What is a habit that sometimes renders us speechless but, at the same time, keeps us thinking about what we did 7 years ago? If you guessed overthinking, you are correct. In this case, though, this type of overthinking is often referred to in the psychology field as ruminating.
Ruminating is to deeply think about something or as the OCD and Anxiety Center defines it, it is to engage in a repetitive negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind without end or completion. The pattern can be distressing, difficult to stop, and unusually involves repeating a negative thought or trying to solve an evasive problem.
An example of a negative thought loop is constantly playing that scenario that happened a few weeks ago or even years ago in your mind while punishing yourself for not acting this way or doing that other thing.
Rumination often keeps you in the past or gets you anxious about the future. The only way to overcome rumination is to learn how to stay in the present, forgive yourself for the past, and not expect too much about the future.
Of course, that is easier said than done. Fortunately, there are a few practices that you can do to manage and, hopefully, overcome rumination.
Disclaimer: This article is for entertainment and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical or professional advice in any way. If you are in need, please contact a mental health professional near you.
These are the practices suggested by therapists and psychologists in order to deal with rumination.
1- Become aware of & Find your Triggers
In order to solve a problem, you have to become aware that you have it. It is the same with rumination. If you are not aware that you are ruminating or overthinking excessively, you will not be able to sit down and look for ways to stop it because you don’t think that anything is wrong.
Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist, suggests making a list of things that have triggered you in the past.
“Your list might look something like this”, wrote Boyes in her Harvard Business Review article, “Collaborating with people I don’t yet trust, being around people who seem smarter or more ambitious, taking a step up in my career, making major money decisions, etc”.
Besides looking at triggers, Boyes directs us to also look at whether we are blaming ourselves during our rumination or blaming others.
“Most heavy ruminators lean towards one or the other of these”, writes Boyes.
Similar to Boyes, the team behind Black Female Therapists, suggests finding your triggers by exploring your emotional reactions.
“Do all mistakes upset you, or only certain ones? For example, maybe you get really upset when you make a mistake at work”, explains an article on the Black Female Therapists’ site, “What are the mistakes that affect you the most? And why do you think these mistakes upset you so much and not others?”
2- Work on the source of the problem
Now that you have figured out what are your triggers and what causes them, it’s time to work on them. The problem is that your mind is playing that negative scenario on a loop right now. And when it’s doing that, the only thing you can think about is the scenario replaying in your mind.
To stop that, Black Female Therapists suggest calming your mind by practicing breathing exercises, taking a walk, or meditating. This will help calm your mind down enough for you to detach yourself from the memory and start looking for solutions if there are any.
“This type of rumination can be paralyzing and is actually counterproductive to problem-solving”, says Black Female Therapists, “You can’t make rational decisions when you’re feeling shame and stress, so before you start problem-solving, calm your mind”.
3- Stop/Distract yourself
As you find out more about your triggers, you slowly begin to identify when it is that you are ruminating. In the beginning, it is difficult to stop the rumination from the inside, which is why experts suggest looking outside of yourself for something to occupy your mind.
One thing that you can focus on is what is around you, as Melody Wilding suggests in her Forbes article.
“It’s helpful to learn to slowly shift from thinking about internal cues to external ones”, writes the licensed social worker, “Turn your attention to the physical evidence around you. You’ll find little to none that indicates the situation is as embarrassing as you think it is”.
When it comes to rumination, guilt and shame are often key feelings that drive your mind to put that specific scenario on a loop. Concentrating on what is in front of you, instead of believing what your mind is telling you, will help you see that not everything your mind tells you is true.
Another thing you can do is look for a task to occupy your mind. It has to be a task engaging enough to take your mind off of replaying the memory but not so difficult or easy that you get bored quickly. Because that will only land you back into rumination.
Now, you can’t always resort to distractions in order to stop ruminating. There will come a time when you will have to stop your rumination on your own. So, looking for more advanced techniques to stop rumination is a must.
4- Get help
When the rumination has gone so far as to negatively affect your life and keep you from living it fully, it is time to see a therapist. Therapists have tools and exercises that you can use to get to the bottom of the reasons for your rumination, management tools, and eventually tools to help you stop your rumination altogether.
Therapists can help you change your life for the better, so don’t hesitate to look for one if you think you need them.
Was this list helpful? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel for more about psychology.
Boyes, A. (2019, April 4). How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Mistakes. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/02/how-to-stop-obsessing-over-your-mistakes
Coelho, S. (2022, February 7). Can’t Help Thinking About the Past? 3 Tips to Stop Ruminating. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-stop-ruminating-on-the-past#recap
Editor Team. (n.d.). How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Past Mistakes: 5 Tips – Black Female Therapists. Black Female Therapists. https://www.blackfemaletherapists.com/how-to-stop-obsessing-over-your-past-mistakes-5-tips/
Wilding, M. (2016, August 1). The One Reason You Shouldn’t Obsess Over Your Mistakes. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/melodywilding/2016/08/01/the-one-rule-overachievers-need-to-stop-worrying-about-work-mistakes/?sh=6a05b2157364