Rumination: How to Stop Ruminating and Obsessive Thinking

Rumination how to stop ruminating
Lana Otoya

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Rumination: A deep or considered thought about something.

Doesn’t sound so bad, but when used to describe a mental health condition – it is one of the unhealthiest thought habits around. Rumination is when you think obsessively about a certain topic that gets you nowhere.

You take negative thoughts or situations and repeat them over and over again in your mind. It is obsessive thinking on the worst level and it will lead to anxiety and depression or make those conditions worse. Here are my tips on how to stop ruminating and obsessive thinking.

rumination how to stop ruminating

Rumination: How to stop ruminating and obsessive thinking

#1 – Thought control

“We can’t control our thoughts” – a true statement that was never such a lie. When I’m talking to someone who suffers from depression or anxiety, they often tell me that they can’t help it – those thoughts just come to them. I agree that we can’t always control our thoughts and sometimes anxiety or depressive thoughts seem to come out of nowhere.

But I like to think of thoughts like a river.

Imagine you’re standing at the bottom of a river, the water, in this case, represents your thoughts. You can’t control the water that is coming down from the river because you’re standing at the bottom of it. These are the thoughts that you can’t control, the ones that just come to you.

But while you’re standing at the bottom, you can control the water that comes down to you. You can get a bucket to collect some water or you can build little barriers to control where the water goes.

The goal isn’t to stop negative or rumination thoughts from happening, it’s to learn how to control and cope with them once they arrive. This is the first step in the healing process and then eventually the ruminating thoughts will lessen.

#2 – Don’t Believe Your Brain

Just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.

Write that down. Put it somewhere that you’ll see every single day.

We live in a reality that is shaped mostly by our minds and sometimes what feels real to us just doesn’t ring true for the outside world. I personally know someone who suffers from social anxiety and fears connecting with people. She’s afraid that she’s not funny enough. That she’s awkward. That she doesn’t say the right things at the right time.

Without a word of a lie – I can tell you that she’s one of the funniest and wittiest people I know. Her comedic timing is excellent. She comes across as friendly and genuine within the first two minutes of talking to her. She’s amazing.

But not so in her head. She fears people, she doesn’t like connecting with others and it makes her depressed and anxious.

Is the reality in her head reflecting the reality in the real world? No – it’s the total opposite.

If I have a conversation with her, she walks away from it thinking that she didn’t say the right things and that she was awkward. She’ll ruminate about the jokes she made or things she could have done differently. I walk away from the conversation thinking that she’s hilarious and I can’t wait to chat with her again. See how our minds are shaping the same situation in totally different ways?

When you’re ruminating about negative aspects of your personality, don’t believe the thoughts. I know it sounds petty but this is the bare bones basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a scientifically proven way to cure depression.

Not believing your negative thoughts might sound simple, but sometimes simple is all we need. Want to get fit? Eat healthily and exercise. Want a healthy brain? Don’t believe your negative thoughts.

#3- Action Stops Fear

This one works for ruminating thoughts that are tied to the future. Thoughts that are based on anxiety or worrying about a future event.

When we are feeling anxious, we are often fearing or dreading something that is coming up in the future. This could be a big event, a job interview or more abstract things like paying the bills, finding purpose in life etc.

I know it can be hard but if you can, try to pinpoint the fear that is behind your anxious thoughts. Let’s use an easy example like an upcoming job interview.

The more action you take, the less fear you will feel. Here is a list of things you could take action with to prepare for a job interview:

  • Look up common job interview questions and practice your answers in the mirror
  • Research the company and get to know their mission statement
  • Think of some work-related stories that show your strengths

As soon as you start doing those things, your fear and anxiety will lessen. The rumination will also lessen because your brain is focused on thinking of solutions rather than dwelling on the problem.

#4 – Control Plan

A great way for how to stop ruminating is to make a control plan. A control plan is a list of things that you either can or cannot control. This is a great way to get some perspective on the ruminating thoughts you might be experiencing.

Let’s say you have ruminating thoughts about your body. You don’t think you look good and you wish you were prettier.

Make a control plan.

