Rumination is the not-so-fun cycle of repetitive thoughts in which you can’t stop obsessing over some occurrence. It creates a vicious cycle in which unwanted, negative thoughts come into your mind and you continue to think about them even when you no longer want to. This makes you anxious and the more you think about it, the more anxious you get and this cycle which is terrible for your mental health and well-being just goes on and on. A common case is when you make a mistake and then proceed to think about it endlessly for days or even weeks on end. Here are some ways to combat repetitive thoughts.
Causes of rumination
Some common reasons why people have repetitive thoughts include:
- The belief that by ruminating you’ll gain some insight into your life or specific problem
- Having a history of emotional or physical trauma
- Facing ongoing stressors that can’t be controlled
- Certain personality characteristics like perfectionism and neuroticism
Tips for combating repetitive thoughts
There’s a difference between reflecting on your past experiences for the purposes of problem-solving and rumination which can be compulsive. Here are some tips that may help you take some control of your repetitive thoughts.
Identify your triggers
What triggers your repetitive thoughts? Is it interacting with a certain person? Is it worrying about something like climate change or your appearance? What are you afraid of or anxious about? For example, unfollow social media accounts that have a negative effect on your body image. Make a note about the situation you’re in and its effect.
Understand the real need your rumination fills
Rumination is a habit that fulfils some kind of psychological need. When something terrible happens to you, you can feel helpless. Rumination gives you a sense of control. Rumination also gives a sense of problem-solving and an attempt to understand why something happened or why someone did something. In this case, repetitive thoughts give an illusion of a need for certainty and understanding. One may also do it because it gives them a sense of superiority compared to others who have wronged them and whose wrongs they’re endlessly tallying.
Break the cycle of repetitive thoughts by distracting yourself. Call a friend or watch a movie or do some chores, exercise, or take a walk and listen to music. Talking to a friend can calm you down and snap you out of the vicious cycle. It may be helpful to talk to someone about the issue if you want to. A walk can change the scenery and your thoughts too. Music you love that is meaningful to you can be comforting and can transport you elsewhere.
Question your thoughts
It’s important to question those repetitive thoughts. Challenge the negative and unrealistic thoughts. Are the thoughts helpful or harmful? Think about how much control you have over a situation. People can ruminate even over things they have no control over like the death of a loved one.
Address whatever you’re ruminating on
If what you’re worrying about is something within your control, something you can take action on, make a plan to do so. Instead of going over the issue over and over in your mind, outline each step you need to address the problem and write it down. Writing it down psychologically helps get it out of your head. Be as specific and realistic as possible. Knowing that you’re taking action can help relieve your mind from that worry. Plus, it may redirect your thoughts to the set plan of action.
Once you’ve outlined a plan of action, act on it.
Try meditation and self-care
Consider meditation and other mindfulness practices. Meditation is grounding and the repetitive deep breaths help lower feelings of anxiety. It’s also beneficial because it clears the mind and helps you arrive at a calm state. Take time to journal which can help get things out of your head and writing it down allows you to evaluate if it’s a realistic concern or not. Set aside some time regularly for self-care. Take breaks and do things that make you feel relaxed and happy even something as simple as a bath.
Face up to the cost of your rumination
The common costs people incur because of repetitive thoughts include chronic stress, insomnia, and poor sleep, anxiety, depression, and concentration and procrastination problems.
Everyone ruminates from time to time. However, if it feels like it’s negatively impacting your life, you may benefit from speaking to a therapist. Therapy can help show you why these thoughts are ongoing for you and help you get a handle on it.
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