Endless Mental Chatter? Why We Ruminate and How To Stop Overthinking
Do you have endless mental chatter and want to find out how to stop it? Keep reading to find out what ruminating is, why we do it and how to stop the cycle.
What is Ruminating and Why Do We Do It?
Ruminating is when your thoughts just keep going around and around in your mind. It can be mentally exhausting to experience this because one thought will lead to another and you feel like you can’t control them or stop them. Rumination can be a sign of anxiety or depression and thoughts can be dark or sad and leave you feeling alone.
I've experienced ruminating thoughts during a particularly stressful time in my life. My mind used to stay on that hamster wheel of mental chatter all day and prevent me from getting to sleep at night. I’d worry over everything, big or small. It prevented me from enjoying my down time because I was always thinking about stressful things.
Ruminating can stem from perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Because your mind is constantly thinking, it may feel like a productive things to do. It may feel like you're working through a problem, but in reality it just leaves you feeling mentally exhausted and prevents you from enjoying your life.
What You Can Do To Stop Ruminating
Start Noting How Often You Do It
One helpful thing I learned from doing meditations on Headspace years ago, was to just notice how often I was worrying each day. At this point, you don’t try to change the thought patterns or judge yourself for them. When you realize you’ve started worrying, you make a mental note or say “noted” in your mind or out loud. This is a really good way to see just how much you do it. You may be surprised! I was noting all day long!
Get Distance From Your Thoughts
Once you become aware of how often your thoughts tend to get out of control, start to distance yourself from the action of ruminating and who you are as a person. A lot of times we think we are our thoughts, and start to judge ourselves based on our mental habits, but that's not true. Your thoughts are just thoughts, they don't define who you are. You exist whether you're thinking or not and you're valuable and worthy no matter what you're thinking.
As you get good at noting, start putting some distance between you and your thinking by saying “I'm having a worrying/anxious thought” instead of “I am worrying" or "I am anxious.” This subtle shift places the thought outside of you and removes it from who you are as a person. It allows you to look at your thoughts from an outside perspective. In this way, you detach from it and it loosens any power to evoke emotion or judgement in you.
Work on Your Perfectionism
Ruminating and obsessive thoughts can come from a place of perfectionism as you replay past events or conversations in your mind. Perfectionism comes from a belief that we are not good enough as we are. It’s based in low self-esteem so working on building up your self-esteem and worthiness can help you overcome it. Take a look at where you learned this belief that you had to be perfect. Why do you believe you need to be perfect? Are these beliefs true? Then work on building yourself up with affirmations like "I am worthy" and "I am good enough."
Set Realistic Goals
Often as perfectionists, we think we have to achieve lofty goals that are honestly way above what anyone can actually do. I’m not saying to set low standards, but to set goals that are actually attainable so you don't overthink them. Get specific in what you want to achieve, how you’ll know when you’ve achieved it and set a realistic time frame. This way you’ll meet your goals, feel successful and build up your self-esteem in the process.
Practice Stress Management Techniques
Ruminating can be due to depression or anxiety so make time for things that help balance your nervous system and put you into a calm, parasympathetic state. Doing these practices can retrain your nervous system to let go and relax. Try snuggling, hugging, massage, meditation, getting enough sleep, deep breathing, grounding, affirmations, stretching, yoga or listening to music.
Talk to Someone
Talk to someone who can give you perspective on your thoughts whether that’s a friend or counselor. Talking it out can help you to feel less isolated and come up with ways to take action on your thoughts and stop the rumination cycle.
Ruminating is when your thoughts keep going around and around in your mind and you feel like you can't control them. Ruminating can stem from perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Ways to stop ruminating include noting how often you ruminate, getting distance from your thoughts, overcoming perfectionism, setting realistic goals, practicing stress management, and talking to a friend or counselor.
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