Have you ever been wronged by someone, seemingly without rhyme or reason? Perhaps the outcome of a situation did not turn out as expected. Perhaps your daily life is filled with stressful situations, causing you to feel continuous anxiety. Depending upon your disposition, these events can cause you to obsess and ruminate.
I have had my fair share of personal issues in the past, which I had to work through. Along the way, I picked up many effective lessons on how to handle ruminating. Before we get to the list, lets look at some facts about ruminating.
Facts About Ruminating
Reasons Why We Ruminate
- A feeling of low self-worth: You may find yourself at fault, or inadequate in various ways, as explanation for why certain events have unfolded in your life.
- Depression or Anxiety: A negative mindset, from event after event, trains the brain into a trend, or belief system, centered around hopelessness. Ones attitude and perspective has much to do with alleviating these causes. However, some people develop neurological disorders, which can only begin to be addressed by psychopharmacology. If you believe your obsessive, ruminating behavior to be serious and possibly linked to mental illness, I urge you to please consult with a qualified therapist.
- Being consumed by what other people think: This cause is slightly rooted in a sense of low self-worth. The ego is a hungry beast, and requires validation to assert itself. Even if you believe you do not have a big ego, heavy ruminating would suggest otherwise. This is your ego screaming itself back into power and control.
- Personal development: Sad to say, but some of the reason people have difficulty processing a negative event is due to maturity. The lessons people learn in the course of their lives vary greatly, and as a result, so does their maturity level. This aspect directly ties into how we evaluate our own self-worth, which interacts with being consumed by what we think people are thinking about us. If this starts at an early age, it can prove quite difficult to change such an old pattern, but it is possible.
For more on why we ruminate, check out this other article.
Types of Ruminating
In my research, I found these types of ruminating to be a pretty good idea of how this issue surrounds our psyche.
- State Rumination: Thinking about the consequences and associating ones self with the failure.
- Action Rumination: This is mainly to do with continuously pondering how events could have been corrected to achieve a goal.
- Task-irrelevant Rumination: Has to do with blame to distract from the failure; choosing to focus on the event or a certain person as the cause.
Ways To Stop Ruminating
Now that we have discussed the reasons why, and what we ruminate about, let’s discuss how to fix ourselves. Keep in mind, where all of these can help alleviate obsessing over something temporarily, it is through continuous practice and effort, which can bring about a more permanent change. We must learn to water the wholesome and productive seeds within us, and allow the negatives seeds to regress, for change to be possible and to take hold within.
1. Take your mind off of the person and/or event.
Redirecting your mind to something else, is an excellent way to train your mind away from the cycle of ruminating. If you know how to meditate, this is also a terrific way to take your focus elsewhere. However, you may find it difficult to refocus your thoughts in the aftermath of a negative event. If so, the imagery centers in your brain are most likely very active, and I would recommend the following exercise to take advantage of that brain activity:
Imagine a stop sign in your mind. Think of it’s dimensions, color, width, height, texture, lettering, border, and colors; picture these things methodically. The exercise is both an effective activity, and holds symbolic meaning, to help create space between your ruminating, and a place where you can find peace. A friend and therapist told me about this exercise, and it proved very effective.
2. Calm yourself and release the tension in your body.
You may find your body is getting tense as you ruminate. We carry a lot of stress in our shoulders, neck, arms, face, and abdomen. Negative emotions that are inherent in ruminating, coupled with a tense body, magnifies bad physical effects, and can perpetuate the cycle. By reversing how your body feels, you can effect the way your brain is producing certain chemicals. Try this exercise to help refocus your mind and relax your body:
Lay down on your back, legs straight and spaced about shoulder width apart, feet relaxed, and let them fall to the sides naturally. Keep your arms straight, and slightly away from your body, palms facing up. If you are familiar with yoga, this pose is known as shavasana corpse pose. Then, systematically, muscle-group by muscle-group, from your head to your toes (and back up again if your wish), make each muscle group as tense as you can for a few seconds, then relax and release the tension. When you release, your body can better dispense with the excess tension. Also, doing this activity will help you focus your mind on your body and the present moment, instead of what might be bothering you.
