8 Tips for Stopping Rumination

Rumination is when you dig yourself into a mental rut thinking about something unpleasant. Typically, these are repetitive thoughts about something that happened in the past, sometimes years or even decades in the past, or something you’re worried might happen in the future. For example, you might think about an argument you had with an ex and ruminate on what you wish you had said. Or you might think about a failure or disappointment and replay the event over in your head ad infinitum.

Unfortunately, this habit is distracting and unproductive, and rumination is a common feature of depression and anxiety. People with neurotic or perfectionist tendencies are especially prone to rumination and learning to control rumination is an essential skill for improving your mood and mental clarity. What’s more, since many people with substance use disorders also have depression or anxiety, controlling rumination is also an essential skill for a successful addiction recovery. However, controlling rumination is not easy. Your mind tricks you into thinking rumination is important and helpful and the repetition of thoughts makes the cycle hard to break. The following tips can help you break the cycle of rumination and feel better.

Notice when you ruminate.

The first thing to do is notice when you ruminate. Although rumination often seems spontaneous, something usually sets off your train of thought. It could be watching the news, or talking to a particular person, or lying down to sleep. Pay attention to these patterns and have plan ready for when you encounter these cues to start ruminating.

Distract yourself.

Ruminating eats up a lot of your attention, making it hard to focus on other things. The flip side of this is that if you are focused on something else, you can’t ruminate at the same time. You don’t even have to distract yourself for very long. Usually a few minutes is enough. And the earlier you catch yourself in a rumination cycle, the easier it is to interrupt–which is why noticing cues is so important. Anything that requires a bit of concentration can be a good distraction–reading, playing a video game, watching a movie, or drawing. Exercise is an especially good distraction because it can engage your attention, improve your mood, and strengthen your prefrontal cortex, which, among other things, is responsible for attention and emotional regulation.

Write it down.

We often ruminate because we feel like we’re engaged in an important train of thought and we don’t want to forget it. In reality, we typically ruminate on thoughts that are neither helpful nor profound. One way to see this clearly is to write down what you’re thinking about. You’ll often find your thoughts come apart on the page and lose their power. Most importantly, they’re safely on the page, so you can stop thinking about them.

Make a plan.

Sometimes we worry about real problems, maybe a big project at work or a debt we’re keen to get rid of. Although these are legitimate worries, rumination does nothing to help. The trick is that rumination makes us think it’s helping while in reality it just makes us feel anxious, depressed, and helpless. One solution is to actually make a plan to solve the problem. Do some research, collect some information, and come up with some ideas. Write all this down so you aren’t just spinning your wheels.

Take action.

Taking action, any action, is really the crux of beating rumination. Rumination is essentially the mistaken belief that you can solve all your problems in your head. In reality, we typically don’t feel better about a problem until we take some concrete step toward solving it. If something is worrying you, do something about it. Even something very small can break the spell of rumination and help you feel better. If there’s nothing to be done about whatever it is you’re ruminating about–if it’s something in the past, for example–take action anyway. Even doing something totally irrelevant will interrupt rumination.

Practice mindfulness meditation.

Practicing mindfulness helps reduce rumination in several ways. First, it helps you catch rumination when it starts. Mindfulness is essentially practice in metacognitive awareness, or being aware of what you’re thinking about. The power of rumination is that we get totally sucked in and often don’t even realize we’re doing it. Mindfulness helps you realize, “Hey, I’m ruminating again.” Next, mindfulness helps you get distance from your thoughts. The negative thoughts rumination stirs up seem real, which is why they have such a powerful effect on your mood. Mindfulness helps you realize they are only feelings and not reality. Instead of struggling with these thoughts, you simply watch them and they eventually dissipate.

Call for backup.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your thoughts and lose perspective. It often helps to call a friend and tell them what’s on your mind. Your friend can often give you a calmer perspective and you might even find some clarity just speaking your thoughts out loud.

Examine your assumptions.

Rumination often rests on faulty thinking. Try to examine the assumptions behind your thoughts. It might be something like “I should have done this or that,” or “it will be a disaster if everything doesn’t go perfectly next week.” Perfectionism is often paralyzing, leading to procrastination and endless rehashing of past mistakes. The cognitive distortions underlying perfectionism and other neurotic behavior are not always easy to spot and you might have to talk to a therapist.

Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.