rumination, overthinking

The repetitive and uncontrollable focus on negative thoughts and emotions, is called rumination. A more popular term for this is overthinking. Whatever you call it, rumination is a curse that can blight your life in many ways.

It can significantly impact mental well-being, so recognising the early signs of rumination is crucial in addressing and managing this habit effectively. It’s both a symptom and a cause of depression, meaning it can make depression persist in a vicious cycle, it is also linked to insomnia, anxiety, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Identifying the triggers

Rumination and overthinking can revolve around anything, including personal concerns, past conflicts, future worries, and comparisons with others. Understanding the situations where rumination is more likely to occur can help you to recognise the triggers. People tend to be more prone at times when they are alone, tired, or experiencing physical discomfort.

Switching off the overthinking cycle

Attempting to forcefully stop rumination directly only keeps it in mind. It’s likely to backfire, because to stop it, you have to think about it. Instead, you have to let if go by changing what you think about. Focus on redirecting your attention to engaging activities that you can become absorbed in; that promote mindfulness and presence in the moment. 

Anything that requires your focused attention, journaling, breathing exercises, taking part in sports or games, or immersing oneself in something creative like drawing, painting, or another hobby, can effectively counter rumination.

Cultivating Compassion and Empathy

Practising compassion and empathy towards yourself and others can help disrupt pattern of rumination and overthinking. Compassion involves acknowledging suffering and seeking ways to alleviate it, while empathy fosters understanding and connection with others. By shifting focus away from internal struggles and towards external perspectives, you can break the cycle of rumination.

Give Yourself Time and Practice Mindfulness

Avoiding multitasking. Planning, and allowing yourself sufficient time to complete tasks, can reduce feelings of inadequacy and overwhelm that contribute to rumination. Mindfulness, the practice of being present and non-judgmental, can also be cultivated through various techniques such as meditation and focused attention exercises like Yoga or Tai-chi.

Finding Healthy Substitutes

Occasionally, rumination may serve a purpose, when it leads to constructive action, problem-solving or preparing for future events, seeking healthier alternatives is essential. By identifying the underlying needs driving rumination, individuals can explore constructive ways to fulfill these needs without getting trapped in negative thought patterns.

Recognising Healthy Rumination

Not all rumination is detrimental; there are instances where it can be productive and constructive. Healthy rumination involves asking answerable questions, thinking in specifics rather than generalities, and focusing on achievable goals.

Recognising the signs of rumination and implementing strategies to address it are crucial steps towards improving mental well-being. By cultivating mindfulness, compassion, and healthy coping mechanisms, you can gradually re-train your mind to adopt healthier thinking habits and break free from the cycle of rumination and lead more fulfilling lives.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.