How to Get Rumination Under Control

How to Get Rumination Under Control

The concept of rumination in psychology is based on the process in which cows regurgitate and rechew their food. When humans ruminate, we remember some past experience or something we’re worried about and we go over it again and again in our heads, endlessly rechewing it. Rumination makes us feel like we’re solving a problem but in fact we’re just digging ourselves into a rut. Rumination can actually impair your problem-solving abilities and lead to social isolation. Many studies have found that rumination increases your risk of developing major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. One study of more than 1,300 people found that ruminators developed major depression four times more often than non-ruminators. []

Major depression and PTSD are serious issues in themselves, but they are also major risk factors for developing substance use disorders. About half of people seeking help for substance use disorders also meet the criteria for PTSD and people with PTSD often experience more intense drug and alcohol cravings and are more prone to relapse. [] And among people with major depression, about 16.5 percent have an alcohol use disorder and about 18 percent have a drug use disorder, both of which are much higher than the rate of substance use disorders in the general population. [] Managing co-occurring mental health issues like major depression and PTSD is a crucial element of a successful recovery and learning to control rumination can significantly improve your mental health. However, the obsessive nature of rumination makes it inherently hard to control. Here are some tips for dealing with rumination.

Distract yourself.

The first way to break out of rumination is to distract yourself. The goal is to break out of the round-and-round thinking that’s making you feel worse and worse. Changing your mood is the key. When you’re in a negative mood, rumination is like a black hole that grows larger by sucking in negative memories. If you can change your frame of mind, you will suddenly find you have access to more positive memories. However, changing your mood can be hard, especially if your rumination is going strong. Activities that require concentration might not work very well since you might find yourself slipping back into rumination when something isn’t actively grabbing your attention. You might try talking to friends about positive memories. Maybe you shared a fun vacation and reminiscing about it can cheer you up. If you’re by yourself you might try listening to music that cheers you up or watching a funny TV show.

Anchor yourself.

Another approach is to anchor yourself in the present. Technically, this is another form of distraction. When you’re ruminating, you’re stuck inside your own head and you’re preoccupied with either the past or the future, neither of which actually exists. Anchoring means connecting with something physical in the present as a way of breaking the cycle of rumination. So, for example, you might pay attention to the sensations of your breathing, the weight of your body in your chair, the sounds around you, or some other sensory input. The advantage of anchoring is that since it’s a different kind of thinking, you don’t have to change your mood; you just have to redirect your attention. 

You can become better at anchoring by practicing mindfulness meditation. This is essentially when you sit down for 20 or 30 minutes a day and just practice staying with the sensations of the present. Your mind inevitably wanders and you just keep bringing it back to the present. When you practice this daily, it becomes easier to catch rumination early and anchor yourself in the present.

Examine your thinking.

Rumination is often associated with issues such as perfectionism, neuroticism, or being too worried about relationships. Each of these tends to be associated with distorted thinking. For example, someone who suffers from perfectionism may have distorted thoughts like, “If I don’t do this perfectly, it will be a total disaster,” or “if I don’t do this perfectly, I’m totally worthless.” These are examples of catastrophizing and overgeneralizing, respectively. These kinds of thoughts often lead to procrastination and rumination. If you believe your worth as a human being depends on doing something perfectly, you’re going to obsess over it. However, the reality is that nothing is perfect, no one expects you to be perfect, and if you want something to turn out well, rumination won’t help at all. One of the main reasons the pattern of rumination is so hard to break is because ruminators believe at some deep level that rumination is helping them solve a problem. Once you recognize this belief as an error, it’s easier to stop ruminating.


People tend to ruminate more when their identity is based on one particular thing. For example, if your job is the center of your identity, you are more likely to obsess over work-related matters because failure is more personal. There’s too much depending on one particular kind of success. One way to ruminate less is to diversify your interests and your sense of identity. You might pick up a new hobby, spend more time with friends or family, or volunteer. All of these things have also been found to make people happier and less stressed. Also, when things aren’t going so well in one area, you can still feel encouraged by progress in another area.

Take action.

As noted above, rumination is often the result of perfectionism or the belief that you are solving a problem by constantly turning it over in your mind. In reality, rumination makes your thinking too narrow and may make you less likely to try possible solutions. Therefore, actually taking action may be a strong antidote to rumination. Taking action, first and foremost, may actually solve your problem so you can stop thinking about it. Even if you only take a small step toward solving a problem, that can relieve a lot of stress. If you try to take action and discover there’s actually nothing you can do about it, like when you said something embarrassing on a date five years ago, you know you can stop thinking about it.

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants