I can’t shut off my brain! My thoughts just loop…and loop….and loop. They drain my energy, I can’t focus, and I feel trapped in my own head. The lack of sleep is making me feel crazy and out of control! How do I stop these ruminating thoughts?!
Ruminating thoughts are overwhelming, painful, and fear-inducing.
The “what-if’s”, “should’s”, and “if-then’s” often feel uncontrollable. They keep us up at night, paralyze us from being present, and lead us down a rabbit hole of anxiety. Worst case scenarios and irrational fears spiral leaving us feeling out of control and scared. Ruminating thoughts can fuel depression and anxiety and prolong episodes.
In addition, racing thoughts come in many forms. They may be replaying events or experiences from the past. As if a movie is playing in our head, the same scenes looping over and over again. Or they may be worries about the future, anticipating things that are out of our control. It is possible that thoughts loop through all the negative possible outcomes of a situation, past or future. Ruminating thoughts make us question our self- worth and our self-confidence. We try to make sense out of past losses and experiences and hope to gain some insight into a problem.
The truth is: they do not help us, instead contribute more to the feeling of inner turmoil.
Most often, ruminating thoughts are linked with something that is emotionally charged. “I’m so dumb; I should have done ____ differently”. “I’m such an idiot! Why do I always mess things up?” “What if everyone thinks I’m so stupid?” “If I would have just done ____, then I would not feel so bad about myself.” This can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and self-doubt. When we are stuck in this cycle, the negative beliefs about ourselves (I’m not good enough. I’m unlovable. I’m not worthy) become repetitive. Replaying and obsessing over mistakes, emotional wounds, and worst-case scenarios eventually lead our brain to believe it as truth.
However, it is not truth and you are not going crazy. Our brain does not know the difference between a real threat (being chased by a lion) and a perceived threat from racing thoughts (I made a mistake and therefore I’m not good enough). Although, when ruminating thoughts become all-consuming it surely will begin to impact behavior. Believing that these things are true, we may start to isolate, avoid activities for fear of failure, and lay awake at night repeating a play-by-play of the negative.
Our brains pay attention to what we focus on.
If we ruminate on all the possible negative outcomes, it will begin to recognize those as important. With these 8 tools, begin to re-wire your brain, stop ruminating thoughts, and return to inner peace.
8 Tips to Stop Ruminating Thoughts:
Tip #1: Stop Ruminating Thoughts using Mindfulness: Sometimes a thought is just a thought. The meaning or judgement that we have attached to that thought is what holds the power. For example: “I should’ve done ____differently.” This is the thought; the meaning attached to it may be “I’m not good enough.” Notice the thought as just that. Like an airplane flying in one ear and out the other, the thought can float through your mind and leave without turning into rumination.
Tip #2: Stop Ruminating Thoughts using Guided Meditation: My personal favorite app is Insight Timer. For one, it is free. You can also filter a specific issue, length of time, or discipline. For difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to ruminating thoughts, I encourage a Yoga Nidra meditation. Calm and Headspace are other apps that provide guided meditation.
Tip #3: Stop Ruminating Thoughts by Changing your focus: When you notice ruminating thoughts choose to do something different. Actually, get up and change tasks. Ideally, do something that requires your full concentration.
Tip #4: Stop Ruminating Thoughts by Challenging Irrational Beliefs: Most often, ruminating thoughts are just that: irrational beliefs. Ask yourself:
“What is the worst that can actually happen?”
“What is the reality right now?”
“What do I have control over?”
“How realistic is this thought or belief?”
Start to question how valid your ruminating thoughts are. Are there reasons that those beliefs are not true? Recognize that ruminating thoughts are not accurate and begin to dispute the irrational thoughts.
Tip #5: Stop Ruminating Thoughts using Exercise: Get into your body and out of your head. If weather permits, I encourage doing something outdoors. The benefit of being in nature combined with exercising has profound impacts on anxiety and depression, including ruminating thoughts. I am also a huge proponent of the healing benefits of yoga to stop ruminating thoughts.
Tip #6: Stop Ruminating Thoughts by creating a Mantra: Identify a positive affirmation for yourself. Use it when you begin to notice ruminating thoughts. “I am lovable.” “I made a mistake, I’m human.” Choose something that even if it does not feel true in that moment, you believe could be true someday. Commit to repeating your mantra as much as necessary. Begin to re-wire your brain. Eventually this may become your new truth.
Tip #7: Stop Ruminating Thoughts through Journaling: Set aside some intentional “worry-time”. Schedule 15-30 minutes into your day in which you can ruminate. Write down all your worries, fears, and looping thoughts. Consciously allowing space for this in your day, helps compartmentalize to help with focus at other times. Tell yourself you have time and space to worry about that later. Ruminating thoughts may change organically with this practice.
Tip #8: Stop Ruminating Thoughts through Counseling: If you notice increased anxiety or depression, counseling is a wonderful resource to help stop ruminating thoughts. Engage in therapy to work through your worries and fears, get alternative tools for ruminating thoughts, and support to overcome anxiety and depression.
Although stopping ruminating thoughts can be difficult at first, you are not crazy or out of control for experiencing them. The important aspect in beginning to break the cycle is to catch ruminating thoughts when they start. As we learn to nip them in the bud, we begin to regain control and self-confidence. Ruminating thoughts keep us stuck in the past or the future, inhibiting us from being present.
Practice these 8 tools to stop ruminating thoughts, experience inner peace, and live in the present.
For more tools to manage anxiety and depression click here.