In today’s busy world, our minds can get stuck in a loop of overthinking and replaying negative thoughts. This is called rumination, and it can make us feel stressed and anxious. However, the good news is that there are techniques you can use to help you stop ruminating and regain control of your thoughts. In this blog, we’ll explore what rumination is, how it affects us and provide simple strategies to help you find peace of mind.
The meaning of ruminating
Rumination is when our minds get stuck on certain thoughts, usually negative ones, and we can’t stop thinking about them. It’s like a never-ending loop in our heads. When we ruminate, we keep replaying past events or worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. This can make us feel really overwhelmed and anxious, and can also have a negative impact on our self-esteem.
Rumination isn’t helpful because it keeps us stuck in a cycle of negative thinking and repetitive thoughts. It can affect our mental health by increasing stress, making us feel sad or angry, and impacting on our ability to concentrate or make decisions. Understanding what rumination is can help us take steps to break free from it and improve our overall wellbeing.
Can't get a past event, like a breakup or failed job interview, out of your head? Priory CBT Therapist Charlie Carroll gives 5 tips for breaking free from your rumination.
Examples of rumination
Rumination can happen in various situations, and it’s something many people experience. Here are some examples of what rumination might look like:
- Dwelling on past mistakes – imagine you made a mistake at work and instead of letting it go, you keep replaying the situation over and over in your mind. You constantly think about what you could have done differently and beat yourself up about it
- Worrying about the future – let’s say you have an important presentation coming up. Instead of focusing on preparing for it, you might find yourself constantly worrying about how it might go wrong. You may imagine all the worst-case scenarios and can’t stop thinking about them
- Overanalysing interactions – have you ever had a conversation with someone and afterwards, you can’t stop thinking about it? You might find yourself replaying every word, every gesture, and wondering if you said something wrong, accidentally offended the person or made yourself look stupid
- Overthinking relationship issues – in relationships, rumination can happen when we repeatedly think about past arguments or conflicts. We keep going over the same arguments in our minds, even when they’re resolved. This can affect our ability to move forward
Rumination can take different forms, but they all share the common feature of getting stuck in repetitive and negative thinking patterns.
How to stop ruminating
It’s possible to put an end to the cycle of rumination, by using some helpful strategies. Here are some simple steps you can take to stop ruminating thoughts:
- Recognise when you’re ruminating. Start by becoming aware of your rumination patterns and triggers. Notice when you’re getting caught up in repetitive negative thoughts and acknowledge that it’s not helpful for your wellbeing
- Challenge your negative thoughts. When negative thoughts arise, it’s important that you try to question their validity. Ask yourself if there is evidence to support those thoughts or if there might be alternative explanations. If there isn’t any evidence for your negative thoughts, you might be worrying and ruminating over nothing. This can help you to reframe negative thoughts into more realistic and positive ones
- Engage in mindfulness and grounding techniques. It can be helpful for you to practise being present in the moment. Engage in activities that help you to focus on the here and now, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, or paying attention to your senses (for example, noticing the sounds around you or feeling the texture of objects). You could also try some positive affirmations for mental health. This can help you to distract yourself from negative thoughts and ground yourself in the present moment. Find out more about breathing exercises for anxiety and the importance of mindfulness for mental health
- Practise relaxation techniques. You could also explore relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Or you could simply do something you enjoy and that helps you to relax. This might be things like reading, listening to music, or other hobbies. These can all help to reduce stress and promote a calmer state of mind. Find out more about relaxation techniques for anxiety
- Shift to problem-solving. Instead of dwelling on the problem, you could try to shift your focus to finding solutions. Break down the issue into smaller, manageable steps and take action towards resolving it. For example, if you’re ruminating about potentially missing a deadline at work, you could create a to-do list of tasks, communicate with your manager, organise your workload, and set a realistic timeline for completion. By actively taking steps to address the issue, you can redirect your energy from rumination to constructive problem-solving, empowering you to make positive changes and move forwards
- Set boundaries. You might find it useful to allocate specific times during the day for reflection or worry, rather than letting it consume your entire day. Set aside dedicated ‘rumination time’ and limit it to a defined period. This can help to prevent you becoming overwhelmed
- Seek support. Don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted friends, family or professionals for support. Sharing your thoughts and feelings can provide a fresh perspective and help you to gain new insights into your situation and what you’re ruminating over
Remember, breaking free from rumination takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way. By implementing these strategies consistently, you can gradually reduce rumination and create a more positive and peaceful mindset.
Getting help for rumination
It’s important to recognise that sometimes, rumination can become overwhelming and persistent, impacting your daily life and wellbeing. If you find that despite your best efforts, you’re still unable to break free from rumination or if it’s significantly affecting your mental health, seeking professional help is a valuable step.
In addition, it’s important to be aware that rumination can often be a symptom of a range of mental health conditions. These could include anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may also need treatment in their own right.
A mental health professional will be able to provide guidance, support and evidence-based mental health treatment techniques, tailored to your specific needs. These might include techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They can help you to gain a deeper insight into the underlying causes of your rumination, teach you coping skills, and provide a safe space for you to explore and process your thoughts and emotions.
More severe mental health conditions, such as OCD, PTSD and emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), may cause more intense or distressing symptoms, including rumination. For people who struggle with intense emotions, such as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, violent fantasies and suicidal rumination, a more intensive intervention may be needed. This might include the dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) TIPP skill. This involves:
- Tip the Temperature of your face with cold water – to calm down fast
- Intense exercise – to calm down your body when it’s revved up by emotion
- Paced breathing – pace your breathing by slowing it down
- Paired muscle relaxation – pair muscle relaxation with breathing out, in order to calm down
The TIPP skill aims to help you calm down enough to be able to practise other techniques, such as mindfulness, helping you to stay grounded and in the present moment.
Contact Priory today to find out how we can help you with rumination. Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength, and with the right support, you can overcome rumination and find greater peace of mind.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or submit an online enquiry form here.