Rumination is when you keep thinking about something negative. It could be something you did in the past and maybe you keep ruminating on what you could have done differently. Or you may be worried about something that might happen and you keep rehearsing that possible scenario. Whatever the case, rumination contributes to anxiety and depression. When you ruminate, you don’t actually solve any problem; you just rehash the same scenario over and over. This only makes you more pessimistic and less able to solve your problems. Overcoming depression and anxiety means getting rumination under control. Here are some strategies.
Notice when you’re ruminating.
The first thing is to notice when you’re ruminating. This is trickier than it sounds because it requires metacognitive awareness. Whenever you’re stuck in a loop and feeling agitated, say to yourself, “I’m ruminating again,” and try a strategy to stop it.
When you notice you’re ruminating, the easiest way to interrupt it is to distract yourself. A good way to distract yourself from rumination is to get some exercise. Exercise improves your mood and self-control, and it forces you to pay attention to what’s going on around you rather than what’s going on in your head. Just taking a walk outside is usually enough, but the more demanding the activity, the less energy you can devote to rumination. Another good way to distract yourself is to talk to friends. You may be able to get some of your worries off your chest, but you also have to pay attention to what your friends are saying, which also gets you out of your own head. Social interaction also helps improve your mood.
Meditation is essentially practice in noticing when you’re lost in thought and bringing your attention back to the present. This is perfect practice for when you’re supposed to be working or driving or doing whatever else and you find yourself obsessing over the embarrassing thing you did 10 years ago. With practice, you can catch rumination very early, before it gains momentum, and guide your attention back to what you’re doing.
Write it down.
One reason rumination is so hard to stop is that your brain really thinks it’s helping. It identifies some possible problem and solution, then plays through it over and over so you don’t forget. One way to short circuit this process is just to write down whatever you’re preoccupied with. That way your brain knows it’s OK to stop thinking about it.
See a therapist.
Most of the time, we worry about things that don’t matter much, but it’s hard to see that from our perspective. A therapist can help you approach your worries and regrets more rationally and give you tools for dealing with intrusive thoughts.
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