Do you get a thought stuck in your head and then can’t stop thinking, analyzing, and worrying about it? Are these thoughts negative and focused on possible mistakes you have made? Do you let problems eat away at you? These are examples of ruminating thoughts. Ruminative thinking is not problem-solving that is productive, it is the tendency to repetitively think about situations that are upsetting. Figure out how to stop ruminating by first learning the rumination definition to recognize them when they are occurring.
Rumination is more likely to happen in people who have depression, anxiety, or other conditions like eating disorders, psychosis, substance abuse, and trauma.
Rumination definition: What does it mean?
Overthinking and overanalyzing negative experiences happens frequently when people ruminate. These are repetitive, negative thoughts that are often associated with depression and anxiety. Thinking through negative events is normal and can be a helpful part of processing and learning from them. But getting stuck in these thoughts is not helpful and often doesn’t lead to answers.
- Often self-critical,
- Involves self-blame thoughts
- Focused on perceived past mistakes
- A mix of stewing and overanalyzing
How are ruminating thoughts different from worrying?
Rumination and worry are similar but not the same.
Worries focus on future events and often involve catastrophic thinking that projects disastrous or unpleasant future outcomes.
Ruminative thinking is generally focused on the past and what people feel hasn’t worked out well.
Why stop ruminating?
- People that ruminate can get stuck in depression and set themselves up for future depressions. They may ask themselves “Why am I depressed?” and focus on how bad it feels but not ask “How can I prevent this from happening again”.
- When stuck in the negative feelings and not the facts of the situation it is hard to see any solutions. Ruminative thinking does not inspire creative problem-solving.
- Focusing on implied meanings and consequences (Why did this happen? What does this mean for me?) and less on analyzing specifics of what happened and asking targeted questions (How did this happen? What was the context and the sequence of events?) reduces the chance to process the event and move on. Without concrete thinking, it becomes difficult to solve problems and learn from past challenges in order to make changes for the future.
How to stop ruminative thinking:
The first step in changing a behavior is to recognize when it is happening. The less we immerse ourselves in non-productive, depressive thoughts the more chance we have to feel better and give room for positive and hopeful thoughts.
One way to intervene and stop ruminative thinking is to better identify one’s triggers and develop more productive and effective behaviors to use in place of rumination. Could you substitute kinder and more compassionate thoughts toward yourself instead of criticism?
Take some time to recognize when you are ruminating and then take a hard look at how it serves you. Did you benefit from the ruminating thoughts? My guess is the answer is almost always “No”.
Sometimes it is hard to figure this out on your own. It can be quite helpful to bring these questions to therapy. Sort through the ruminations and begin to learn new thinking patterns that incorporate compassion, self-acceptance, and forgiveness a bit more.
Change your thoughts and live life fully. Find inspiration to make a change:
Feeling stuck in life? Instructions from a psychiatrist on how to live the life you love
Achieve Your Dreams! A Series on the Importance of Setting Goals
To good to be true? An effective goal setting process you can sustain even when motivation is lagging. Learn how!
“Embrace the Suck” How the Power of Positive Thinking Can Turn Your Day Around
8 thoughts on “How to stop ruminating: Ruminative thinking doesn’t solve problems!”
Thank you for your article for I see I am ruminating in regards to my two sons who basically do not communicate with me most of their adult life. Eric is 39 and Jason 37. Jason has a baby boy about 18 months and have never met. Eric has a daughter just 2 years old & since I got remarried promised his mom that my granddaughter will never visit my home nor should I bring my wife to them ever. Excuse is it would confuse baby Audrey. Having been a part of both my sons daily life when younger, I am at a lost at both their disowning me totally and perform ruminative thinking daily. Wish I had an answer that never arrives.
This is so painful and I hope you have been able to find the support of a therapist to process and figure this out. On ones own sometimes we can go over and over the same facts without having any distance from them. It can be helpful to hear different perspectives and get some guidance in healing.
Super helpful article!! I’ve had anxiety as long as I can remember and get stuck in ruminative thoughts. When I was younger I did more worrying…now it’s ruminating. I had never considered the difference between the two until your article. Awareness is the first step!
Glad this was helpful to now know the difference! Thank you for your comment.
I definitely do this, and I have anxiety and depression. The one thing that helped to change my patterns of thought in the past was therapy. But it’s something that has to be maintained I think or old bad habits can return.
So I have never heard of this word until last week and this is the FOURTH time I’ve come across it. I think God is trying to tell me something. I have anxiety and OCD so the rumination is just part of it, right? Thankfully I don’t get stuck in depression. Thank you for these tips!
It’s a great word! And the more you identify what it is and identify the patterns around it the more you can intervene to interrupt it. CBT can be a great help for people. Wishing you all the best!
I have been struggling rumination or overthinking and was not able to come out of it. I tried many things but it’s safe to say guided meditation and writing has helped me immensely. I still sometimes put myself in situations where I find myself struggling to come out. But I am learning and I am sure I can come out of this bad habit of mine.
Comments are closed.