Do you get a thought stuck in your head and then can’t stop thinking, analyzing, and worrying about it? Are these thoughts negative and focused on possible mistakes you have made? Do you let problems eat away at you? These are examples of ruminating thoughts. Ruminative thinking is not problem-solving that is productive, it is the tendency to repetitively think about situations that are upsetting. Figure out how to stop ruminating by first learning the rumination definition to recognize them when they are occurring.
Rumination is more likely to happen in people who have depression, anxiety, or other conditions like eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, and trauma.
Overthinking and overanalyzing negative experiences happens frequently when people ruminate. These are repetitive, negative thoughts that are often associated with depression and anxiety. Thinking through negative events is normal and can be a helpful part of processing and learning from them. But getting stuck in these thoughts is not helpful and often doesn’t lead to answers.
Rumination and worry are similar but not the same.
Worries focus on future events and often involve catastrophic thinking that projects disastrous or unpleasant future outcomes.
Ruminative thinking is generally focused on the past and what people feel hasn’t worked out well.
The first step in changing a behavior is to recognize when it is happening. The less we immerse ourselves in non-productive, depressive thoughts the more chance we have to feel better and give room for positive and hopeful thoughts.
One way to intervene and stop ruminative thinking is to better identify one’s triggers and develop more productive and effective behaviors to use in place of rumination. Could you substitute kinder and more compassionate thoughts toward yourself instead of criticism?
Take some time to recognize when you are ruminating and then take a hard look at how it serves you. Did you benefit from the ruminating thoughts? My guess is the answer is almost always “No”.
Sometimes it is hard to figure this out on your own. It can be quite helpful to bring these questions to therapy. Sort through the ruminations and begin to learn new thinking patterns that incorporate compassion, self-acceptance, and forgiveness a bit more.
A version of this article first appeared here.
Dr. Melissa Welby is a psychiatrist that participates in people’s process of discovery, empowerment, and search for satisfaction and happiness. She treats a variety of illnesses including depression, anxiety & panic attacks, adult ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorders), bipolar disorder, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and borderline personality disorder. She is also the current president of the Connecticut Psychiatric Association.She completed her Internship & Residency at Cambridge Hospital, affiliate of Harvard Medical School, 2000 to 2004. Dr. Melissa Welby is Board Certified in General Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 2005 to present.