Wondering how to stop ruminating?
Read on to learn what it means to ruminate, and how to cope with ruminating thoughts.
To ruminate is to think about the same thing over and over again, similar to worrying. People who ruminate have difficulty getting their minds to stop. Ruminating is exhausting for your brain!
Why Do People Ruminate?
In simple terms, ruminating is a way to cope with unresolved feelings. It may give people a feeling of control, or of “doing” something about their concerns. People may ruminate so frequently that it becomes a habit. They may ruminate without even realizing they’re doing it!
False Beliefs About Rumination
Ruminating is a way to cope. Sometimes, people have false beliefs about the power of rumination.
For example, let’s say you feel guilty, and think about the thing(s) you feel guilty about a lot. You may believe that by ruminating about those things, you’re proving you’re a good person. Alternatively, you may consider the rumination punishment for the things you believe you did wrong.
Ruminating keeps feelings on a surface level. Your thoughts might be coming so quickly that there’s no time to process your emotions.
Ruminating about a fear may feel ‘safer’ than actually feeling fear, especially if you grew up in a home where your feelings weren’t acknowledged or validated.
Another possibility is that you’re ruminating in order to justify your feelings to yourself. You’re checking to ensure that you have valid reasons for feeling angry at someone, for example.
When people struggle, they tend to return to what’s comfortable and familiar. If you’ve been ruminating for many years, you may not even realize you’re doing it.
And even if you do realize you’re ruminating, you may not know how to break the cycle.
Read on to learn how to stop ruminating!
How to Stop Ruminating?
Step 1: Understand That Ruminating Is Not Useful
Planning is one thing. But ruminating – thinking about the same thing over and over – it doesn’t get you anywhere!
It’s like running on a hamster wheel.
If you don’t believe this to be true, you may need to examine your cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are ways that our minds play ‘tricks’ on us. Using the list linked above, identify which cognitive distortions are making you think ruminating is helping. Then, write down all the reasons why ruminating is getting in the way of living the life you want.
If you still believe ruminating is helpful or necessary, try meeting with a therapist. They can help you unlearn this belief.
Once you believe ruminating no longer serves you, you’re ready to move on to step two.
Step 2: Observe and Label Rumination
You must be aware of rumination in order to change it.
Watch your thoughts throughout the day, and notice when you begin ruminating.
Make sure you label the thought patterns as rumination. You may say something to yourself like, “Oh, there’s my mind ruminating again.”
The more your practice noticing and labeling rumination, the more likely you are to succeed in minimizing it.
Step 3: Turn the Mind
Once you’ve labeled ruminating thoughts, you can then “turn your mind” to something else. In other words, focus your attention elsewhere.
You may choose to turn your mind to what you’re doing in the present moment. For example, if you’re watching a TV show, you might turn your attention back to what the characters in the show are saying, doing, and wearing.
Alternatively, you can turn your mind to more positive thoughts. For example, you could list (in your head or on paper) things you’re grateful for, or things you’re looking forward to.
Step 4: Practice Patience and Non-Judgment
You might notice yourself getting frustrated with how often you notice you’re ruminating.
Some people may only need to turn their mind once an hour, while others might turn their mind 100 times in that same hour.
There’s no limit or “normal” amount of times to repeat these steps. It’s different for everyone, and the frequency may change depending on how elevated your anxiety is, or what kind of day you’re having.
Remember that ruminating once gave you a sense of control or comfort. It had a purpose – that purpose just isn't serving you any longer.
Try to be patient and gentle with yourself through this process. Change is difficult for everyone, and it does take time.
About RebeccaRebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social worker and therapist in Chicago, IL.
Rebecca provides therapy to people with anxiety, low self-esteem, and people pleasing tendencies. She uses a feminist and social justice lens, and interventions based in CBT, mindfulness, and motivational interviewing.
For helpful, free content, follow her on Instagram or go to her website.