulness training lead to reductions in the ruminative thinking associated with depression?. Explore, 5(5), pp.265-271.
- Hawley, L.L., Schwartz, D., Bieling, P.J., Irving, J., Corcoran, K., Farb, N.A., Anderson, A.K. and Segal, Z.V., 2014. Mindfulness practice, rumination and clinical outcome in mindfulness-based treatment. Cognitive therapy and research, 38, pp.1-9.
- Hvenegaard, M., Watkins, E.R., Poulsen, S., Rosenberg, N.K., Gondan, M., Grafton, B., Austin, S.F., Howard, H. and Moeller, S.B., 2015. Rumination-focused cognitive behaviour therapy vs. cognitive behaviour therapy for depression: study protocol for a randomised controlled superiority trial. Trials, 16, pp.1-6.
- Brand, S., Colledge, F., Ludyga, S., Emmenegger, R., Kalak, N., Sadeghi Bahmani, D., Holsboer-Trachsler, E., Pühse, U. and Gerber, M., 2018. Acute bouts of exercising improved mood, rumination and social interaction in inpatients with mental disorders. Frontiers in psychology, 9, p.249.
- Flett, G.L., Madorsky, D., Hewitt, P.L. and Heisel, M.J., 2002. Perfectionism cognitions, rumination, and psychological distress. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 20, pp.33-47.
- Xie, Y., Kong, Y., Yang, J. and Chen, F., 2019. Perfectionism, worry, rumination, and distress: A meta-analysis of the evidence for the perfectionism cognition theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 139, pp.301-312.
- Kirkegaard Thomsen, D., 2006. The association between rumination and negative affect: A review. Cognition and Emotion, 20(8), pp.1216-1235.
- Lyubomirsky, S. and Nolen-Hoeksema, S., 1995. Effects of self-focused rumination on negative thinking and interpersonal problem solving. Journal of personality and social psychology, 69(1), p.176.
- Patsiopoulos, A.T. and Buchanan, M.J., 2011. The practice of self-compassion in counseling: A narrative inquiry. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 42(4), p.301.