What do you do when your mind gets stuck on repeat? When you just can’t move your thoughts forward or stop a cycle of disturbing memories, deflating self-talk, or inhibiting fears.
Rumination can make living well nearly impossible if you don’t have a daily strategy for stopping the mulling, brooding, and obsessing that keeps you from where you want to be.
Where is that? In a state of unencumbered happiness and wholeness. And you won’t arrive at that mental destination without learning how to interrupt thinking that throws roadblocks in your way.
So, what can you do? Choose your mental and emotional path carefully with intention and clarity.
10 Ways to Stop Ruminating and Dispel Unhelpful Thought Patterns
1. Be aware
Make some mental notes. Tune in to your triggers. Ask yourself questions when rumination starts to get the best of you.
Be curious and pay attention. Observe “who, what, when and where” to increase the chances that you will be able to head off or interrupt negative thought patterns quickly.
2. Distract purposefully
As financial writer Cait Flanders once wrote, “What consumes your mind controls your life.”
So, refusing to be consumed is key. To help you break unhelpful thought cycles, strategic distraction is a worthy tool. This isn’t perpetual avoidance, just purposeful action meant to interrupt a habit that doesn’t serve you or your time well.
Try the following distractions:
- Invite a friend over or go for a drive
- Go for a walk, bike ride, or work out
- Garden, spend time in nature
- Do chores in or around your home
- Watching a movie or visit a museum
- Sing, dance or play an instrument
- Draw a picture, build something, or write in a journal
- Visit a library or read a book
3. Plan specifically
To feel better means that you must prepare your mind in specific ways. Repetitive and unhelpful thoughts are often unintentional and automatic. You will do well to interrupt internal negativity by taking thoughts captive and specifically addressing them.
Take the time to outline each step. Type them or write them in a journal. This process can disrupt unfruitful thought patterns and help you feel more positive about your ability to take charge of your life and future.
4. Act intentionally
After you outline a strategy for dealing with rumination, take action. Not all at once, just one step at a time, one day at a time. Be proactive, practical and as positive as possible. The key is persistence and consistent attention to your thoughts.
This is a process. Give yourself grace and time to creating lasting changes in your thought patterns.
5. Challenge thoughts boldly
Truth is the agent of change when rumination and intrusive thoughts take over. Don’t simply allow thoughts to run amok without facing the truth. Question and challenge them continually.
What are you really responsible for? Taking charge of your thoughts and determining their accuracy. Rumination may ease when you realize that much of what you think either doesn’t make sense or doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
6. Set personal expectations
Low self-esteem and learned helplessness can set the stage for persistent rumination. Decide to honor your Creator and your worth. Make daily decisions to boost your self-image and sense of purpose.
Consider some of the following ways to help you feel more personally powerful and in control:
- Read scripture and focus on God’s love for you
- Recognize and offer yourself praise and positive self-talk
- Ask for forgiveness where appropriate and forgive yourself for your mistakes
- Do things you love without self-criticism
- Build on your strengths and increase mastery to improve self-esteem
7. Adjust self-compassionately
Are your current goals and dreams good for you? Perfectionism and rumination are often offshoots of anxiety. It’s healthy to be realistic. Otherwise, you can spend too much time beating yourself up and comparing yourself to others.
Be sure your goals are truly your own. Then aim to meet them in manageable chunks daily. As you grow and achieve, allow your success and failure to be lessons and propel you forward rather than reasons to ruminate.
8. Be present
Clarity is calming. Learning to stop and focus on the moment is incredibly helpful for reducing rumination and its impact on your mind and body.
Practice prayer and meditation during the day as often as you are comfortable. Quiet mental space to slow down is crucial. Periodic time in a quiet environment to breathe and tune into the moment can effectively arrest a repeating thought or image in your mind.
9. Connect meaningfully
Rumination and isolation often go hand in hand. To gain perspective is vital when problematic thought patterns vie for your attention and pull your mind away from what is true, healthy, or realistic.
Thus, as with most things, a support system makes difficult things bearable. Talk to friends, family, faith partners, etc. Break the cycle with daily attempts to reach out to other people.
10. Consider therapy
A therapist is a helper, someone to come alongside you to help you understand yourself and your thoughts better. Work with an experienced professional regularly can assist the identification of the thoughts and issues underlying your rumination.
Take the Next Step…
Remember first your faith and the mental fences you can build through trusting God. Ruminating is destructive and a distraction from the grace, peace, and purpose you are meant for. To find rest, hope, and stability, allow God to sustain you when true problems arise and redirect you when "what ifs" get in your way.
You can be free from rumination and intrusive thoughts. You can learn to direct your mind for your best self-interest.
Practicing the above steps with professional guidance can help turn your thoughts around. Contact me, and let’s work together to help you feel more self-controlled and empowered with your mind focused on a bright and fulfilling future.
For more support overcoming rumination or for more information about anxiety or depression counseling please reach out to me today click here.
About the Author
Julia Nelson, LPCA, LMFTA is a psychotherapist and owns a private practice in Henderson County, (Flat Rock) NC and Rutherford County, (Forest City) NC. In general, she specializes in couples counseling, anxiety and depression counseling, premarital counseling, and parenting classes. She is also a Certified Clinical Military Counselor. To find out more about Julia click here: Nelson Christian Counseling.
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