Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Dr. Justin Puder B.A, M.A, Ph.D
10 Ways To Deal With Repetitive Thoughts And Rumination
Published Jun 4th, 2021 & updated on Jun 4th, 2021
Have you ever had a super negative thought you just couldn’t shake from your mind? It keeps playing over…and over…and over again on a loop. Like when the same line of a song is stuck in your head, only sooo much worse. These are the kinda repetitive thoughts we DON’T want because they make us feel so fucking awful. But, no matter how much you don’t want to think about this nasty thought, you just can’t stop! The thought is still there and it’s starting to weigh you down like an anchor. You’re not sure what it means…or how you can end this cycle for good!
What Is Rumination?
This not-so-fun cycle of thoughts is called rumination. Basically, they’re repetitive thoughts that our minds can’t seem to stop obsessing over. Unfortunately, they can be ROUGH for our mental well-being. You might call them racing thoughts, or feel like you’re always in your own head. Maybe you consider yourself an over-thinker (we feel that). Or maybe you lay awake all night long ‘cause you just can’t seem to switch your brain off. Those thoughts could be about your grades, your performance at work, or a big conversation you had (like during a breakup). Whatever they’re about, ruminating thoughts just don’t let up that easy!
Whyyy does this obsessive rumination even happen? Great question. Ruminating thoughts can happen for all kinds of reasons — and none of ‘em are a good time. If you’re stressed out or have something stressful coming up, you might start to have rumination thoughts. Or, if you have low self-esteem or struggle with perfectionism, these thoughts might sound like you’re repeatedly telling yourself that you’re not good enough (to the point where you start to actually believe it). Other times, trauma or fear can ignite obsessive rumination…like reliving a car crash in your mind or constantly thinking about some embarrassing thing you said five years ago (*shudder*).
We all ruminate. A lot of the time, it’s really NBD. Most rumination is temporary and we’re able to think about something for a while but move on after that. When you CAN’T get past a thought and it starts to affect your ability to concentrate, your daily tasks, or the ability to feel any positive emotions…yaaa, that’s when rumination becomes a much bigger problem.
Rumination And Mental Health
Ruminating thoughts are pretty commonly linked to mental health conditions, but sometimes in different ways. Rumination can show up for you if you have one or more of the following disorders.
– Anxiety. If you have anxiety, you’re probs no stranger to rumination. You might have constant thoughts about what could go wrong, or constantly feel like something bad is going to happen. So, even if you’ve prepared and studied your butt off for a big exam that’s coming up, you still might ruminate over the thought of failing. So fun, right?!
– Depression. When you’re depressed, ruminating thoughts can look like putting yourself down and having an ultra negative outlook of yourself or your life. You might tell yourself that you’re not good enough or that things will never look up for you, and those thoughts are on repeat in your mind. Even though you wanna escape those thoughts they’re all you think about and it just heightens alllll of those nasty feelings that come with depression. Giving this a 0/10 (we hate it so much).
– Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For someone with OCD, intrusive thoughts are super common and can often be pretty overwhelming. In fact, there’s even a nickname for it — Pure O — which stands for Pure Obsessions. These thoughts could be about harming yourself or someone else, icky thoughts about doing something gross or disturbing, fixating on religious beliefs or morals, or even existential fears. Even though these are thoughts you don’t actually want to act on, they can cause a TON of distress because they won’t go away.
These are the more extreme cases of rumination and they’ll require extra help from a professional, like a doctor or licensed therapist, to work through. If these ruminating thoughts are ongoing for you and they’re starting to affect your quality of life, we highlyyy recommend seeking the help you need!
As for the typical, short-term rumination that’s still a huuuge pain to deal with, we’ve got ya covered. Let’s take a look at some coping strategies, shall we?
10 Ways To Cope With Rumination
Try out some of these coping strategies for yourself and notice how those unwanted thoughts go POOF and disappear in a cloud of smoke, just like magic! Well…maybe not in a cloud of smoke, but you get the idea. Anyways, try some of these (or all of ‘em, why not?) to deal with your unwanted, no-good, repetitive thoughts!
1. Identify Your Triggers
If you experience those same ruminating thoughts, then maybe you have at least some idea of what your triggers are. So, take notice of what those triggers are for you and try to change things up where needed! Like, if you ruminate over the effects of climate change because you have eco-anxiety, maaaybe it’s best not to doomscroll climate-related articles that upset you. Or, if you struggle with your body image, unfollow accounts on social media that make you feel bad about your body and ignite those thoughts of low self-worth. Protect your mental wellbeing as much as you can!
