How to stop ruminating thoughts
One of the key symptoms of depression and anxiety is having ruminating thoughts. This basically means that you spend your time;
- Thinking a lot
- Rethinking the same content over and over – usually about upsetting events
In psychological terminology, rumination is defined as having the tendency to repetitively ponder about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience. The difficulty with rumination is the fact that nothing good actually comes off it. It generally doesn’t produce new thoughts or solutions.
Instead, you keep getting the old thoughts again like a well trodden path and on top of it, the same old feelings associated as well which is usually a lower mood in comparison to before you ruminated and overplayed the same thoughts again.
So the main question that I’d like to address is, how to stop ruminating thoughts and offer some coping tools.
Example of rumination
You were at a party and said something that you now regret, and you keep playing that same sentence over and over again with regret that you said it. Very often, rumination will be about something negative about yourself (For ex. ‘Why am I such an idiot?’ ‘Why can’t I think before I speak?’).
So if you already feel quite insecure and struggle with low self-esteem, then rumination will magnify this negative self-talk and make it worse. Notice that the ‘why’ questions have no answers and thus the question just keeps replaying.
The trouble with rumination is that besides it not being pleasant at all, research shows that it can prolong depression. It also gets in the way of healthy and clear thinking and the processing of your emotions. Spending a lot of time ruminating also tends to isolate you and thus decrease your social contact which is another negative factor for your mental health.
So why do people ruminate?
You might ask why you ruminate when it is not that good for you. My first response to that is that most of my clients have told me that they don’t know how to stop ruminating, but they wish they could press the stop button (see the ‘dial down’ tool discussed below).
Nevertheless, there are some reasons why people do consciously spend time ruminating:
- They believe that the rumination will lead to some form of a solution to their problem (it could also get them to talk to many people about their issues)
- They have a perfectionist character style. Some may have an underlying obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD)
- Have poor emotional regulation skills. This means that they can’t easily tolerate the upsetting emotion and are seeking to escape it through rumination which feels (erroneously) like problem-solving.
The first coping tool is called thought stopping.
In order to practice this exercise, it is best to record the following script into a recorder or your phone. I highly advise getting a recorder if you’d like to practice the coping tools mentioned in my posts, as many of them are scripts that are best spoken into a recorder and then listened to.
Here is the script:
As you allow yourself to relax comfortably, concentrate on the idea of learning a new skill of how to control your thinking…. You can learn a new skill of controlling your thinking….just like you have learned many skills in life….perhaps how to ride a bike…. or drive a car….or spell your name…. just like that, you can also learn to be a master of your thinking….you can sit at the head table and manage your thinking and you don’t just have to give them free flow…. You are familiar with road signs….all kinds of signs….you know about a green light and you know about a red light…..you also know about a STOP sign….. you might have seen one on the road not that long ago…. now visualise the STOP sign in front of you…..see the writing…..the S…..the T….the O…..the P……. And as you see that sign, think about its meaning…. and say to yourself STOP…..you can say that out loud or loudly in your thoughts…..and keep repeating the word STOP…..
Now instead of ruminating, you ruminate on the word STOP and you keep repeating it. You will notice that the original rumination tries to fight back and bring you back to the upsetting content. But you keep interrupting that and as soon as you notice those thoughts come back, you repeat the order of STOP again and again. I call this pattern interrupt.
You can view rumination as a path that has been stepped on many times so it is now on autopilot. As you now interrupt the autopilot, it still tries to stay on that path. So interrupting the thought by repeating STOP over and over, you are essentially destroying the autopilot.
A very similar script to this one and many others can be found in ‘The Affect Regulation Toolbox‘ by Carolyn Daitch which has a great collection of scripts to help you manage thoughts and emotions. You can get this book on Amazon.com
See this video in which several other ideas are discussed to stop rumination by author and depression counsellor Douglas Bloch. He’s the author of Healing from Depression: 12 Weeks to a Better Mood
Another tool to dial down rumination
This tool works in a different direction. It is a tool to help you dial down the emotional reactivity and its intensity that is accompanied with the ongoing thinking. Rumination is partly disturbing because it brings negative emotions with it. In the first tool you learned to put a stop to the thinking itself and now you will learn to reduce the emotional intensity with another visualisation exercise. Remember that visualisation activates the limbic system which is actually where intense emotions originate from.
It is important to keep in mind that this coping tool will have more impact as you keep practicing. If you have little to no experience in emotional regulation then this could be a beginning for you, but practice is necessary.
The more you practice, the more added pathways in the brain are developed which you will be able to use even when intense emotions occur. Remember: What fires together, wires together.
Imagine you could see a dial in front of you which is the dial of your emotions. At first, you become aware of what you are feeling in your body as a result of all this rumination. Observe the sensations, name the feeling if you can and then imagine the dial in front of you.
If 10 was the most intense of this specific emotion and 0 would be experiencing no such emotion at all, what nr is the dial on now?
Now ask yourself at what number you wish it would be at in this present moment? Recognise that you may wish to maintain some of the emotion, enough to drive and motivate you to deal with the current situation if that is necessary.
Slowly visualise seeing that dial going down and notice how the intensity of emotion is lowered as the dial is lowering. Notice the empowerment that you feel with your newfound ability to dial down overwhelming emotions.
You can read more about this coping tool in ‘The Road to Calm Workbook’ and many other coping tools to manage emotions. It also comes with an accompanied CD to help you through the coping tools. Remember that managing your emotions is perhaps the most important and vital key to mental health.
This audio download is a hypnosis track to help you sharpen your mind to be more solution oriented.
As mentioned above, overthinking doesn’t really produce solutions and yet it is difficult to stop. This audio was developed by psychologists and can shift your focus from problem thinking to solution thinking. Over time, people have reported that listening to the audio several times has helped them to:
- Have a sharper and clearer mind even when faced with challenges
- Are spending less time ruminating about regrets and self-criticism
- Tap into inner resources
- Think in practical ways to deal with challenges
- Have a better and more positive outlook on life
In my opinion this is a great audio and since it comes with a 30-day money back guarantee, I’d say – give it a try!
Feel free to ask any questions or leave comments below. You can also email me at email@example.com
To your health,