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Overcoming Overthinking: A Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Rumination

Do you ever find yourself coming home from work still thinking about the mistake you made that day, trying to get over a relationship breakup but getting trapped by past memories, or overthinking everything that you have to do tomorrow while trying to fall asleep?

Our minds love to ruminate – it’s human!

Whether we are reasoning, planning, comprehending, or problem-solving, our minds are working tirelessly to process these thoughts internally. Though oftentimes our thoughts can be productive, it’s the repetitive or mindless patterns of overthinking that can be incredibly harmful.

This article delves into the concept of rumination, why it happens, and how it can impact our health, relationships, and overall well-being. Fortunately, therapy is a great way to break the cycle of rumination.

Read on to learn more!

What is Rumination?

Rumination is the act of overthinking. It causes us to become trapped by repetitive negative thinking patterns. Similar to a hamster running on a wheel, our thoughts spin round and round without any means to an end. Though our minds are racing, we spend a ton of energy without making any real progress from it.

Common symptoms of rumination include:

  • Persistent or obsessive overthinking
  • Irresistible worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed by emotions
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Headaches or nausea
  • Fatigue

What Causes Rumination?

Rumination can stem from many different factors. Some of the more common reasons include stressful life events such as relationship problems or financial difficulties, cognitive biases or having a tendency to focus on negative events or experiences, lacking social support, struggling with perfectionism, or having the inability to accept and move past difficult life events.

Oftentimes, we are caught in a cycle of rumination because we believe that by overthinking our problems, we will gain more insight or discover some “remedy” to fix them.

Another key player in rumination is low self-esteem. When an individual struggles with low self-esteem, they are more likely to feel unworthy or inadequate and become overly critical of themselves. These negative beliefs can cause a cycle of negative thoughts to spin out of control.

There are even certain personality traits and mental health disorders that can contribute to or worsen ruminating thoughts such as perfectionism, neuroticism, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

How Rumination Can Impact Our Health and Well-Being

Rumination can be incredibly harmful to our health, relationships, and well-being. Oftentimes, the rumination cycle will trigger a range of negative or unproductive emotions including shame, guilt, resentment, and anger.

It slows us down, causing us to shift our focus away from the things that matter, and instead dwell on less productive thoughts and experiences. This can increase our feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Over time, experts believe rumination can be the cause of several serious mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Rumination in Relationships

Relationship rumination is a common yet incredibly detrimental symptom of overthinking that has a way of derailing an otherwise healthy relationship. This pattern of overthinking refers to the tendency to repeatedly dwell on negativity within our romantic relationships.

Examples of relationship rumination include replaying past arguments or conflicts in your mind, constantly questioning your partner’s feelings, and obsessing over potential problem areas in your relationship.

This type of rumination tends to lead to decreased emotional intimacy, lower levels of relationship satisfaction, greater relationship anxiety, and increased risk of breakups.

The Importance of Seeking Therapy

When it comes to overthinking, therapy can help!

Therapy is an excellent tool that helps individuals gain a better understanding of their triggers and develop beneficial coping skills to manage and reduce the instance of rumination, along with all the many symptoms that come with overthinking.

It is also used to provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to explore their thoughts and emotions. Ultimately, the goal of therapy is to help individuals learn how to tackle each thought with more compassion, care, and understanding, in the hopes of breaking the rumination cycle.

5 Ways Therapy Can Help You Overcome Rumination

Here are 5 beneficial ways therapy can influence your thought patterns and help you overcome your rumination habits.

1. Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a therapeutic technique used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns that may be contributing to emotional distress. The goal of cognitive restructuring is to generate alternative thoughts that are more positive and adaptive for the individual.

For example, after a breakup, thoughts like “I’ll never find love again” or “It’s all my fault” are common. With cognitive restructuring, your therapist will guide you to reframe these thoughts in a more productive way such as “I have the capacity to love and be loved” and “While this relationship didn’t work out, there are many opportunities for me to connect with others in the future”.

With practice, individuals will learn to normalize healthy thought patterns and break the cycle of rumination. In the end, cognitive restructuring can help individuals rebuild their self-esteem and rediscover joy in life.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful tool that teaches individuals to stop overthinking and bring their attention to the present moment. Mindful exercises can also provide the foundation for developing greater self-awareness and acceptance. It is also shown to boost our mood, promote relaxation, and improve cognitive control.

Mindfulness teaches us how to live in the here and now, and to observe our thoughts without judgment. Through the assistance of a mental health professional, individuals can create space between themselves and their thoughts, allowing them to gain more control over the repetitive cycle of rumination.

3. Problem-Solving Skills

Therapy can help individuals break the mental habit of anxious rumination by teaching problem-solving skills to help process emotions and address underlying causes of rumination. This approach can include various exercises including brainstorming, weighing pros and cons, and breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable parts.

Problem-solving skills may also take place in the form of role-playing and simulation exercises to create hypothetical scenarios in a safe and controlled environment. These exercises are designed to practice coping strategies and gain confidence in managing emotions and overcoming rumination.

4. Emotion Regulation

Learning emotional regulation is a valuable skill to help put an end to rumination. With therapy, individuals are taught to identify their emotional triggers that may influence negative emotions on rumination, making it easier to manage them.

Some emotional regulation exercises include:

  • Cognitive techniques: these exercises involve changing the way we think about situations and emotions such as challenging negative thoughts, reframing unfavourable situations, focusing on positive aspects of a scenario, etc.
  • Behavioural techniques: these involve changing our behaviour to regulate our emotions such as breathing techniques, mindfulness, or meditation
  • Expressive writing: journaling is an excellent way to express our emotions and gain insight the underlying causes of our ruminating thoughts
5. Relaxation Techniques

Similar to mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques teach individuals the value of settling the mind and creating space between themselves and their negative thoughts.

Oftentimes, a therapist will use certain relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, or deep breathing to reduce stress and anxiety, lower physiological arousal, and increase positive emotions such as joy, happiness, and gratitude.

Key Takeaways

Rumination or overthinking can be harmful to our mental health. Gaining control of its influence over our minds and bodies can help us reduce stress or anxiety, increase focus and motivation, as well as improve our relationship quality and satisfaction.

Therapy is an excellent tool that addresses rumination by providing us with the best exercises or coping techniques to break the cycle altogether.

If you find yourself caught in a spiral of negative thoughts that are disrupting your peace and balance, it may be time to seek professional support. Click here to book a free consultation with me today.

"Ease your mind, break the rumination cycle, and move forward." - Sally Polus

Written by Sally Polus LAPS, BSW, MSW, RSW

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