We’re all guilty of obsessing about the events that occurred in the past or could happen in the future. But these repetitive thoughts can haunt us; they can make us feel guilty, angry, fearful, and ashamed. They can distract us from enjoying the present moment, and they can make it virtually impossible to reach a place of healthy acceptance.
Do you want to know how to stop ruminating? Several strategies can help you untwist your thinking and tap into greater mindfulness. Let’s explore what you need to know.
Recognize Your Rumination Triggers
Rumination refers to recurrent thoughts or ideas that cause significant distress. These thoughts can feel obsessive- you don’t know what to do with them, and they often exacerbate feelings of depression or anxiety.
What people, places, or things trigger ruminating thoughts? Does it happen when you’re talking to your ex? When you’re staring at that dress in your closet that no longer fits? Do you spiral out when you look at your bank account balances or scroll through Facebook?
We all have different triggers that can thrust us from our present moment. And while it’s reasonable (and expected) to think about the past or future, you need to know which triggers create toxic reactions.
Find Healthy Distractions
When you’re feeling stuck in your head, it can be challenging to think about making positive choices. However, distraction doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective. Simple distractive strategies can provide tremendous relief quickly. Consider the following suggestions:
Reading a book
Watching a TV show or movie
Playing a game
Engaging in arts and crafts
Playing an instrument
Helping another person
Socializing with friends or family
Creative outlets help distract your thoughts. It’s not about mastering a particular skill or devoting hours to the activity. Socializing, especially when it's pleasurable, is one of the best ways to move your thoughts of rumination and onto something much more enjoyable. This works because it’s all about shifting inward thoughts into outward actions.
Embrace Mindfulness and Meditation
The key to living in the present is actually living in the present. Although this mindset can take practice, mindfulness and meditation can help you achieve exactly that.
The art of mindfulness refers to conscious, moment-by-moment awareness of our current, internal state and external environment. It’s about neutrality; rather than judging feelings or having certain expectations, mindfulness is about embracing what is.
Meditation is an intentional act that can help you achieve more mindfulness. There are many different ways to meditate. You may need to experiment with various styles to find the one that best resonates with you.
Both mindfulness and meditation require patience. We are used to trying to distract, numb, avoid, and disassociate from our feelings. We are used to dwelling on the events in our past, and panicking about the obstacles that could impact us in the future. Learning how to be more mindful takes time, but it’s worth the investment.
Identify What Is (And Isn’t) In Your Control
Despite what you may believe, happiness is rarely dictated by your external circumstances. Instead, it’s dictated by your attitudes and perspectives. Everyone encounters difficulties, but resilient, confident people know how to adjust when life throws some difficult hurdles.
For example, let’s say you endure a difficult breakup. You thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with this person, and the downturn shocked and shattered your heart. Someone ruminating may start to loathe themselves. They may scrutinize and criticize themselves for every perceived wrong action. They may call themselves stupid, worthless, or unlovable.
But, what’s really in your control in this situation? At this point, what’s done is done. Even if it hurts (and it will hurt), acceptance allows you space for healing. The breakup may not have been in your control, but learning from past mistakes and being open to new opportunities is in your control.
Try Brain Games
Still can't stop ruminating? One great brain game is to set a timer for three minutes. During the three minutes you are allowed to totally ruminate! Think all the thoughts that keep you stuck. This is your brain's chance to really get deep on those thoughts. Once the three minute timer goes off, get up and move your body to different location and move your thoughts onto another subject.
This is called active switching. You will want to think of something that requires concentration. A few great topic suggestions are to list every concert you've ever been to, name all the states in geographical order, or think of twenty cities that start with the letter "S". This game teaches your brain that it can actively switch away from rumination and onto neutral thoughts whenever you choose.
How Therapy Can Teach You How To Stop Ruminating
It can be hard to know how to stop ruminating when ruminating happens on auto-pilot. Indeed, most of us don’t even realize that we’ve spent hours tossing and turning with our own thoughts.
Individual therapy can help you identify some of the roadblocks preventing you from living in the present. It can help teach you beneficial relaxation strategies that can help you when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Finally, therapy provides you with an open, collaborative space to challenge negative thoughts holding you back.
Are you ready to feel more confident and happy in your current life? Are you tired of trying to change the past or control the future? I am happy to help you.