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Tips to help stop the recurring cycle of rumination and overthinking

A definition of the verb ruminate -

"To go over in the mind repeatedly and
casually or slowly."

from the Merriam-Webster dictionary

Does this sound familiar?

You have a conversation which presents some challenges. Each time this happens, you don’t feel great afterwards but carry on with your day. However, when you’re at home in the evening trying to relax, thoughts of that conversation return. They play over and over in your head.

The cycle of rumination

If you recognise this behaviour and feel you are prone to overthinking conversations and life events without reaching any solutions, consider this. Although by going over such situations in our heads we may be hoping for understanding that will lessen our anguish, the process can often go wrong. We end up going over the minute details of a conversation again and again if a solution doesn‘t present itself early. This can lead to us to becoming more agitated and our feelings becoming more acute, but not in a good way.

Most people don’t intend to ruminate and often don’t even realise they are doing so, it just becomes a habit – and habits can be hard to break. However, awareness is a useful tool and once we notice ourselves doing it, we can then distract ourselves by whichever technique works for us to nip it in the bud. Thus sparing ourselves from the dangers that ruminative cycles can cause to our physical and mental health.

Like any habit, it won’t be broken by interrupting the process just once. However, putting a halt to it every time we feel ourselves starting to dwell will weaken the impulse to ruminate, helping us to break this negative thinking pattern and move forward.

Tips to help stop rumination

  1. Try simple distraction techniques that will engross you and occupy your mind as soon as you notice you are starting to ruminate; such as phoning a friend, doing some exercise, watching online videos, or completing a puzzle or crossword. Distracting yourself in these positive ways is similar to pressing a pause button, it will give you a temporary release and a break from your thoughts. Our article, Quick Calming Approaches to Relieve Anxiety includes some other suggestions, such as a grounding exercise.
  2. Improving our resilience has been shown to have positive results in helping to control rumination. Learning to keep an appropriate distance between the situations we face and our emotional attachment to them produces good results by practising to focus on what you can (rather than can’t) control and to maintain perspective. Too often we become preoccupied with things that don’t really help us. By learning to let go of them we can help ourselves to stop ruminating. You can read our Resilience Skills A-Z definitions of the terms used here.
  3. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have impressive results by making you aware of when you are dwelling on the same negative thoughts and teaching you to observe them and let them go. Over time, it trains your mind to live more healthily, happily and productively in the present moment. We have a 10-minute guided meditation to help calm our minds and reduce the chatter in our heads which can be viewed here.
  4. Schedule time and then stop is not a technique that works for everyone but can be a useful and effective tip for some. Allow yourself a set time each day to ruminate and then tell yourself to stop, that is it for the day. Any time that you find yourself starting to brood, stop yourself by saying the word ‘Stop’, visualising a red sign or perhaps wearing a rubber band and snapping it against your wrist. Tell yourself that any further rumination will have to wait until tomorrow. This sort of thought stopping is a distraction technique which gives you control and aims to stop rumination becoming automatic.
  5. Seeking professional guidance can help you to learn coping strategies, mindful techniques and other helpful behaviours in a non-judgemental and supportive environment. It’s not for everyone but always worth exploring if you feel things have got to a level which are out with your ability to manage them on your own.


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Many other resilience, mental health and wellbeing tips are available on our website – please have a browse to find some that work for you.


This tip appeared in our late Summer 2021 newsletter. If you would like future editions of our quarterly workplace wellbeing newsletter sent directly to your inbox, please sign up here

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