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How To Stop Ruminating

“Hi…My nickname is AH, and I’m a chronic ruminator.”

If ever there was a Rumination Recovery group, I probably would have joined a long time ago. I remember in high school, one of my friends used to say, “Your problem is that you think too much.”

Of course, at the time I didn’t think it was a problem….

until it became a problem.

So what is rumination?

According to this article, “When people ruminate, they over-think or obsess about situations or life events, such as work or relationships. Research has shown that rumination is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder.”

I used to be such a pro at ruminating, I didn’t just ruminate for myself…I also ruminated for others! For instance, once I had a colleague who went through a publicly embarrassing experience. I thought I was empathizing when I mentioned, “That was really bad…I’m sorry about that…”

But then I kept on mentioning the scene over and over until they were annoyed and stopped me. Basically, they were already over it, why did I keep on bringing it up?

That was when I realized I had a problem.

“Hi…My nickname is AH, and I’m a chronic ruminator.”

So here are some practical strategies that have helped me overcome this;

1. The 5 minute rule. Give yourself 5 minutes to whine about it. Whether you’re complaining to a friend or journaling about it, set some boundaries around how long you’ll let that thought play around in your mind. This strategy helps with Analysis Paralysis. Give yourself time to process and digest what just happened, extract whatever lessons you learned from it, and after that, don’t think about it again.

2. Get out of your head by calling someone. This is quite effective. When you’re stuck in a mental loop, reaching out to someone else suddenly turns your mental thoughts away from your life and your problems to their life and their problems. Even if you don’t call them to listen to their problems, and instead call them to rant, they can actually change your perspective about the whole thing. For example, the other day I was upset over something and I called my older brother. While talking, he launched into a story that went something like this,

“Let me tell you about the time I was doing my Senior Design Project…”

Oh God! Here we go.

“I was working on the project and then I got stuck…”

“And the deadline was rapidly approaching…”

“And then my laptop crashed…”

Of course, there I was listening, wondering, “Where is this story going? Is it supposed to make me feel better?”

Anyhow, he ended with, “I had to start the work over but I did get past that point where I was stuck.”

My personal takeaway was more along the “Backup your work” lesson, but you get the picture…Sometimes someone else can change your perspective so you break out of the mental loop.

3. Do something else. No, no, don’t think about doing something else. Physically get up and do something else. Whether it’s going out for a run or cleaning the room or engaging in some other activity. This is more effective when the action you’re taking is demanding enough to engage many of your senses and pushes you into a state of flow so you really can’t spare any cognitive effort thinking about that thing.

4. Remember that people don’t think about you as much as you think they think about you. There’s as portion of rumination that starts with us thinking about other people’s opinions about us. “I did something stupid and now all those people will think I’m stupid.” However, recognize that “those people” don’t really think about you that much. They have their own problems, and your life problems are the least of their concerns.

5. Watch this video until the end.

I filmed it in Mombasa – can’t remember but it could have been Haller Park – and it’s the only video I uploaded on my channel. But for some reason, it keeps me engaged. Like the hippo is soooo super slow, reminds you to slow down in life.

6. Notice when you’re doing it. Build enough self-awareness in your life to actually notice when you’re stuck in a mental loop. Some people wear bracelets or have post-its to remind them to provide visual reminders to stop and think, “Am I stuck in a mental loop? Is it helping me? What am I doing?” I personally haven’t tried that but it could work for you.
Last but not least, understand it’s a habit, and bad habits are not easy to break once they’re entrenched in your life. All you have to do is monitor yourself and take positive steps to make small changes.

Image taken at the Kenyan coast by me (c) ahscribbles

What are your thoughts on the topic? Tweet me @ahechoes to let me know.

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Published inPersonal Development