Look on the Bright Side: Ways to Stop Ruminating

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Ruminate: From the Latin root word ruminant – to chew the cud.

Do negative thoughts sometimes feel like a broken record in your mind? If so, you’re probably ruminating. Ruminating, or repeatedly obsessing over a problem without resolution, is a harmful habit that is often associated with depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. While ruminating may occur after a traumatic event, some people are more prone to it than others based on their personality, outlook on life or family history.

Whether it’s reliving a painful experience, dwelling on a mistake at work, or hanging on to a negative conversation, ruminating is not helpful and can lead to:

  • The glass-half-empty outlook: Ruminating often casts a shadow on areas of your life that might not be as bad as they seem. You in turn make sweeping assumptions and lose sight of the things in your life that are good.
  • Substance abuse: When you’re caught in a negative cycle, you may look for ways to distract yourself or dull the pain, such as binge eating or drinking.
  • Paralysis: When you obsess about problems, you hinder your ability to make decisions and seek appropriate solutions.
  • Pushing people away: Perhaps the most harmful consequence of rumination is the impact it can have on family and friends. When you ruminate about the same issue for long periods of time, it wears on people and may unintentionally cause them to withdraw their support.

So how can you stop ruminating and start focusing on productive, healthy solutions to your problems? You might consider:

  • Refocusing: If you can’t stop the negative thinking, find ways to distract your mind and focus on positive thoughts. Engage in a new hobby, spend time chatting with friends, exercise or meditate. Taking a break from ruminating about a particular problem allows you to refocus on other, more positive aspects of your life.
  • Finding solutions: A problem is only a problem until you find a solution. Start small and think about one thing you could do to improve your situation, realizing that dwelling on it will not improve the matter.
  • Facing your fears: When you know and understand what you’re dealing with, you’re better equipped to tackle it. If you’re ruminating over a specific problem or issue, identify the worst-case scenario and ask yourself if you can handle it. There’s probably a good chance you can.
  • Scheduling your worry: This might sound like a silly suggestion, but it works. Schedule specific times to think about your worries. Set a timer and ponder your thoughts. When the time goes off, you can move on.

While ruminating can be a pesky habit for some, it can be a debilitating problem for others. If you find that ruminating is affecting your quality of life, seek help. In addition to talking to a therapist, you may want to consider specific cognitive therapy techniques that are specifically tailored to this issue.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.