Mental Health Mondays: The Ruminating Mind

By Dr. Josepha Immanuel, Psychiatrist

Ever had a thought stuck in your head? One that you keep obsessively turning over repeatedly in your mind? It’s called a rumination. While not all ruminations are negative, this repetitive and often toxic thought cycle can be dangerous to your mental health.

Ruminations are commonly associated with mental disorders that involve negative and anxious thinking patterns, like depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It focuses the attention on a past negative event while making no progress towards a resolution.

The habit of rumination can prolong or intensify the sense of helplessness and anxiety. That’s because the negative outlook of those who ruminate often impairs their ability to solve problems. So even when they come up with solutions, low confidence often keeps them from taking action.

If you’re a ruminator, it’s important to know how to quickly stop your thought cycle in its tracks before it spirals out of control. Here are a few tips to try when the thoughts start swirling about your head:

Distract yourself

When you notice you are ruminating, find a distraction—any distraction—to break the cycle. Look around you and choose something else to do.  Call a friend, watch a movie, even do household chores.

Take action

Outline a plan of action. Begin by taking small steps towards solving the problem that has you concerned. Sometimes that includes writing down the problem and steps you can take. This sense of progress will help diminish ruminations.

Understand your triggers

Make a mental note of your situation the next time you find yourself ruminating. Where are you? What time of day? Who is around you? Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can help ease your mind.

Boost your self esteem

Count the sources of pride in your life, regardless of how small you think they are. The more sources of self-esteem you have, the smaller your risk of fixating on any perceived shortcomings.

If these tips don’t help, remember that ruminating is a common symptom of several mental health issues, so you don’t have to handle this on your own. Talk to your mental health care provider to better develop the right treatment plan for you.