The Mighty Logo

8 Tips for When You Can't Stop Ruminating

A while ago, I posted about self-awareness and how I am trying hard to hone in on this skill. Unfortunately, with being a highly introspective person, the lines between self-awareness and what’s known as “ruminating” can get a bit blurry for me. Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression can actually be a part of why I have a tendency to do this, I have learned.

Ruminating is when you replay a specific event or events over and over again in your head. For example, you may remember a situation you handled poorly, and keep replaying it in your mind over and over. You may worry about the effect it is going to have, you beat yourself up for the mistakes you made or you simply cannot stop thinking about the occurrence. It can also occur with PTSD and can involve replaying a specific traumatic event in your mind. Ruminating can eat away at your mental health and is not a healthy practice.

Personally, I ruminate entirely too much. I find myself to be too mindful, to a point that replaying these negative situations, thoughts or feelings can actually drive me into depression. So, as I work on the practice of self-awareness, I have to be cautious of ruminating over the negative. I also have ongoing negative intrusive thoughts about myself, such as “You’re a burden to everyone,” “You’re not a good mother,” “Your husband deserves better” and so on. My therapist actually advised me to give this negative voice a name, so I have decided to call her Sally.

Back to ruminating. I have done some research on things that can help with this problem. I’m going to try to start utilizing some of these, as well as telling Sally to shut the heck up.

1. Stop and recognize when rumination occurs.

You’re in a daze, and you realize you are doing it… again. Stop. Acknowledge you are ruminating and turn your thoughts to something more constructive. See below for more.

2. Do something about it.

Now, it is healthy to acknowledge that a specific event occurred and had a negative impact on you; however, it is not good to simply replay the event again and again with no actual plan for using the event in a constructive manner. This becomes ruminating and is not beneficial for anyone.

For example, if you are ruminating about an argument with your spouse, is there anything you could have done differently that could have resulted in a more positive outcome? Is there something that could have been done to avoid the situation entirely? If not, acknowledge if the other person was at fault, and what you are willing to forgive and accept. Communicate with that person about how the particular situation made you feel, and what could have been handled better by both parties.

Another example would be ruminating about the fact I spent all day doing housework and schoolwork and spent very little time with my family. I begin having those negative repetitive thoughts about being a bad mother and wife. So, instead, I can recognize I’m ruminating again and make sure to do a better job in the future of balancing my home and school duties with spending quality time with my family. In short, stop ruminating and take action!

If you are ruminating about a past traumatic experience, recognize that the event was hurtful, but reliving it again and again is not going to benefit your own mental health. The rumination may potentially deteriorate your mental state. Please see #8 for more.

3. Find a distraction.

Again, recognize you are ruminating and find something else to occupy your mind. This may be listening to music, writing, running errands, calling a friend, doing chores — anything but replaying negative situations again and again inside your head. Do not let these intrusive thoughts take a minute from your valuable time!

4. Meditate.

Personally, I find meditation very cleansing. Being someone with a “noisy” conscience, I can get overwhelmed by the flood of constant thoughts, both positive and negative. I find meditation to be a wonderful tool to help me attain a sense of inner centeredness, clarity and allow my mind to rest. You can try it on your own, or you can look up a slew of guided meditation videos that exist on YouTube. Just 30 minutes of mental peace can make a big difference in my day.

5. Journal.

Take note of the situations you are replaying. Getting these things out can be more therapeutic than you realize. You can even revisit them later, when you are in a different frame of mind. Looking back, what advice or goals would you give to yourself as you recognize the pain and hurt you were enduring as you were ruminating?

6. Set attainable goals.

I often ruminate about the fact my house is not perfect or that I’m not a June-freaking-Cleaver mom. I think, “people are going to come over and think I do nothing all day,” “My husband probably thinks I’m lazy,” “I can’t believe I didn’t get all of the laundry done today,” “I forgot to read to my son before bed, therefore I suck.” The next day, I wake up thinking about what a crappy person I am and, at times, these awful thoughts are the only thing that motivates me to get things done through a depressive state. None of this is OK! I am going to tell you something as advice that I’m only telling you because I need to do it myself. Be realistic. I am, admittedly, a perfectionist. I always want my house to look like something out of a magazine. With four kids, a job and school, that is a freaking joke, and deep down I know it. So, get real with yourself. Set attainable goals. I’m going to try it too.

7. Have a go-to person (or people).

If you find yourself ruminating too much, find someone you can confide in. Let them know what you are going through and listen to your perspective. Please note, I only recommend you do this with people who are open and perceptive. What I mean is, I have tried to confide in people who have said I only need to go to church, or I just need to “snap out of it.” Those sorts of people are not going to give you constructive advice or listen with an unbiased ear. Be selective, but do find your support system.

8. Talk to a professional.

Lastly, if you find yourself ruminating quite often, I highly recommend talking to a professional. I just started last week, and really look forward to the progress we will make in therapy together. I think everyone can benefit from talking to a therapist at some point in their lives. Their insight and perspective can be the very thing you need to stop ruminating and start living!

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash

Conversations 2