How to Stop Ruminating and Make a Change

As we begin a new year, most Americans are thrilled to leave 2020 behind. However, many of us still struggle with anxiety. Those racing thoughts might even keep you from falling asleep at night. Whether you’re thinking about COVID-19, social interactions or the things you did during active addiction, it’s not uncommon to find yourself fixated on a single, repeating, negative thought. This continuous pattern is called rumination. Ruminating is bad for your mental health, and it can keep you from moving forward in life. On today’s blog, we’ll explain what causes this behavior and how you can overcome it.


What Causes Ruminating?

Rumination itself is the act of thinking in circles. It’s what happens when you’re rehashing an old argument in your head and trying to think up the perfect comeback, or when you’re imagining all the ways your big presentation could go wrong. We all do it, and it’s a bad habit to bring into 2021.

People begin ruminating for a lot of different reasons. It’s especially common for those with depression; in addition to mood disorders, research has identified other typical causes of rumination.

  • You may believe that by analyzing interactions, you’ll gain new insight about what happened and where things went wrong.
  • If you’re facing uncontrollable stressors, like the pandemic, ruminating behavior may be activated in an attempt to exert control.
  • People with a history of trauma – physical or emotional – are predisposed to this destructive pattern of thinking.

It probably comes as no surprise that this is bad for your mental health. Rather than providing solutions or making you feel better about a situation, rumination only serves to rehash painful memories or anxieties that you have not fully addressed. If you find yourself dwelling on upsetting thoughts, we encourage you to seek help today.


Tips to Stop Ruminating

Breaking the cycle of rumination is challenging, but worthwhile. Through continuous effort and quick reactions, you can disrupt this habit and regain control of your thoughts.

First, if you begin to think negatively, distract yourself. Finding something else to occupy your mind is all it takes to stop a spiral. Whether you decide to hop in the shower, call a friend or take a walk, an absorbing activity can help you to avoid ruminating.

Next, take a step to resolve the issue. For example, take the upsetting thought and determine what you will do about it. If you’ve been obsessing over a broken friendship, making amends may be a good choice. Write out your plan in detail and you’re sure to feel better.

Practicing mindfulness can also be a useful tool to disrupt rumination. In the study of mindfulness, we learn to notice our thoughts and feelings without being ruled by them. Putting your rumination in perspective can help you to calm down and move forward.

Next, identify your triggers. Try to notice which situations and events cause you to begin thinking about this topic. If it’s seeing someone’s social media posts, consider unfollowing that person. If it’s driving past an old drinking buddy’s house, consider taking a different route for the time being. You can take small steps to overcome the things that trigger your ruminating thoughts.

Finally, we recommend that you speak to someone. The isolation caused by COVID-19 has created a perfect storm for negative self-talk. Reach out to a loved one if you need a bit of support. If your issues are more deeply rooted, we encourage you to speak to a therapist. Licensed clinical professionals can help you to address the underlying issues which are causing you to ruminate.


How to Make a Change

Now that you’ve got the tools to stop obsessing over negative thoughts, you have the potential to move forward and build a healthy, happy life. Instead of brooding over the things that depress you or drag you down in the new year, we hope that you will focus on creating better habits. If you would like to make an effective, positive change in 2021, we recommend that you…

  • Make a plan. Wanting to stop this behavior doesn’t mean it will automatically happen. Ruminating is a habit, and like any bad habit, addressing it requires a specific approach. Incorporate some of the above tactics into your rumination response plan and figure out how you would like to prepare for any negative thinking in the future.
  • Practice your adaptive, helpful responses. To make a lasting change to your thoughts, you’ll need to repeatedly replace ruminating with a better behavior. When you are triggered in some way – by sadness or an outside influence – practice using your self-help strategies each time.
  • Keep a record of your progress. Journaling is incredibly helpful for everyone, including people in recovery. In your mission to stop ruminating, keep good notes of your experiences. Did a conversation send you into a spiral? How did you respond? How would you like to react in the future? Analyzing these elements of your thought process can aid in the development of beneficial behaviors.
  • Get professional help. Finally, if you’re hoping to make other changes to your life, we recommend that you work with a mental health professional. A combination of therapies and medications can be used to combat depression, anxiety, addiction and other concerns which can trigger you to begin ruminating.


For more information and mental health support, please contact Cumberland Heights today. Our clinical team is standing by to take your call and provide a customized treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Why is it so meaningful to give to Cumberland Heights?

Your gift to Cumberland Heights through our annual and capital initiates gives immediate support to patients and their families. To make a longer term impact a gift to the endowment fund will provide patient assistance funding for years to come.