3. Remember, you’re not the center of the universe.
At times, a persons actions may seem to come out of nowhere and be very hurtful. Is is important to remember that if someone is being offensive, then they are obviously not being mindful. Perhaps their aggravation is due to circumstances which have nothing to do with you, and you are just an object in their way.
Also, life is not perfect, and just because something doesn’t work out the way your wanted it to, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.
4. Look at the situation as a lesson.
With whatever struggle you might be going through, it is an amazing opportunity for growth and development. Turn on your objective mind, and don’t be afraid to play devil’s advocate. Evaluate your own actions, and try to see the situation from many different viewpoints. Watch your emotions and how they rise and fall. This leads me to my next suggestion, mindfulness.
5. Mindfulness, as a preventative approach.
At first, you may not be able to control your response to certain situations. However, through mindfulness, your continuous awareness of your current situation, your response, and your emotions can all be recognized for what they truly are. Through mindfulness, you can begin to see what triggers you to ruminate. Over time, you will even be able to see the situation for what it is, and choose right then and there how you want the outcome to be, before it might turn bad. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will command absolute control over the situation, but you will have absolute control over how the situation affects you.
Exercise is a good temporary distraction for your mind. Focus on your movements, and channel any nervous energy from whatever is bothering you into your workouts. Getting healthier is another bonus.
7. Talk to a true friend or unbiased person willing to listen.
When we are obsessing about an issue and ruminating, it can lock our minds into a repetitive pattern of thought. Talking through your issue with a friend can help calm your mind, and your friend may be able to provide some useful perspective. It’s very important, however, to pick the right person to speak with. Certain friends will only nod and validate your viewpoint, which can prove useless in processing a situation. It’s better to have a true friend, who is not afraid to tell you like it is. If not a friend, then perhaps someone who is willing to hear your story and give you some constructive criticism. If neither of these are available, and your issue seems serious, you can seek guidance from a counselor, therapist, priest, or spiritually minded individual.
8. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
That is to say, don’t worry about things that are not that important. When you strip a situation into its little parts, or after you calm down from the event, you may discover it isn’t as serious as you might think. Perhaps it had nothing to do with you. Perhaps you are just blowing it way out of proportion.
If you really want to follow the rabbit whole, you are a singular life form, who may have gotten upset over a deviation concerning a cultural convention, which is a behavioral norm invention by a social group. You got upset, because your non-mindful state, was preconditioned to respond in a certain way, which fueled the fire of an emotional response. So there you are, steaming about something, on a large sphere (earth) of 7 billion other humans and countless other life forms and flora. Our sun occupies a group of a few other suns within a small dot on one arm of our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of many in our Galactic group. Our galactic group is a part of thousands of other galactic groups, in a local galactic cluster. This in turn is part of a web of an unimaginable network of galactic clusters, which, who knows how many other forms of intelligent life exist. And here you are getting upset over something that is perhaps very trivial. Now your problem may not seem so significant after all. Click here to see an interesting video about where we are in the universe. It may bring some perspective.
9. Evaluate the worst case scenario with honesty.
This may seem counterintuitive, however, after analyzing the absolute worst case scenario, you may discover that the real consequences are not so bad. You need to ask yourself if you can really handle the consequences. Remember, if your not going to end up getting seriously injured, or die, then you’re probably going to be alright. If you need help with this process, perhaps invite an impartial friend to reason out what the real consequence may be.
Repeating the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, is Einstein’s paraphrased definition of insanity. Ruminating is a type of insanity, because we replay an event, over and over again, and expect something to be changed by this track that keeps skipping. What’s very important to keep in mind is the pointlessness of worry. We cannot change the past, nor can we predict the future. All we have is what is right here, and right now. Worrying about something that may or may not happen is a useless expense of energy.
The main lesson to take away from these methods is to change your attitude and approach towards life. If you are someone who often gets upset, the problem may not be the people or circumstances around you, but instead, how you choose to project yourself, and your outlook towards the world. The Law of Attraction states, you get what you put out there. This is true for the negative as well. If you repeatedly reinforce your dislike of something, then that is what you will repeatedly receive in your life. Through understanding, mindfulness, and a willingness to change, anything is possible.
Thank you so much for reading my article on how to deal with obsessing and ruminating. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out my other posts. You can also follow me through my social networks, or sign up for my newsletter, where you’ll receive a link to any new posts.