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One thing that was a real issue for me when my depression was at its worst was that I would get stuck ruminating on negative thoughts…
Like bad things from my past, worries about the future, any past failures, all that fun stuff.
And this could go on for hours and hours and hours, I would end up stuck just thinking these thoughts over and over and over again, spiralling into a very, very unhappy place.
In all honesty, I still do struggle with ruminating on negative thoughts now even though I’m over the depression, particularly if I haven’t been sleeping or doing enough self care.
But, I now have a method that really work in stopping the rumination in its tracks and allowing you to get on with your day without that rumination having completely ruined it and dragging you down.
So in this blog post I’m gonna take you through my really, really easy five-step method to stop ruminating on those negative thoughts.
But before we get started a super quick disclaimer! I’m not a medical health professional. I am just someone who experienced mental health issues and learned some stuff that really helped, and I want to share my experiences in case they help you too. So obviously, if you do suspect any mental health problems definitely go see your medical professional.
Now, let’s get started!
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Table of Contents
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Let’s start at the beginning, what is rumination?
I’ve pretty much given the gist of this already in my introduction, but rumination is where you go over and over the same (normally negative) thought in your head.
I’ve always assumed it originally comes from farming (that’s what I studied at university that so I know a lot about it!) because animals like sheep and cows ruminate to digest their food.
Now this is a bit gross, but how it works is that they regurgitate their food and then they re-chew it and that is the process of digestive rumination.
So this process of ruminating (in both ourselves in terms of our thoughts, and certain animals in terms of their digestion) comes from this idea of going over and over and over the same thing. But unlike cows and sheep, we don’t really get anything from going over and over the same thing…
What are the causes of rumination?
That is the next thing we want to look at because when you know the cause, you can address the cause and thus reduce the thing happening (well that’s the idea anyway.)
Rumination is really, really common with pretty much any mental health issue.
But it’s also something that comes up time and time again, regardless of the mental health problem, for people who are going through a stressful time or those who aren’t looking after themselves properly (like if someone isn’t getting enough sleep.)
Now you could argue that this is particularly useful because it’s basically like if everything’s not perfect, then you’re more likely to ruminate…
And while this is true, the important thing to take away from this is that there’s things we can do to reduce the chance of having these ruminating thoughts.
- Proper self-care
- Addressing stressors
- Getting enough sleep
- Looking after yourself
All these very basic things that we should be doing any way will really help to reduce the chances of you getting stuck in that rumination cycle or rumination becoming almost like a habit that your brain and body naturally gravitates to.
Why is rumination unhealthy?
Because some people might argue that overthinking about a current problem or puzzle something could lead you to realize the solution.
And that can work if you’re ruminating on a current problem that needs to be solved, like maybe you have something going on at work that you need to figure out. Personally, I don’t find rumination helps for me with things like that because I get very stuck in my head and I actually need time away from the problem and then the answer will just pop into my head randomly (and I know that’s the case for a lot of people.)
But there are some people who find doing lots of thinking around the same problem will lead them to the solution.
However, that’s not really the type of rumination we’re talking about in this post.
This type of rumination tends to be much more about going over past mistakes or worries about the future, and because of that, it’s neither productive nor does it make you feel good.
I mean, anyone who’s ever experienced rumination and getting stuck on negative thoughts will definitely tell you it’s not something that leaves you feeling fantastic about your life…
What’s also really important to know is that apart from the surface fact that rumination doesn’t make you feel good at that time, studies have actually shown that ruminating without addressing the rumination can further maintain depressive symptoms.
Not what we want at all!
How to Stop Ruminating on Negative Thoughts – My easy five-step methodNow what you came here for!
I’m going to take you through my really, easy five-step process for stopping rumination in its tracks.
And like I said earlier, this is something I used when I had severe depression and something I still use now when I get stuck in those thoughts.
So step one, once you become aware that you are ruminating, going over and over the same thing, you need to tell yourself to “stop”.
If you can say “stop” out loud then that’s perfect, but if you can’t (say if you’re in a public place or people are around you) then really shout “stop” in your head.
The whole point is that you want your brain to notice you and listen to what you are consciously saying and thinking.
So saying it out loud is the best option, that or shout it in your mind.
