How to Stop Ruminating
Do you continuously ruminate about past experiences and how they could have gone better? Learn how to stop ruminating with these tips.
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What is rumination?
Rumination refers to the tendency to continuously and repeatedly think about past experiences. Ruminating about past experiences often focuses on negative experiences and the role you had in these experiences. Ruminating emerges from a desire to understand and learn from your past experiences, but it results in endless thinking about past mistakes with few solutions.
Video defining rumination
Why is it important to stop ruminating?
Rumination is a key feature of depression as it prevents us from moving forward with our lives. Instead, we focus excessively on thinking about past events in an effort to fix problems that can no longer be fixed. Learning to ‘let go’ and stop rumination processes early on can help us focus on and make more of the present moment, thus curbing depression and anxiety.
How to stop ruminative cycles
When bad things happen, sometimes we get stuck ruminating about how awful it was or what we could have done differently if we had another chance. We ruminate on our past experiences blind to the fact that repetitively thinking about our hardships does nothing to solve them. We get caught in a thought cycle instead of taking the actions that help us move forward. Here are some strategies:
1. Short circuit rumination
One way to put an end to these negative ruminative cycles is by "taking a break". Basically, we decide what we'll do instead once we start ruminating.
Maybe you find yourself dwelling on something negative, getting yourself all worked up until your blood pressure is through the roof. When this happens, instead of trying to think your way out of ruminating — which is basically impossible — drop everything and do something else. You could go for a five-minute run, take a few deep breaths, or physically move yourself to another setting. This helps your brain switch gears and start thinking about something else, thus stopping rumination.
2. Try cognitive reappraisal to stop ruminating
When we are ruminating our minds are caught thinking about the negatives over and over again. If we think about the situation in a new way, we can sometimes stop the ruminative cycle.
One way to think about the situation in a new way is to use cognitive reappraisal. Cognitive reappraisal is the act of shifting our thoughts to shift our emotions. We can use positive reappraisal to think about the silver linings and good things about the situation. Or, we can use negative reappraisal to downplay the negatives in the situation. By reframing the situation, we get to take back some control over how our mind is thinking.
3. Be more present to reduce rumination
We are so often stuck ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. But when we are in our heads, we are not living in the present moment. By being more present, we can reduce these thoughts and enjoy our lives more.
To be more present, start by working on awareness. Pay attention to how you body feels, what's happening all around you and using your 5 senses. Try to notice all the small details. What does it feel to breathe in and out?
Next, start working on nonjudgemental acceptance. To do this, try to let go of your thoughts, perhaps by imagining them floating away like leaves in a river or clouds in the sky. By training our minds accept and let go, we wont get so stuck in our rumination.
4. Shock your brain out of ruminating
When our brains go running off, sometimes our brain isn't the best tool to stop it. Instead it may be easier to use our bodies to shock out brain into new thoughts. We can do this by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, it can stop your stress response and take the mind with it into a place of calm. One of the best ways to do this is to submerge yourself in cold water—a lake, ocean, river, bath, or shower.
5. Shift negative rumination to positive rumination
Our ruminative thoughts are generally only problematic because they are negative. By shifting to ruminating on positive thoughts we can hopefully use our "skill" for ruminating to our benefit. So dot this we, could use any number of strategies. For example, we could try savoring, practicing gratitude, or other positive thinking strategies. This is how we can start making our ruminative brain work for us.
Video: 5 more strategies to stop ruminating
Activities to help you stop ruminating
Because stopping rumination is a skill, you need to practice to get better at it. Use some of the activities below, as they may help stop your rumination.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.