Ruminating thoughts can be disastrous to your mental and physical well-being. How we think can affect our mood and stress levels. If our mood is low, we might turn to bad habits instead of good habits. Negative thoughts don’t serve us any useful purpose. So in this article, we’ll share what is ruminating, what causes it, and how to stop ruminating thoughts.
What is ruminating?
Ruminating is the name used to describe repeatedly thinking the same thoughts over again. Ruminating thoughts are nearly always negative thoughts that we repeat in our minds.
It can be detrimental to your mental health because negative thinking can lower your mood, self-esteem, and your impact on the world.
What’s the difference between ruminating and racing thoughts?
The difference between ruminating thoughts and racing thoughts is that racing thoughts are often ruminating thoughts that speed through your mind. For example, if you’re having a panic attack you might notice the speed of your thoughts increasing.
What causes ruminating thoughts?
1. Trying to solve a problem
We often give in to rumination when we’re trying to solve a problem. If something in our life doesn’t get closure, we’ll work hard in our minds to try to find new patterns and solutions so we can get the closure we need. For instance, if someone we love died suddenly, we may have ruminating thoughts to work through the stages of grief and trauma of the loss.
2. Life stresses
Everyday life stresses include problems at work, challenges in relationships, and obstacles such as dealing with bullying. If you and your significant other got into an argument, you might begin to have some ruminating thoughts. You might think about solutions to work towards fixing your relationship. You might also have some all-or-nothing thinking. This can be destructive to your relationship. Getting an outside opinion to let you know you’re taking your thoughts too far is helpful. However, consider talking to a professional instead of a loved one or friend.
Traumas can shake up your world pretty drastically. As you process the information of the trauma, you may develop ruminating thoughts. However, often the ruminating thoughts come because you’re trying to make sense of something you only have partial insight into. For example, if you were assaulted, you’ll never know why the assaulter chose to hurt you. So you don’t get to close the loop. A therapist is helpful when dealing with ruminating thoughts from trauma as they can help you get closure without needing to make sense of what happened.
4. Mental health disorder
Various mental health disorders include symptoms of rumination. For example, you might be more likely to ruminate if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, such as PTSD or OCD, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, or even depression. Seeing a psychiatrist can help as you may be prescribed medication that keeps symptoms at bay. Sometimes, something as simple as increasing your medication dosage can minimize the amount of rumination happening in your mind.
Illnesses ruminating thoughts are associated with
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders
- Personality Disorders
Examples of ruminating thoughts
Ruminating thoughts get repeated often. Here are a few examples of ruminating thoughts:
- “I can never do anything right.”
- “Everyone’s out to get me.”
- “Why do people dislike me so much?”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m always the outsider.”
- “Bad things keep happening to me no matter how hard I try to be good.”
- “I’m in danger.”
- “Did I lock the door?”
- “I’m going to fail.”
- “Is something wrong with me?”
- “I think I’m sick with something.”
How to Stop Ruminating Thoughts
1. Practice meditation
A guided meditation is a healthy and cost-effective way to stop ruminating thoughts. You can find meditation videos for free on YouTube or pay a monthly subscription for an app and download Declutter The Mind. The benefit of meditation is that it allows you to watch the thoughts enter your mind. You’ll shortly notice that the thoughts enter your mind without your control. Becoming aware of the flow of thoughts into your mind allows you to control ruminating thoughts better. If you don’t realize that the thoughts enter your mind without your control, you’ll likely succumb to them. As a result, you go down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts. Mindfully noticing these thoughts and their movement empower you to spend a moment to watch them leave instead of entertaining them.
A social media detox can help you stop ruminating thoughts because it’ll prevent you from comparing yourself to others. It’s easy to see ex-partners happily move on with someone else and go down a rabbit hole of self-pity. Seeing the highlight reel of other people’s lives typically makes us feel worse about ourselves. Minimizing our time on social media will allow us to live enriching lives without seeing video after video of people who are living “better” lives than us. The reality is most of the content on social media is digitally altered. Seeing negative comments from strangers about ourselves can also make us feel low. Consider having a private profile if you’re struggling with ruminating thoughts or body dysmorphia.
3. Disrupt your thoughts
You can stop ruminating thoughts by disrupting them. When a thought starts going off on a tangent, say, “stop.” Believe it or not, that works pretty well because you were the person in control of saying stop instead of allowing yourself to continue on with the negativity vortex of thinking. You can also disrupt your thoughts by changing your activity. Doing activities that put you in a flow state can disrupt your thinking. When we get in the zone of an activity we’re in, we get lost in the activity instead of our heads. Things like working on a challenging but doable project, writing, playing sports or an instrument, or anything that requires some focus can help disrupt your thoughts.
