You probably know the feeling: you’re a bit bored at work or home, or maybe you’ve just gotten into bed, when some thought pops into your head and you can’t let it go. Maybe it’s something embarrassing you did when you were a child or something you’re worried might happen at some undefined point in the future.
Maybe you start replaying a conversation, thinking about all the things you should have said. The next thing you know, you’ve been rehashing these thoughts for 20 or 30 minutes, perhaps even longer. You haven’t gotten anything done, you haven’t slept, and now you feel more depressed and anxious than you did before.
This is rumination and it’s strongly associated with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. When you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, ruminating definitely doesn’t help, but it’s also a hard habit to break. The following tips can help you quit ruminating and feel better.
Learn to recognize rumination.
Like other bad habits, you can start ruminating without even being aware of it. You quickly get swept up in your thoughts and are not aware of what your mind is even doing.
If you want to stop ruminating, then you have to learn to notice when you’re doing it. This is a skill called metacognitive awareness — being aware of what you’re thinking about. The first step is to label rumination whenever you catch yourself doing it.
It’s important that you do not scold yourself when you realize you’ve been ruminating. Instead, congratulate yourself for noticing: “Ah, there’s rumination again, good catch!”
Notice your rumination triggers.
Noticing rumination is only the first step. Your real goal is to better understand what’s causing it.
Rumination typically has triggers, just like any bad habit. That is, it doesn’t come out of the blue but rather is caused by something you hear or see — or even a particular train of thought.
When you catch yourself ruminating, notice what you’re ruminating about and notice what triggered it. For example, maybe you were reading an article that mentioned a topic you recently argued with someone about or that reminded you of a bad decision you made, perhaps years ago.
You will probably notice there are only a few topics you get stuck ruminating about and your triggers are likely things closely related to these topics. Once you are aware of your triggers, you can be more vigilant about falling into the rumination trap in the first place.
Our minds are very associative and once you fall into the rumination trap, it’s hard to get out just by trying to force yourself to think of something else. If you’re sitting or lying in the same position, in the same room, trying to do the same task, you’ll probably keep getting drawn back into the rumination.
Although rumination has negative outcomes, it is also more interesting to your mind than whatever you’re supposed to be doing because your mind thinks it’s solving a problem. If someone were running toward you and yelling, you would definitely pay attention to them even if you’d rather not have to deal with that situation.
Rumination is similar, except the threat you’re preoccupied with might be far in the past or a hazy possibility in the future.
To get out of that rut, you may have to change more than your focus. You might have to get up and walk around for a while, switch to a different task, go to a different room, or do something that demands more attention than whatever you’re ruminating about.
Maybe get some exercise or play a video game. The more you ruminate on a particular topic, the deeper that groove gets in your brain.
That means you fall into that rut more easily and have a harder time escaping. Distracting yourself will limit rumination and help keep that groove from getting much deeper.
Write down your thoughts.
Writing down your thoughts helps with rumination in several ways. First, it helps you recognize when you’re ruminating, identify your triggers, and distract yourself, as discussed above.
When you write about rumination, you’re automatically enlisting some of your metacognitive awareness. Second, when your mind ruminates, it believes it’s solving a problem, except that it never gets very far.
It just keeps rehearsing the initial steps. Typically, it’s gotten ahold of some insight it doesn’t want to forget, so it gets stuck in a loop.
Writing down your thoughts commits them safely to paper so your brain can stop rehearsing it. Writing it down also helps you actually make progress thinking through the problem instead of repeating the first few thoughts.
This helps you process whatever it is you’re ruminating about. If it’s something you’re worried about happening in the future, it can even lead you to some concrete steps that might help you solve the problem and worry less about it.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to expand metacognitive awareness, since it’s essentially a practice of spending 20 or 30 minutes a day just watching thoughts and emotions rise and fall in your mind.
With practice, you learn to avoid getting swept up in your thoughts. Mindfulness meditation also helps moderate activity in the brain’s default mode network, which is active during rumination.
Remember that it takes practice.
Finally, keep in mind that getting rumination under control will take practice and persistent effort. Rumination is a habit, probably one that you’ve been doing for years.
Breaking it for good will probably take months. The good news is that every time you catch yourself ruminating and take some definite action to stop it, you’re also sparing yourself a lot of pointless anxiety and self-criticism. After a while, you will notice rumination gradually diminish.
When you’re recovering from addiction, it’s crucial to look after your mental health. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues are common among people recovering from substance use disorders and they are all conditions highly associated with rumination. Awareness is key, followed by action.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery begins in the mind. That’s why we use cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, and other treatment modalities to help our clients become emotionally resilient. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at 1-844-955-1066 or explore our website.