How To Stop Ruminating: What Causes It & Effective Ways To Combat It

Ruminating is the repetition of thoughts that consume the mind and are difficult to forget.

These thoughts are often accompanied by strong emotions, worry, and anticipation for what may happen in the future due to a specific incident or the possibility of something unfolding.

Ruminating thoughts are often tragic or dark and can provide us with a sense of fear or uncertainty.

While it’s common to experience a negative thought momentarily, ruminating is a constant process where the same thoughts or system of thinking patterns causes you anxiety and, for some people, may also contribute to obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD.

So, if you are wondering how to stop ruminating, let’s jump right in.

The Effect of Ruminating on Mental Health

While there is the potential for anyone to worry excessively when there’s a tragic event, regular rumination can ultimately impact your overall mental and physical health.

Prolonged rumination may contribute to health issues such as depression and anxiety and worsen other mental health conditions.

Professional studies indicate a strong relationship between depression and rumination. Some people feel isolated and experience a disconnection from others while having difficulty processing their emotions and struggling with how to cope with life.

What Causes Rumination

A few factors contribute to ruminating thoughts and how they linger, repeat, and even intensify over time.

It’s important to realize that most of these thoughts are negative, and they may seem difficult for you to control, appearing to “take over” your mind and can become a vicious cycle that’s hard to manage.

Rumination may also develop due to other reasons, which can seem harmless or helpful initially.

  • Many people ruminate as a way of thinking their way to a solution. They may feel that repetitive thinking may help develop strategies, techniques, or other ways of solving issues.
  • People who struggle with perfectionism or focus excessively on a relationship or situation may be more susceptible to ruminating thoughts.
  • Stressful situations in life can lead to ruminating about negative thoughts and fears about what may happen. The idea of facing the unknown, or something that cannot be controlled, can lead to ruminative thoughts.
  • Anyone who has experienced trauma in their past, whether emotional, mental, or physical abuse, may be more likely to engage in ruminating thoughts.

Related: How to Stop Being a Perfectionist: Definition, Causes and Solutions

Professional, Medically Reviewed Studies on Rumination

Medically reviewed studies indicate that additional reasons for ruminating thoughts and similar negative thought patterns may also result from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and phobias.

Ruminating may also occur when a person suspects they made a grave error or mistake and don’t know how to resolve it, so they continuously think it over in search of a solution.

In some situations where ruminating thoughts develop, there may be no clear reason for their cause.

However, if left unchecked, ruminating may increase in frequency and intensity and take over a person’s daily tasks and lifestyle, significantly impacting your mental health and overall well-being.

Related: Watch Your Thoughts: Why it is Important and Practical Tips to Change

Medically reviewed studies to stop ruminating

Key Tips to Stop Ruminating and Improve Mental Health

It is important to pay attention and identify rumination when it first occurs. This can help reduce and stop rumination from taking over and interfering with your daily life.

It’s essential to become aware of the effects of ruminating, and when it starts, to prevent its negative impact on your life. 

1. Review and Question Thinking Patterns

If you find that a thought becomes repetitive, it may overshadow other thoughts, including daily tasks, work, family, and other commitments, which can become challenging to handle.

A sudden invasion of repetitive thoughts may result from a traumatic or impactful incident, making you feel responsible or that you are to blame for a certain situation.

When this happens, you need to put the event into perspective and recognize your limitations:

  • Is there anything that can be done to mitigate the problem, or is it something that’s been exaggerated as a fear or phobia?
  • Putting the actual situation in perspective could increase awareness and provide a better opportunity to move forward, or address a specific matter, instead of thinking negatively and ruminating.

Related: How to be More Decisive and Practical Ways to Combat Decision Fatigue

2. Distract Yourself and Focus Attention Away from Negative Thoughts

Overcoming rumination often works through distraction.

If you have free time to think about something constantly, it can feel as though the brain gets “stuck” and ruminates intensely when there is no other task or activity to perform.

When you identify with ruminative thoughts, it’s important to find a way to distract your mind with something else.

Rumination can be alleviated by calling a friend or relative, picking up a book to read, watching a film or series, or exercising. Engage in a hobby such as drawing, playing, listening to music, or finding a puzzle or game to distract your mind.

If rumination doesn’t subside, consider talking with a close friend or trusted relative. If they cannot provide insight or relief for your continuous thoughts and symptoms, seek therapy to find out what more can be done to help reduce rumination and the anxiety that goes along with it.

3. Re-evaluate your Goals and Make Lifestyle Changes

When rumination becomes a regular occurrence, this may stem from perfectionism or a sense that everything is overwhelming.

People with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem tend to experience ruminating thoughts much more often.

This may also be due to unrealistic goals either set by the individual internally or by parents, a boss, or someone in a position of authority.

We sometimes try to align our personal goals with others who may not share the same values, leading to continuous disappointment and inadequacy when all that’s needed is to re-evaluate our own life goals.

Making lifestyle changes to embrace a more realistic goal can offer us relief and a better sense of accomplishment and allows us to focus on what matters most.

It’s also important to break down a large project or life goal into smaller milestones and set realistic expectations. Piling on too many tasks at once can cause you to ruminate and worry about whether a deadline can be adequately met.

This practice can become a vicious cycle if you can’t reduce the impact of rumination, which can easily take over your life.

