Learn how to stop repetitive thoughts and get practical tips to help you quiet your mind.
Repetitive thoughts or thoughts that circle round and round, are called rumination. The repetitive thoughts usually focus on:
- why a situation is the way it is or the cause
- what could happen because of the situation or the consequences
- how or what the person is experiencing or the symptoms
For example, when something embarrassing happens it’s unpleasant which can result in thinking about the situation over and over after it is over. When you ruminate about something negative, it often feels like you can’t turn off the thoughts, which then usually leads to feeling even worse. That’s how repetitive thoughts transform a situation from a regular human fumble into a big event that leaves you feeling emotionally spent, ashamed and regretful.
Here are some things that may lead to rumination:
- Stressors (kids, work, relationship, money)
- A traumatic event (chronic illness diagnosis, unexpected accident/loss, natural disaster)
- Low self-esteem
- Facing a fear
- Reminders of a past mistake or failure
2 Types of Rumination
Repetitive thoughts or rumination with a quality of being obsessive are one of two types: reflective or brooding. Reflective rumination is a cycle of thinking focused on problem-solving. Brooding rumination is passively comparing your situation to a standard that you haven’t attained.
Brooding usually leads to negative self-talk, which can then lead to a cycle of negative coping behaviors, such as pessimism, comparisons, worry, stress related eating, drinking, over-exercise, the list can go on and on.
On the other hand, reflective rumination, while uncomfortable is more forward thinking. It involves thinking about how to change the situation and relieve stress, so that you can get unstuck from the repetitive thought cycle.
How to Stop Repetitive Thoughts
Showing gratitude can seem far too simple and yet the research suggests that gratitude lessons repetitive thoughts. Practicing gratitude can lead to being more appreciative of difficult situations and lead to strategies that transform them into a positive. Starting a gratitude practice is simple. It could be listing three things you’re grateful for in your day before you go to sleep or saying ‘thank you’ or even smiling at someone who has helped you. Small gestures of kindness and appreciation can go a long way.
2. Body Scan
Body awareness can help you be in the present moment instead of focused on the past which is what repetitive thinking does. A body scan helps you locate your body in space and time as well as supporting your ability to stay grounded in the present. The next time you notice thoughts cycling in your brain, do a quick body scan. You can start with your feet or at the top of your head. Pay attention to physical sensations – of your feet, legs torso, arms neck and head will all feel a little different. Allow the experience to ground you in the present moment and focus only on your body scan. What you’ll notice is that the repetitive thoughts quiet as you give your brain a new task to focus on.
Consistent meditators with a long-term meditation practice report fewer instances of both rumination and depression. Meditating can help improve your emotional awareness by staying present and reducing your focus on regrets. Meditating also helps to improve self-compassion which is important when the repetitive thoughts focus on mistakes or negative situations.
4. Stop Overthinking
There are many studies in the psychology literature that show paying too much attention to your own thoughts leads to distress. Most people who struggle with repetitive thoughts report their thoughts are about negative situations or evaluations of their self. It’s likely that many repetitive thoughts are focused on shortcoming in your life, your ability to control your emotions, or your relationships. Mindfulness can give you some mental space and reduce overthinking so you can transform it into increased self-awareness.
Rumination is often focused on a negative interpretation of a situation and self-criticism is what usually follows resulting in adding fuel to the repetitive thought cycle. The antidote be found in a self-compassion practice. The psychology research shows that a self-compassion practice makes it less likely that negative situations will lead to repetitive thoughts and depression. Another benefit of self-compassion is it can help reduce overthinking by getting you outside of yourself and connecting you with others.
If you struggle with repetitive thoughts or rumination, the tips above can help you stop overthinking and break the cycle. The result is that so you feel less isolated so that you can interrupt the cycle. The first step is to take action and break the cycle, so you’re in control of your thoughts.