2. Challenge Negative Thoughts
When those intrusive thoughts do pop up outta nowhere (as they alwaysss do), pause for a sec. Ask yourself, are these thoughts realistic? Are they helpful? Or, are they just downright harmful to that sweet, fragile brain of yours? Are you thinking about this non-stop to solve something, or is it something you can’t actually control? Picking those thoughts apart can show you just how little sense they actually make, and make them seem wayyy less important or scary than they really are!
3. Set Limits
Those negative thoughts can be a total pain (plus they make you feel really sad). So when the rumination starts, set a limit for yourself for how long you’ll allow these thoughts to happen. Set a timer in your phone for 5 minutes and when it’s up say out loud to yourself “DONE!” Try to trick your brain into believing you just don’t have any more time for those negative thoughts. Or, if you’re venting to a friend about these negative thoughts, tell them that you just wanna get it off your chest for just a few minutes and no more. After that, time is UP and you’re gonna move TF on.
4. Find A Distraction
One of the best things you can do when these intrusive thoughts are in the way? Find a positive distraction to take your mind off the rumination! Watch one of your fave funny shows or that new doc series on Netflix you’ve been meaning to check out. Go for a walk if the sun is shining (or even if it’s raining, that can be nice too!). Get all cozied up on the couch and read the next book on your TBR pile. You can paint, do a puzzle, water your plants…literally anyyy activity that shifts your focus away from the intrusive thoughts that are bothering you.
5. Talk It Out
This probs sounds like the opposite of distracting yourself, and it kinda is. But sometimes a vent sesh can make all the difference! So hit up your friend when you need to work through these repetitive thoughts. Explain what these thoughts look like for you and how they make you feel. Your friend can help support you and break apart those ruminating thoughts to show you that everything is actually gonna be okay. Chances are, you’ll feel sooo much better after getting it off your chest! You don’t have to hold everything inside, okay? Okay, good.
Meditation is helpful for oh-so-many reasons. For starters, it allows you to take a moment of pause and take deeeep breaths (which lowers feelings of anxiety, if ya didn’t know). It can help you feel more grounded and draw awareness to things outside of your mind, like the feeling of your clothes on your skin. If you’ve never tried meditation before, it’s all good! There are plenty of free videos to follow along with on YouTube, and guided meditations on your fave music platform. It draws you into the present moment and helps ease the anxiety or stress you’re feeling from those ruminating thoughts!
7. Practice Self-Care
Self-care all day, every day baby! Ok, maybe not ALL day (although how amazing would that be?!) but you should 100% include some self-care into your daily routine. Especially when you’re experiencing a ton of rumination, ‘cause those thoughts will bring you down faster than you can even SAY the word ‘rumination’! Since these repetitive thoughts tend to happen the most when we’re stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, then it’s safe to say that you could use some self-care. Take regular breaks and make time for yourself by doing the things that make you happy and feel 100x more at ease — it matters!
8. Use Positive Affirmations
Repetitive thoughts that are negative and make you feel like shit? Nope, we hate to see it. Whenever they show up and try to ruin your day, use some positive affirmations! The great thing about affirmations is that you get to make them up yourself, and tailor them to the situation you’re in or how you’re feeling. Here are some examples to give you a better idea. I’m focused on enjoying the present. My past mistakes don’t define who I am. I look forward to the future. I choose to show myself love and compassion because I deserve it. Give ‘em a go!
We love love love journaling here at DiveThru. If you haven’t tried journaling since middle school (when your goober little brother stole your diary), that’s okay! It’s never too late to start. Get a cute journal, grab your smooooothest pen and jot down the ruminating thoughts you’ve been having. Writing down how you’re feeling can be so helpful when you need to sort through your thoughts and start to understand where they’re coming from (so you can better control them in the future). What do my ruminating thoughts sound like? How often do I experience these thoughts? How do they make me feel? Unpack it all!
10. Talk To A Therapist
As we said, we all ruminate from time to time. It’s a normal thing to deal with so no, you’re not totally weird if this happens to you. WE PROMISE! But, if you DO notice your ruminating thoughts don’t seem to let up no matter what you do, definitely consider talking to a therapist to work through it. Therapy can be really helpful in showing you why these thoughts are ongoing for you and finding the source of these repetitive thoughts. It could be from a mental health condition or something traumatic that happened to you in the past. Your therapist will find the right treatment plan for you and help you cope in healthy ways. You’re never alone!
Dealing with rumination can be suuuch a struggle, but you can get through it! We hope some of these tips help you get through them and help you feel ready to take them on whenever they show up. You’ve got this, friend!