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It’s fair to say, life can be challenging.  You may have:

  • Experienced a relationship breakdown
  • Have an upcoming stressful event such as a job interview
  • Suffered a trauma
  • Be in the process of buying a house
  • Received bad news about the health or yourself or a loved one.

That is to name but a few.

And in response to stressful life events, it is normal to ruminate.  By placing our focus on a situation, it gives us the chance to analyse, gain insight and come up with solutions.  Many of us will have found ourselves awake in the middle of the night, thinking about a particular problem or event.

man with head in hands

For some people however, rumination can almost become the default setting.  Replaying a distressing/negative event repeatedly, or focusing on recurrent sad, dark, or almost unspeakable thoughts.  If you have experienced ruminating thoughts, you will know how all-consuming it can be.  You may find yourself saying:

  • I’m constantly in my head
  • I can’t stop dwelling on things
  • My thoughts don’t have an off button
  • I tend to over analyse everything

Rumination can affect people experiencing depression and anxiety, as well as those who identify as perfectionists or over analytical thinkers.  The belief may be that by dissecting the event, you can gain deeper insight and clarity.  But in fact, there is a point at which this is fruitless, and it only prolongs the pain and suffering.  It can make you feel hopeless and eats away at self esteem.

I liken excessive ruminating thoughts to a runaway train.  Once you board that train it can be incredibly difficult to disembark.  You become carried away with your thoughts and its relentless:

  • If only I have done this
  • I wish I hadn’t done that
  • Why didn’t I know that would happen?

In my experience, rumination is at its most powerful when energy is low, and defences are down.  Maybe you have pushed yourself mentally and physically, and your batteries are running on empty.  Or perhaps you have been neglecting yourself due to additional work or family pressures.  It is easily done.

The trick is to catch yourself before you spiral any further.  Press pause and engage in things designed to distract you.

writing on pavement

  1. Physically divert your attention – Do some chores around the house, prepare/cook your dinner, go and buy a pint of milk from the local shop, go and water some plants. Do whatever you need to do to temporarily break the circuit.
  2. Stop assuming you know the answers – With the benefit of hindsight, you may think back to events and believe you know how you could have affected a different outcome. But how do you know this for certain?  To some extent it’s about letting go of control.
  3. Engage in self-care – I know self care seems to be my answer to most problems, but that’s because it works! Focus on making time for you. Whether that means going out for a run, going to bed early, eating healthily, going for coffee with a friend, practising Pilates, or watching your favourite film.
  4. Speak to someone – When thoughts circulate in our heads, it can make us feel powerless. But often articulating these thoughts and saying them aloud can help take some of their power.  It can be helpful to talk to a trusted friend or family member or seek support from a counsellor.

If you would like to know more about how professional counselling can help, please sign up to my newsletter by providing your details in the “contact me” section of my website.