Disclaimer: The experiences and techniques described in this blog are based off the authors’ personal experiences and successes. These tips may not work for everyone. If you are struggling with negative thoughts or have any questions, we encourage you to contact a counselor, therapist, or medical professional.
A good friend recently told me about his trouble with ruminating thoughts. I too have suffered from this pattern of negative thinking, so I thought it would be helpful to share with everyone some of the things I have learned that have helped me to break the cycle. Ruminative thoughts are thoughts and ideas that keep recurring in your head. They are very common in people who suffer with mental health issues. They are also known to affect those recovering from substance use. Feelings or thoughts relating to stress, shame, and trauma can interfere with your daily life and mental well-being if you cannot stop thinking of them repeatedly.
Rumination is linked to mental health disorders like bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, anxiety, and PTSD. These in turn can increase the risk of substance use disorder, and other unhealthy physical conditions. However, there are many techniques that can be helpful that you can learn to help control if you suffer from ruminative and negative thinking patterns. I have included six in this article that have helped me get started on a path to better thinking.
- Write down your thoughts. Putting your thoughts into writing can help declutter that which resides in your head. Some people find it easier to let go of worry once they have transferred it all to a piece of paper.
- Talk to a friend. A support network is a key tool for overcoming any emotional or mental problem. Feeling isolated is one of the things that helps the rumination the surface. Talking to a friend is a great way to distract yourself from your thoughts. Don’t just talk about the specific problems causing your negative thinking. Talk about other things.
- Distraction is wonderful. Finding a different topic to occupy your mind in place of your repetitive, negative thoughts prevents you from spending all your energy on your problems. Some suggestions might be:
- Reading a book
- Watching a movie
- Painting or drawing
- Playing a musical instrument
- Creative writing
- Learning to cook
There are plenty of possibilities for creative outlets that might work for you. Choose something that won’t bore you, so that you don’t start ruminating again while you are doing it.
- Understand triggers. Certain situations cause undesirable thoughts to trigger. This could be certain social interactions, something on television, or something you see online. Even the time of day could be a trigger. Try to realize when and what factors are causing the thoughts to come up. This can help you learn to try to avoid triggers, or to prepare yourself with coping skills for them.
- Notice when you are ruminating. Mindfulness is a useful technique that helps to manage all kinds of mental health issues. By remaining focused on the present moment only, you maintain keen awareness of your own thoughts and feelings through more and more practice. When you are having a negative thought, acknowledge it immediately. Recognize that you are ruminating, observe how that makes you feel, then stop the negative thought there, and distance yourself from it. When you can notice that you are in a bad thought cycle you can also break right out of it.
- Acceptance practice and letting go. There are many problems on which you possibly ruminate, which in reality, cannot be solved. When you discover that you are thinking about these kinds of problems, it is best to first just acknowledge your own concerns, then tell yourself it is just fine to let it be. Next, if it resurfaces, continue the same process, and let it go again. After practicing this enough, your mind can more readily move away from troublesome thoughts.
There are many other techniques to learn how to stop rumination and negative thinking. The sooner you can find peace from the recurring thoughts, the closer you will be to better mental health. Of course, it is also very important to seek therapy for a few reasons. A good therapist will help you lay out a personalized set of goals to stop rumination. They will not only do that, but most importantly, they will address any underlying conditions making the negative thinking patterns harder for you to stop.