When I was researching about how to stop rumination initially this was something that no one spoke about and I really do think it makes the biggest difference.
So once you said that big “stop” and now your brain is listening to you, then you need to self-soothe about whatever it was you were ruminating about.
So for example, if you were ruminating on a past failure, then start talking to yourself as if you’re talking to your best friend or a child, saying what you would say if it was your best friend or child crying and super upset about something they failed at in the past.
You would probably tell them something like: don’t worry, everyone makes mistakes, failure is a vital part of learning, failure doesn’t affect your worth in any way, failure is actually a great learning experience and a lesson for you, etc, etc.
All these things are obviously complete truth (like don’t lie to yourself) but they’re how you would speak to an upset friend or a child rather than that rather horrible voice we normally use on ourselves.
And it’s this self-soothing that’s so important and allows you to touch back into reality and remember that the thing you’re ruminating about isn’t as big as your rumination has made it, and that actually you’re not a worthless, trash bag of a human being. You’re just normal and really everything is going to be okay.
Hopefully, after having self-soothed, you should be feeling a little less bad than you were before.
I’m not suggesting you’re going to be feeling like the happiest you’ve ever felt in your life, but you should be feeling better than when you were in the midsts of ruminating.
The next step is to practice gratitude and focus on things that you’re looking forward to in life.
Nothing has to be particularly big or impressive as I know when you have depression it can be really hard to find things you’re looking forward to, and so if you’re really struggling focus on the being grateful part instead (because normally, even when you’re depressed, you can find things to be grateful for, like a comfortable bed to curl up in, that sort of thing, and that is completely fine.)
People often how long they should be doing this for? How long should I be trying to be grateful and focusing on things I enjoy? And you can ask this question about step two as well, how long should you self-soothe for?
But really it’s up to you.
Some of us will only need to do it for less than a minute, others may need to focus on each step for ten minutes. You do what feels right for you.
And it becomes tiring, if you’re literally bored and exhausted being grateful, then move on to the next step.
The idea is to make you feel better, so if that step is now dragging you down that’s not working either, so just move on to the next step and you’ll see as we progress that it doesn’t matter if you move on to each next step too quickly either…
Like I just said, it does not matter if you move through the steps too quickly because step number four is literally just being prepared to go through the entire process again.
You might finish step three and your brain might immediately suck you back into rumination.
That’s fine, start from step one again. Shout stop in your head or say stop out loud.
Step two, self-soothe about whatever you’re ruminating on.
Then go back to step three, be grateful and think about things you’re looking forward to.
So step four is just always be prepared to go through the process again.
Maybe you will need to go through it 10 times the first few times you do it, 20 even! That’s completely possible.
And maybe what works better for you is you going through the steps really, really quickly but multiple times compared with spending like multiple minutes on each step. But for some people it might be better to almost only go through it once, but to do each step for longer.
So just see how it feels best for you. But step number four, which you basically don’t have to do anything for, is just being prepared to go over it and over it and over it some more until you feel better.
Then step number five, and this is admittedly more of an optional, bonus step, but if possible, when you’ve gone through the process as many times as you feel you need, distract yourself.
And by that, I mean go and do an activity that fills your mind and that you enjoy and this will just help you from falling back into that rumination 15 minutes later.
One really helpful thing is to have on hand is a pre-written list of activities for this exact moment, so the sorts of things I would have on my list might include read a book, watch Netflix, watch a YouTube video, maybe do some journaling, call a friend, that sort of thing.
We just want activities that you have to actually use your brain to do and is an enjoyable activity, and would thus act as a distraction and stop you from slipping back into ruminating.
A free, printable gift to help improve your mental health!
Hopefully that really, really helps you!
It’s such a quick little method and honestly its worked wonders for me both when my depression was really bad and once I got over depression, so I’m really hoping it has a great impact for you too.
But if you are struggling with depression or mental health in general and are looking to improve it, then I have a free gift for you to download that should help as well.
And that is the daily self-care routine checklist that I use to help me beat depression!
That way you can go over the daily self-care routine yourself and hopefully that will really help you implement those self-care practices that make the biggest difference in combating depression and improving your mental health.
Plus the checklist actually comes with some bonus planning your day printables and they’re just really fun to get your planning on and get your days organized!
You can grab the free checklist and printables by clicking the button below.