How To Stop Ruminating And Get Past Repetitive Thoughts

Wish Your Brain Had An Off Button? How To Stop Obsessive Rumination

June 10, 2021 Updated September 9, 2021

ruminating
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It isn’t easy to figure out how to stop ruminating — and it’s especially tough to figure out how to stop ruminating on anxiety spikes. Having said that, it’s a coping skill we all need to learn if we’re on a path towards wellness. But why do some people seem more prone to get trapped in this kind of pattern? Ruminating, or being stuck in a loop of thought, can often happen to people suffering from emotional trauma. So, if you were ever in a toxic relationship, witnessed something disturbing, or have cut ties from your family based on abuse, there’s a good chance that you’re having some trouble getting past incidents out of your mind.

Many people who ruminate aren’t necessarily looking for solutions to their issues. They’re not spending that time in thought repeating positive affirmations. Instead, they keep replaying the problems and concerns in their own head, often making them even worse with each recycled thought. Figuring out how to stop ruminating on the past can be very difficult, particularly if you believe your future may have been drastically different if it weren’t for one brief action you failed to do in the past.

Here’s some good news, though: Addressing that it’s an issue is the first step in trying to solve it for good.

Reasons for Recurring Thoughts

A bit of self-awareness may be vital to stopping your cycle of negative thoughts. Are you a perfectionist? Have you always been anxious? There’s no shame in either, but if you identify as such, that may be why you tend to ruminate. Perfectionists often worry about how they’re perceived by others, which can cause the brain to spiral. Those with anxiety can feel as if they’re easily being judged or ridiculed, both of which are bound to make you hyperfocused on specific thoughts and incidents and less likely to feel good about yourself.

Definition of Rumination

Have you ever wished you could turn your brain off? Rumination is when you focus on negative thoughts for a long time or when pessimistic thoughts and feelings stay at the forefront of your mind. You may find yourself feeling like you’re always overthinking or that you’re too much in your own head. Your thoughts can sometimes feel like they’re racing, or you can’t help but dwell on things.

How to Stop Ruminating

Sometimes, it helps to know where these thoughts originate. For example, if you know that you’re feeling depressed, it’s good to say to yourself, “I’m only ruminating because I’m down.” Then, you can try powering through it from there — whether that means doing some form of self-care that could distract you and/or lift your spirits, or making an appointment with your doctor or mental health care professional.

But what about figuring out how to stop ruminating on the past? A more specific category of rumination, this behavior involves obsessively thinking about the past in a way that also affects your present day. Nostalgia is good for plenty of reasons. It reminds us where we’re from and what made us who we are. Still, it’s often sugarcoated to be something it really wasn’t. If you’re thinking about something you could have done or should have been, it’s essential to make peace with the fact that your life went a different way. Take a deep breath and realize that there’s no going back, just forward. Writing down the thought may help.

Guided meditation may also help you peacefully visualize the thought and feel it physically leave your body. To do this, try focusing on tomorrow and something you can’t wait to accomplish or achieve.

Ridding Yourself of Recurring Thoughts

Meditation and writing are just two of the great ways you can help cope with ruminating thoughts. The main takeaway is to reoccupy your brain before the ruminating thoughts fully take hold. Here are a few other tips for when you notice those thoughts pop up during particularly dull moments of the day:

  • Distract yourself by cleaning the house or even dancing around to music.
  • Start a crossword puzzle or even an online board game with friends that requires a bit of brainpower. Look for iMessage games that include anagrams and challenge each other. It’s wonderful to put your brain to work, but you should be doing it in a productive and fun way.
  • Watching a new movie or television show is also a great way to rest your brain from your recurring thoughts. Exhibit A? Fans of true crime can focus on doing a deep dive into a particular case.
  • If you feel like it’s even harder to get your mind on track, consider seeing a counselor. There’s never any harm in getting a therapist. They may help guide you towards healthier paths or give you additional exercises to help you figure out how to stop ruminating.
  • A great way to help train and calm your mind is to meditate. This practice clears your thoughts and allows you to order them in a positive and peaceful manner. You can rid your mind of negativity and actively maintain the train of thought you want by meditating. So, the next time you feel triggered and fall into a negative mental cycle, nip it in the bud using this exercise. 

Understanding Your Triggers

Maybe you have ruminating thoughts about your own unhappiness every time your boss gives you a bit of criticism. It reminds you of a past job and how little you enjoyed life at the time. Suddenly, that memory keeps ruminating, and you feel like you’re starting to get depressed. While you might not be able to control what people say to you, you can control how you handle it.

Try your best to identify your triggers and avoid them. When it comes to ruminating thoughts, sometimes certain situations can cause you to spiral. Interacting with specific people may bring this thought pattern to the surface. Break the cycle. Listen to a song or take a brief walk around before responding (if it happens to be an email). By refusing to ruminate on the past while in the moment, that critique may suddenly read differently. So, pay attention to your day-to-day. Then work on a plan with a mental health professional or therapist to help you manage those triggers.

Ruminating thoughts can also happen around the same time of day or the same day of each week. Knowing your triggers is a big step towards conquering the issue.