CAN CONTROL:

  • Hairstyle
  • Makeup
  • Fashion Sense/Clothes
  • Accessories (ie. shoes, jewlery, tattoos, piercings)
  • Diet and Exercise

CANNOT CONTROL:

  • Facial structure
  • Acne
  • Height
  • Weight

After you’ve done this, you will have a list of things in the can control category – focus on those! Those are things that will get you results. You can work on those and take action. Remember, action stops fear.

Notice how I put weight in the cannot control category? That is because you actually can’t control your weight. You can control your diet, the amount you exercise etc. but your weight is determined by the cells in your body and your genes. The control category must be made of things that you can directly control. This means you can see results as soon as you start taking action on them.

To use another example on the list, acne is not something you can control. It is caused by hormones and your skin cells. You can however control your diet, see a dermatologist, adjust your skin care routine etc.

Focusing on things you can change tomorrow is how you make an effective control plan and how to stop ruminating about things you can’t control.

If you need help coming up with a control plan or figuring out the best ways to cope with anxiety, check out these resources on BetterHelp.

#5- Bring Yourself To The Present

This is helpful for ruminating thoughts that are about dwelling on the past. People who ruminate and think obsessively about things will often relive past situations in their heads. For example, “I said something stupid” or “I can’t believe I made that mistake in front of everyone”.

Let’s use a little bit of logic to help us with this.

If you were embarassed by something you did at the office meeting, thinking about it again doesn’t change what happened. It only makes you feel embarassed again….and again and again. 

Now (assuming the embarassing thing wasn’t caught on video) the event that happened no longer exists, it only exists in your mind when you’re thinking about it, and in the mind of someone else if they are thinking about it.

Take yourself out of reliving the moment by using mindfulness. Bring yourself to the present.

Close your eyes and think about your environment. Listen to the traffic. Listen to the rain. Feel the chair that you’re sitting on on your legs. Focus on your breathing.

When you bring yourself to the present, you move forward from the past.

#6 – Exercise

One of the simplest ways for how to stop ruminating is to exercise regularly. I don’t really enjoy going to the gym or “working out” so I find that doing physical activities are a lot more fun and keep my mind occupied. I do this by playing ice hockey and mountain biking. The extreme, fast-paced nature of these activities allows me to stop thinking about any troubles I might be having because I need to put a lot of focus on the task at hand.

This is just one thing that works for me but doing things like yoga (with a guided meditation app playing) or listening to music while you work out can also be helpful.

The key here is to get your body moving so that you can reap the benefits of the pleasure hormones that get released when you work out. Use those endorphins to your advantage!

#7 – Self Care

As always, a solid self-care routine is not selfish or lazy and will work wonders for your mental health. Remember that self-care can include yoga, mindfulness, meditation, relaxing baths, and other “cliche” activities but self-care doesn’t stop there. Self-care is anything that makes you feel relaxed and take your mind off things. This can be doing a sport, going out with friends, hosting a party, doing a puzzle, the sky is the limit!

If you need some guidance on your self-care journey, be sure to check out my FREE 10 Day Self Care challenge. 

#8 – Learn More About Rumination

The topic of rumination and how to help solve it is complicated and in depth, but it’s something that you should learn about if you suffer from this problem. I am excited to announce that my new book Rumination: Overcome Destructive Thoughts and Start Thinking Positively is now available on Amazon! I spent an (abnormal) amount of time studying rumination, why it happens and how you can treat it and decided to put it all in a book so that others can learn how to cope.

Rumination: how to stop ruminating

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6 thoughts on “Rumination: How to Stop Ruminating and Obsessive Thinking”

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write on this subject. I perseverate/ruminate over past issues and then cannot move forward. Sometimes it interrupts sleep. I will definitely be reading this book. Best of luck on your success with it.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Erin and I wish you all the best in making your head an easier place to live.

      1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I’ve lived with self doubt and years of repetitive negative thoughts which keeps affecting my confidence and relationships. I will definitely apply these tips consistently. Great job :)<3

  2. The part about being able to control one’s appearance is an important message that often gets neglected under well meaning but short sighted talk about it being ‘what’s inside that counts’. People do have some autonomy regarding the way that they can express their personality through their appearance and it isn’t shallow to read these visual messages by engaging visually with someone. 🙂

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