Why People Ruminate — And How To Stop

Individual Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

For years people have quoted Yogi Berra’s famous and hilarious remark: It’s déjà vu all over again. What’s not so funny, though, is when a single thought, or string of thoughts, gets stuck in your head and just keep going round and round. There’s actually a name for this condition — it’s called rumination and it can have a variety of negative effects. Writing for Healthline, Erica Cirono says, “A habit of rumination can be dangerous to your mental health, as it can prolong or intensify depression as well as impair your ability to think and process emotions. It may also cause you to feel isolated and can, in reality, push people away.”

A woman deep in thought

In research cited by the American Psychological Association, leading causes of rumination include:

  • A belief that insight into an issue is gained by ruminating
  • A traumatic event or history of trauma
  • A perception that chronic stressors are present
  • Personality characteristics such as perfectionism or neuroticism

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid ruminating. If you catch yourself beginning to think about the same issue once again, Cirino lists the following tips to break the cycle. And keep in mind that the sooner you catch yourself ruminating, the easier it is to stop the thought pattern.

Distract yourself. Immediately find something to do that will force you to pay attention, anything from reading a book to tackling a household chore.

Plan to take action. If you ruminate over a particular problem, than make a plan to solve the problem. Review your plan in your mind or write it down.

Take action. Don’t stop with simply creating a plan — once you create it, start acting on it, even if it’s only in incremental steps.

Question your thoughts. If you ruminate about a problem, try to objectively evaluate if you were really responsible for creating it. You may have a misplaced sense of guilt.

Readjust your life’s goals. Because perfectionism is one of the personality characteristics that can lead to a tendency to ruminate, you may find yourself setting unrealistic goals. Then you get into a cycle of questioning why you’re not performing up to your standards.

Work on enhancing your self-esteem. Lack of self-esteem is often associated with rumination. One way to boost your self-esteem is to focus on acknowledging and building on your strengths.

Try meditation. True meditation involves clearing the mind of all thought, which is exactly the cure for ruminating.

Understand your triggers. Try to see if there’s a pattern to your rumination. Do you fall into the thought process at a certain time of day, at a certain spot in your house, with a certain person? If you spot a trigger, develop ways to avoid it.

Talk to a friend. Getting an outside perspective can help you put your thoughts into perspective.

Try therapy. If you find that you simply can’t stop ruminating, it’s time for therapy. Give us a call and we can try to help you identify the essence of the problem.