4. Work your body
Exercise can help stop ruminating thoughts. It’s true that sometimes you can think while exercising. One little trick that works wonders if this happens is to say out loud or in your head what you see and what you’re doing. For example, if you’re doing jump rope, think to yourself, “jump” and jump. Do this for every jump you do. If you’re running outdoors, name all the things you see, such as cars, people, trees, and so on. This will allow you to do mindful walking, which is great because it keeps you safer if you’re aware of all your surroundings.
5. Change environments
A good practice when you’re having challenges with ruminating thoughts is to change your environment. It’s not always possible to move permanently. However, you can make changes that allow you to get a break from your environment. You might switch teams if you’re struggling with toxicity on your current team at work. Going away every weekend to minimize being at home where you’re struggling can also help stop ruminating thoughts. You could also ask to stay at a relative’s home temporarily until the situation improves. And if those aren’t possible, taking a vacation for two to three weeks can help you put your thoughts back together until you’re ready to approach the situation with a fresh mind.
6. Replace your thoughts
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, therapists will ask you to replace your current thoughts with new thoughts. For example, if your ruminating thought is “I’m in danger,” you can replace it with “I’m doing the following things to keep myself safe…” If your ruminating thought is “I’m not good enough,” you might replace it with “I need to stop putting other people’s ideas in my head. I’m good enough for multiple reasons, such as…” Replacing your thoughts with new thoughts is a way to reframe a situation more positively. The more you practice this exercise, the more likely that your ruminating thoughts will be happy thoughts.
7. Hire a therapist
Therapists specialize in helping people with thought disorders. After all, most of our problems are caused by our thinking. If you’re struggling with ruminating thoughts, it may be time to find a therapist who will help you reframe your thinking to be more productive. Without a trained therapist, you might find yourself getting stuck in ruminating thoughts instead of stopping them as they come to the surface. With cognitive-behavioral therapy, you can learn many strategies to help you cope with ruminating thoughts so that they have a smaller negative impact on your life.
8. Improve your well-being
Ruminating thoughts often take over our minds when we’re not doing well. If you’re struggling to keep your thoughts under control, consider making healthy changes to your mental and physical well-being. You could take a few days off from work to calm the mind. Going to bed earlier so you can sleep better can also help ensure that you’re giving your mind a break. Eating a nutritious and balanced diet can ensure you have the vitamins nourishing your body and mind too. And meditating and exercising can also help improve your well-being as well.
9. Work on your self-esteem
Many people who struggle with low self-esteem also deal with ruminating thoughts. Typically, when we feel insecure about ourselves, we’ll go down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts that describe how we think about ourselves. You can improve your self-esteem by accepting or making changes to your flaws, live in the moment instead of in your mind, be kinder to yourself, stop comparing yourself to others, increase positive self-talk, and spend more time around positive people who uplift you instead of tear you down. By doing some or all of these things, you can reduce your ruminating thoughts drastically.
10. Journal your thoughts
When your thoughts are ruminating, you’ve got to get them out of your head and onto paper. Writing your ruminating thoughts in a journal will allow you to see your train of thought, challenge your thoughts, and question their validity. When we have ruminating thoughts, it’s easy to get lost in them. However, when we write down the thoughts as they happen, we can start to poke holes in them or share them with a therapist who will help you challenge those thoughts. Showing someone your thought journal will help you get the opposite feedback that your mind tells you so that you can stop ruminating thoughts for good.
11. Let go of your thoughts
Letting go of your thoughts can help you stop ruminating thoughts. Consider watching the thought enter your mind without entertaining it. Watch it float away instead of thinking about the thoughts. You can let go of thoughts by detaching yourself from the thought. You can also practice self-care when thoughts start to ruminate, so you protect yourself. Thinking of a positive sentence that you’ll tell yourself every time ruminating thoughts begin to happen in your mind can be helpful too. You can tell yourself, “I do not identify with these thoughts in my mind. They merely come to me, and I will watch them leave my mind as well.”
12. Accept your thoughts aren’t real
Your thoughts are not real, even though they can feel real. No one is telling you these thoughts. There is no truth to ruminating thoughts either. Just because thinking is happening doesn’t mean you need to identify or agree with it. Don’t fall victim to the thinking that lives in your mind. You can ignore, reject, and challenge any thought that enters your mind. And if it doesn’t help you in any way, you probably should.
Ruminating thoughts can be an unpleasant experience. But it’s crucial to remember that you’re not the one coming up with the thoughts, you’re merely the observer of them. Using a combination of meditation, thought disruption, therapy, and other suggestions from this article, you can stop ruminating thoughts for good. Challenge your negative thinking by inserting some positive thoughts in their place and you’ll be well on your way to having a clear mind.