How to Stop Ruminating: Ruminative Thinking Doesn’t Solve Problems

How to Stop Ruminating: Ruminative Thinking Doesn’t Solve Problems

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.

 

Who Ruminates?

Rumination is more likely to happen in people who have depression, anxiety, or other conditions like eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, and trauma.

Rumination Definition: What Does it Mean?

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 is

  • Often self-critical,
  • Involves self-blame thoughts
  • Focused on perceived past mistakes
  • A mix of stewing and overanalyzing

How are Ruminating Thoughts different from Worrying?

Rumination and worry are similar but not the same.

Worries

Worries focus on future events and often involve catastrophic thinking that projects disastrous or unpleasant future outcomes.

 

Rumination

Ruminative thinking is generally focused on the past and what people feel hasn’t worked out well.

Why Stop Ruminating?

  • People that ruminate can get stuck in depression and set themselves up for future depressions. They may ask themselves “Why am I depressed?” and focus on how bad it feels but not ask “How can I prevent this from happening again”.
  • When stuck in the negative feelings and not the facts of the situation it is hard to see any solutions. Ruminative thinking does not inspire creative problem-solving.
  • Focusing on implied meanings and consequences (Why did this happen? What does this mean for me?) and less on analyzing specifics of what happened and asking targeted questions (How did this happen? What was the context and the sequence of events?) reduces the chance to process the event and move on. Without concrete thinking, it becomes difficult to solve problems and learn from past challenges in order to make changes for the future.

How to Stop Ruminative Thinking

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.

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  • Helen Shadforth

    Ruminating is something I really struggle with as I'm going through severe depression.

  • Gina Reynolds

    My thoughts drive me to the brink of insanity sometimes and I've never been able to know how to stop the never ending chatter in my head!

  • Kev Anderson

    Thank God I have manage to get myself out of the never ending cycle of negative rumination, anxious thoughts and intrusive thoughts.

  • Nicole Grimes

    I say ruminate all you want til you get bored with it. Trying to socialize too soon creates severe anxiety. I speak from experience.

  • Georgia Wilson

    Hard to stop

  • Renee Cox

    This literally eats me alive.

  • Erin Bailey

    Am grateful to have come across ur article.

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Melissa (Wheelock) Welby, MD

Healthcare Expert

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. 

 

   

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