Has your head ever been filled with one single thought, or a string of thoughts, that just keep repeating… and repeating… and repeating themselves?
The process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark, is called rumination.
A habit of rumination can be dangerous to your mental health, as it can prolong or intensify depression as well as impair your ability to think and process emotions. It may also cause you to feel isolated and can, in reality, push people away.
WHAT CAUSES RUMINATING?
People ruminate for a variety of reasons. According to the American Psychological Association, some common reasons for rumination include:
- belief that by ruminating, you will gain insight into your life or a problem
- having a history of emotional or physical trauma
- facing ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled
Ruminating is also common in people who possess certain personality characteristics, which include perfectionism, neuroticism, and an excessive focus on one’s relationships with others.
You might have a tendency to overvalue your relationships with others so much that you will make large personal sacrifices to maintain your relationships, even if they’re not working for you.
Once you get stuck in a ruminating thought cycle, it can be hard to get out of it. If you do enter a cycle of such thoughts, it’s important to stop them as quickly as possible to prevent them from becoming more intense.
So, what can you do to stop these obsessive thoughts from running through your mind?
Here are 5 tips to try when you begin to experience the same thought, or set of thoughts, swirling around your head:
Question your thoughts
We often ruminate when we think we’ve made a major mistake or when something traumatic has happened to us that we feel responsible for.
If you start ruminating on a troubling thought, try putting your repetitive thought in perspective.
Thinking more about how your troubling thought might not be accurate may help you stop ruminating because you realize the thought makes little sense.
Meditating can reduce rumination because it involves clearing your mind to arrive at an emotionally calm state.
When you find yourself with a repeating loop of thoughts in your mind, seek out a quiet space. Sit down, breathe deeply, and focus on nothing but breathing.
Understand your triggers
Each time you find yourself ruminating, make a mental note of the situation you’re in. This includes where you are, what time of day it is, who’s around you (if anyone), and what you’ve been doing that day.
Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can reduce your rumination.
When you realize you’re starting to ruminate, finding a distraction can break your thought cycle. Look around you, quickly choose something else to do, and don’t give it a second thought. Consider:
- calling a friend or family member
- doing chores around your house
- watching a movie
- drawing a picture
- reading a book
- walking around your neighborhood
If your ruminating thoughts are taking over your life, you may want to consider therapy. A therapist can help you identify why you’re ruminating and how to address the problems at their core.
If you are a ruminator, it’s important to know some tips that may help you to stop your thought cycle in its tracks before it spirals out of control.
It’s also important to be proactive and take steps to prevent yourself from ruminating in the first place.
With awareness and some lifestyle changes, it’s possible to free yourself from ruminating thoughts. If you find that you’re unable to use these tips to help your rumination, you should consider contacting a mental health professional for assistance.