Related: 8 Essential Ways to Think Outside the Box and Push Yourself

4. Practice Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is a powerful and effective way to cease ruminating, as it allows you to clear your mind of worry and fears while also focusing on the present.

Mindfulness is the key component of meditation, which helps the brain acknowledge the present and settle into a calm, relaxing state of being, without the fears of the future or regrets of the past.

Find a quiet, private space to focus on your breathing, and allow all negative and repetitive thoughts to fall away.

In addition to any medical advice from a health professional and addressing medical conditions and concerns, meditation is a wonderful way to reduce the impact of stressors and other difficult situations in your life.

5. Get Physically Active with Exercise

One of the most beneficial ways to improve mental health and dismantle ruminative habits is physical exercise. Not only is regular exercise a healthy distraction, but it also helps release endorphins and positive thinking patterns.

Regularly working out can benefit your emotional, mental, and physical health within the short term and long term. 

It’s also highly effective in reducing symptoms associated with stress and depression and can significantly reduce the chance of you contemplating recurring thoughts.

Self-care is one of the most important aspects of avoiding destructive behavior and rumination.

6. Know Your Triggers

One way to control the impact of rumination, and stop it effectively, is to reflect on your mental state when those negative thoughts begin to set in.

Often, a specific location, certain people, situations, or reminders that trigger a past event can be the primary reason why we ruminate.

While avoiding specific scenarios may not always be possible, minimizing their impact can greatly reduce rumination and provide a way for us to recognize what causes it to occur in the first place.

A great way to combat and significantly reduce rumination is by developing a routine that avoids these triggers.

Related: What is Wrong With Me? How to Instantly Feel Better About Yourself

7. Considering Professional Health Treatment for Rumination

Sometimes, when we experience rumination, it can feel like we lack control within our lives. It can stem from an extraordinary or traumatic event, at least on occasion.

For some people, constantly ruminating thoughts may be a sign of a serious medical health condition. Without proper medical treatment, some cases may lead to self-harm, substance abuse, and developing other medical conditions that require professional care.

Not everyone is able to recognize when rumination begins to take over their life. Some individuals may actually consider ruminating thoughts as a way to gain control over their life. They may engage in other thinking patterns that only increase rumination.

Although they intend to avoid negativity, it often gets worse. These actions can become overwhelming and take over a person’s life, impacting their daily functions, work, home life, and more.

How To Stop Ruminating

Therapy and Support for Mental Health Conditions

Some people have to ruminate thoughts daily, and it significantly affects areas of their life. They may feel high levels of anxiety or an inability to function properly.

If this is the case for you, your rumination and anxiety may worsen over time without a health care professional assisting with strategies and therapy to find a long-term solution for you.

This will allow you to live a healthier and happier life.  

Related: Why Can’t I Cry? What is the Point? How to Cry and Release Emotion

Effective Lifestyle Changes for Long-term Growth

Implementing strategies to improve your overall quality of life can effectively eliminate ruminating thoughts without making drastic lifestyle changes.

While some people benefit from talk therapy and learning to understand cognitive processes, others find significant improvement from speaking to a close friend and finding personal coping techniques and strategies to resolve rumination.

Proactive Tips for Avoiding Ruminating Thoughts

Once you have identified ruminative thoughts, you can handle them more effectively and avoid going down the same pattern of thinking every time.

Work on identifying a problem that may ignite ruminative thoughts and while you become aware of this.

Put together a strategy to tackle the issue with the help of a friend or a therapist. As previously mentioned, sometimes, we can be triggered by certain feelings or emotions.

It is important to identify these thoughts or feelings before allowing the negative thoughts to take over.

Finding yourself a strong support system is essential to dealing with life’s difficulties. Whether a therapist or medical health professional provides additional support for problem-solving and helpful techniques, friends and family can offer reminders of love and support when it feels like life is out of control.

Therapy and Supportive Friends and Family

Positive, supportive people may help distract you from situations when you are unable to cope healthily or address personal needs.

They can help you improve your sense of self-esteem and confidence, which has been known to reduce the symptoms of depression. They are often the best to call at a moment’s notice and could be a great resource for helpful advice.

Make sure to create realistic expectations that support healthy, cognitive function, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and managing goals. Rumination often develops and seems to pop up unexpectedly.

It is usually based on exaggerated thoughts and perfectionist tendencies. Rumination also negatively impacts existing conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD, depression, and anxiety.

It’s normal to feel sad or unable to handle certain situations sometimes, although constant negative ruminating can negatively impact your long-term health. 

Related: Positive Changes You Can Make Today: Practical Tips to Help Your Change

Summary

Focus on creating a lifestyle with healthy patterns and supportive people around you. While mental health conditions may or may not be the trigger that causes rumination, it’s essential to proactively address every problem in life.

Addressing the stress and anxiety that naturally arise in life may help prevent and solve future issues that impact repetitive thinking and related symptoms.

Daily mindfulness and meditation are also excellent ways for you to improve cognitive function in the brain while alleviating the symptoms that occur with ruminative thoughts.

It is also important to remember that while ruminating may seem constructive at first, it can quickly become a hindrance and burden that creates more stress and harm than expected.

By recognizing those ruminating thoughts and following the advice and techniques provided in this article, you now have a practical way to move past this harmful practice and embrace awareness and mindfulness for greater control over your thinking patterns.

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