Have trouble turning off the mental chatter? You want to relax, but your brain keeps analysing your last conversation, overthinking past mistakes, or replaying an unpleasant incident on repeat.
If you’re stuck in a loop of repeated negative thoughts, replaying past events or conversations in your head, you may be ruminating.
Read on to understand and overcome your rumination habit for better mental health.
What is Rumination
Rumination is a repetitive pattern of thinking, which is often linked to negative feelings. While not a mental health condition on its own (it’s a behaviour), it often accompanies conditions such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders and other mood disorders.
If rumination happens frequently or is particularly intense it can cause distress and harm your mental wellbeing.
What Causes Rumination
For some people, brief periods of deep thought can be a way to sort through problems, control anxiety or reflect on the past to better handle a similar situation in the future.
It’s not an uncommon process and thoughts and any strong associated feelings generally lessen over time. In most cases, you’ll start to think about incidents in the past less every day.
However, if you think about the past with the same intensity over time, then you may be ruminating. When these thoughts become repetitive and focus only on negative aspects it may mean you become stuck in a negative thought cycle which can affect everything around you.
An event or situation that triggers rumination might seem to be the root cause, however there may also be other underlying reasons.
Reasons could include:
- An anxiety disorder
- Depression or post-partum depression
- Personality traits such as perfectionism
- Other mental health conditions
Other common reasons for rumination include:
- A belief that by ruminating, you’ll gain insight into your problem/life
- A history of physical or emotional trauma
- Dealing with ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled
Examples of Rumination
Most people will have experienced periods of rumination at some time. For example, just as you’re trying to wind down at the end of the day your brain kicks into action reflecting on the happenings of the day.
Other examples include:
- Feeling upset about your work performance and then rehashing the negative feelings and thoughts linked to the incident
- After arguing with a friend or loved one, you replay the argument repeatedly in your head and reflect on it
- After receiving criticism about your work, you anticipate future remarks directly linked to your feelings about the original criticism
Once you start ruminating and get into a negative thought cycle, it can be difficult to stop overthinking. Becoming aware of when you tend to ruminate and having some strategies to break negative thought cycles can assist with managing a rumination habit.
How Rumination Can Affect Your Mental Health
Rumination can affect your mental health, even if you don’t have a mental health condition.
Rumination can impact your mental health by:
- Causing or increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Leading you to live in a constant state of dread
- Impairing your ability to focus
- Sapping your motivation and limiting your ability to feel joy
- Changing your sleep patterns
Constantly thinking about negative aspects of the past can also impact your emotional health. You may frequently feel overwhelmed, angry, or sad.
4 Ways to Stop Ruminating
If you regularly experience unwanted ruminations, there are ways to help stop ruminating and relax your mind.
Four strategies which may help you include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
A practice of mindfulness can help combat rumination. Mindfulness helps focus awareness on the present moment, rather than the past and encourages a calm knowledge and acceptance of thoughts and feelings.
In essence, it can help shift your attention or distract you from a rumination habit, make you aware of your behaviours and thoughts and encourages you to view your thoughts in a non-judgemental way.
If you feel stressed, anxious, or are engaging in rumination, take time-out to practice a basic mindfulness meditation:
- Find a quiet place
- Sit on a comfortable chair or cushion, with your back straight, and your hands resting on the tops of your upper legs.
- Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose
- Breathe out through your mouth.
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
- If your mind starts to wander, return your focus to your breathing with no judgment.
- Try to meditate 3 or 4 times per week for 10 minutes per day.
Practicing mindfulness to stay focused on the present takes time to learn and regular practice to reap the benefits. At first, you’ll probably find that your mind keeps wandering back to your rumination. Try not to get frustrated. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break free of your negative thought cycle.
Distraction or keeping your mind occupied with something that you find interesting or motivating can help stop rumination.
As your brain only has a limited capacity to process information, focusing your attention on pleasant thoughts or activities leaves little room left for rumination. Activities such as singing along to your favourite music or reading a book (for at least 10 minutes) can help break your cycle of thoughts and improve your mood.
When you find you’re starting to ruminate, quickly find a distraction to break your thought cycle.
- Calling a friend or family member
- Doing jobs around your house
- Watching a movie
- Being creative with a craft project
- Reading a book
- Getting active with gardening, going for a walk, or doing some exercise
There are many physical and psychological benefits to participating in regular exercise, including boosting your mood and improving overall mental wellbeing.
Keeping active can help raise your energy levels, improve concentration and confidence, lower anxiety and help you sleep better.
In addition, a 2018 study found that short bursts of exercise reduced rumination and improved mood in people with mental health conditions.
Beneficial exercise can be as simple as going for a brisk walk or enjoying activities in nature, like gardening.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a useful treatment for mental health conditions where rumination is a symptom.
If you ruminate from time to time, and this causes anxiety or distress, a psychologist trained in CBT can help you build coping tools for every day.
Studies have also shown that rumination focused cognitive behavioural therapy can be a beneficial approach in reducing rumination, especially for those with associated depression.
CBT can help reduce rumination by training you to recognise thought patterns and show you how to reframe your thinking process. This, in turn, can improve your mood.
When to Get Help
If rumination is interfering with your everyday life or emotional wellbeing it may be worth talking to a mental health professional.
Our psychologists are skilled at helping people deal with mental health conditions, but they also help people who want strategies for coping with everyday challenges (without a mental health diagnosis).
Rumination can impact your emotional well-being regardless of whether you have a mental health condition, and help is available no matter what you’re dwelling on.
Contact us today to find out more about rumination, how to stop ruminating or to book an appointment.