Have you ever heard of rumination? 

Its a term that describes continuously going over a thought, worry, or problem in your mind without being able to come to a resolution or find closure. Rumination is akin to dwelling; even though you might know that the thoughts aren’t productive, you can’t seem to get them out of your head. You might mull the problem over and over. Maybe you go over scenarios in your head repeatedly, while wondering if there is something you can pick out that will give you insight or meaning into why things may have gone wrong. You might be questioning why something happened, what you could have done differently, or criticizing yourself.

The reality is, there are endless things one could potentially worry about. How we cope with stressors, hardships, and grief is important. And while this kind of thinking is actually quite common, excessive rumination can lead to anxiety and depression. This is because rumination becomes a cycle: The more we bring up and give attention to those negative thoughts, the more they are cognitively salient. Obsessive thinking puts a negative filter on our perceptions, and you might be feeling pretty helpless. 

Know that you’re not alone with this type of thinking. 

And, know that there are ways to try and stop it, and to feel better and more in control! Here are some common tricks to combat rumination: 

1. Distraction

Distract yourself from those thoughts. Do something that makes you happy. Pick even one tiny thing and focus on that. Hang out with friends or call someone you love, make a meal you enjoy, or get outside. Make yourself busy so those thoughts can’t get to repeating themselves.

2. Know your “triggers”

Have you noticed that ruminating thoughts tend to “explode” because of a certain event or trigger? Notice what makes those first signs begin. Recognize what may be at trigger, and what perhaps isn’t healthy for you to engage with right now. It might mean taking a little break from Instagram, or from seeing a certain person. It doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s important to acknowledge what isn’t serving you or contributing to your well-being. Consider removing yourself from triggering situations entirely, if possible.

3. Get positive

Beyond distraction, focus on bringing in positive thoughts. Do something that makes you happy, make a grateful list, or just pause for a few deep breaths. Once you notice ruminating thoughts, acknowledge them, and try to bring a positive thought in instead to be their neighbours . Maybe you need to actively do something to make this happen: Do your favourite hobby, read a book, clean your room-  whatever works for you.

4. Take action

First, ask yourself if the problem you are ruminating on is fixable. Are there steps you can take to fix or minimize what you’re worried about? If so, try to act on it in a positive way. Start with making a small change. Evaluate if there are actions you can take to solve your problem, and take them. 

5. Change the narrative

Is the problem seemingly unsolvable? If you feel this way, it might be best to re-assess what exactly you’re worrying about. Know that you are able to get through any of the hurdles life throws at you. Chances are, one day you will look back on this issue and it will seem infinitely smaller than it feels now. In the moment, though, you might be feeling completely overwhelmed. So, ask yourself if there is a silver lining. 

Sometimes, an outsider’s perspective is helpful with this. Talk to a friend, and see what they have to say. Or, imagine that you are the friend, and picture what you might say to a loved one feeling the way you do. Is it possible to learn a lesson from this incident, instead of focussing on what went completely wrong? How will you spin something positive out of tough times? 

6. Exercise

Exercise reduces stress and cortisol levels, and has been shown to be effective in treating depressive moods. Move your body, and your mind will thank you!

7. Practice self-compassion

Finally, be kind to yourself. Be brave. These thoughts won’t last forever. Try as hard as you can to move past them, and that is the very best you can do. The healing will follow.


Do you have any tips for dealing with rumination or cyclic thinking? Have you ever helped a friend deal with this problem? Comment below!






The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.