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Managing Ruminating Thoughts

Going down the rabbit hole, thought spirals, overthinking-whatever you call it, all of us have experienced thought rumination at some point in time.  When it occurs frequently, it can feel debilitating and can have detrimental effects on our mental health. Some of the suggestions below can be helpful to try next time you are stuck in a negative thought loop. 

Distractions– When overwhelming thoughts are swirling around in your mind, taking a break to distract can be extremely useful. It’s important when choosing the distractions that you look for meaningful and focused tasks that will engage the part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for more complex cognitive and behavioral function. Think of activities that engage you with directions, such as cooking, or building something, puzzles or another activity that feels both interesting and complex enough to require your focus.

Connection- As social creatures, often the best tool is our ability to reach out and connect with others. Ruminating thoughts can not only feel overwhelming, but they can also feel isolating. It’s important to have a social support system of friends, family, peer groups or a therapist to talk through your ruminating thoughts and have the opportunity to vocalize and also counter these pesky obtrusive thoughts.

The 3M’s – Mindfulness, Meditation and Movement- Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your awareness to the current moment, without judgement and allowing room for your current feelings to be acknowledged. Simple acts of mindfulness can help take your thoughts away from rumination and into the present. A simple way to practice, is taking an everyday task, such as washing the dishes or brushing your teeth. Take notice of yourself as you do the task and become aware of all the sensations you experience, notice your thoughts about what is happening and taking in the process. Meditation has similar beneficial results because it allows you to quiet your thoughts and brings your awareness to yourself in the present. A simple body scan can be used to pull you away from sticky thoughts. Movement through exercise can also be extremely helpful for moments of rumination, increasing endorphins, distracting from thoughts and forcing more focused attention on the task at hand.

Trigger Recognition- When you become aware of what triggers rumination, it allows you more opportunity to either avoid or manage thought spirals. In order to know what your triggers are, it’s important to be aware what types of situations, thoughts or even people you’re around when these ruminations occur. Noticing this over time will help give you insight into possible triggers, which will allow you to be more prepared and less caught off guard the next time you’re in a similar situation.
Thought Patterns- Techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) allows us the opportunity to challenge our thoughts. One helpful way to combat rumination, is thought challenging. We can often take our thoughts as facts, and the use of questioning “is the fact or opinion?” is a question that can help create an alternative perspective.

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