Yesterday, I outlined the way overthinking and ruminating could take over our life sometimes, and why it just doesn’t work to find a solution to any problem.
Rumination can be very gripping and when we are in its web, it manipulates our thinking one way and the other. We feel stuck and compelled to continue in order to figure things out and find a solution but evidence proves the opposite happens. When we feel distressed, stressed out, no insight can be gained from ruminating. On the contrary, things get worse and we can start a downward spiral. So how do we break this habit once we realise that no good can come of it?
In the book “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky, some strategies are outlined. I started putting some into practice and, to my surprise, they work:
1- Distract yourself- break the pattern. It sounds simple but it is very effective when you remember to use it. As soon as you realise you are overthinking, engage in an activity that usually makes you feel good and absorbed like a sport. Move, read something funny, go for a walk with music you like and listen to the words.
2- Say to yourself, even shout “Stop” or “No” or “Enough already” and go on to something else you need or want to do. In other words, force yourself to snap out of it and find something else to think about.
3- Set aside some specific and limited time everyday, say 30 minutes, to ruminate and refuse to engage in overthinking except in that time slot. Chances are when the time comes, you won’t be able to ruminate.
Also proposed are talking to a sympathetic friend and writing. Personally, I don’t feel this would work as well. The friend might not be available at the time you need to talk and some fragile feelings of low self-worth or even shame might interfere with anything positive the friend would have to say. Writing ruminations down only makes them more real, it is rumination in the written form and will likely bring a feeling of helplessness when you re-read them later and are in the grips of it once again, thinking, Oh No ! I am still at the same point 5 years later !
In practice, each person does what works for them but the important thing is to stop the pattern before it gets too far.
Other actions to take are:
Put your hand in front of your face. Look at it. This is real. Your thought pattern is interrupted.
Take one step towards solving your issue. When you act and feel proactive about straightening out a problem, you won’t need to ruminate so much, and it will feel like you are going in the right direction, moving forward.
One thing I do sometimes is project myself in the future, “next year, next month, next week, it will be behind me”. Will this be important in 5-10 years from now?”
When I read the book, I felt I could let go of all my ruminating because it became very clear to me that no good can come of it. Rethinking decisions that have been made in the past, reliving sad moments or failures, imagining all kinds of negative things (even if it seems real), does not get us anywhere but down. I am working hard on freeing myself from this habit since I read about it. We need to move forward and realize that we do not control everything.
Better to use some of these strategies to stop overthinking in its tracks. I can say I am now a recent ex-ruminator. Like any habit breaking, it gets easier with time but awareness is important and remember, it does not mean you don’t care about the past, the future, someone else’s well-being, or have no problems, it only means you care enough about yourself to see that this is going nowhere, that it is only a big waste of time that could be put to better use.
Try the strategies, you’ll surprise yourself !
(1) Lyubomirsky S., 2007,The How of Happiness, The Penguin Press, New-York, London.
©2014 Suzanne Bélair