Rumination And Anxious Thoughts - What You Can Do
Updated November 19, 2019
Reviewer Deborah Horton
Your thoughts are going around and around in your head like a hamster in a wheel and it seems like you can't make them stop. You are ruminating and that rumination is creating a general lock-down on your memories. This is nothing to be afraid of. In this article, you will learn about ruminations and what you can do to keep them under wraps.
Are These Thoughts Abnormal?
In everyday life, it's reasonable and rational to have some anxiety. You may feel anxious while a loved one is undergoing surgery, if your teenage daughter doesn't return home until midnight, or if you are about to give a speech. Usually, these anxieties disappear once the problem is resolved - the loved one pulls through surgery, the daughter comes home, and you finished the speech without disaster. You can carry on.
However, if your anxiety is persistent and your thoughts seem to be stuck in a loop, you may be having a more serious problem. These thought patterns are common in various anxiety disorders, depression, and OCD, so if they are causing you problems, you are not alone, and treatment is available.
What Are Ruminations?
Rumination is defined as going over the same thought or a problem in your head without completion. You are ruminating if each time a loved one is ill you have the same anxious thoughts you had when your grandfather died during surgery, even though you know that your loved one is youthful and able to spring back to good health. You are ruminating if every time your daughter is ten minutes late, you start to worry that she was involved in something terrible. You are ruminating if you've told yourself so many times that your speech will be so awful that you don't even try. You are projecting consequences that haven't happened and most likely will not happen.
Brain function plays a role in rumination in several ways, but the most significant aspect is that brain function relates to memory. Our five senses trigger our memories. They are also connected with our emotions. When we remember a favorite classmate or our first date, the memory is associated with joy and tenderness. But when we remember being targeted by the school bully, the memory is associated with helplessness and humiliation.
Each time we repeat a thought associated with our anxieties, our memory of both the thoughts and emotions become more deeply ingrained. Just as we learned our alphabet through repetition, our memories of our fears, worries, and concerns and their causes become acuter each time we repeat them.
Psychological Effect Of Rumination
Rumination often accompanies trauma. As the mind processes the shock of things it had not been prepared to accept it may repetitively play back parts of the memory in an attempt to find an alternative to the facts. It may perceive in everyday actions the possibility of reliving the trauma. It usually takes a skilled professional to help guide a person through this.
Ruminating a cyclical disorder that is closely associated with depression and anxiety disorder. With rumination, repetitive thoughts tunnel into a very small circle, making it very difficult to concentrate on other stimuli. You list everything that could go wrong because you are anxious. Your anxieties berate you for failing to prevent things from going wrong and you become depressed. Over and over, the thoughts burrow into your neural network, triggering greater anxieties and their associated memories.
Breaking The Cycle
Ruminating thoughts can cause insomnia. It can interfere with your ability to concentrate, making it difficult to study or causing poor performance in the workplace. However, once rumination is defined as the root of your problem, there are things you can do on your own to break the cycle. Its identification as a culprit impacting your daily life is the first step. You've acknowledged that the imprint from your repeated thoughts have cut a groove in your neural pathways so deep that you feel like you need a shovel to get out. You need to jump the track.
Instead of negative memories, you need to start remembering the positive ones. Think about your successes and your favorite memories. Reunite with your long-term friends and close family members to reinforce those special moments. They may help you recall that great prank you pulled on your brother or wonderful visits to your uncle's house in the country.
Flip through your photo album or rummage through old letters. You kept these scrapbooks for a reason. They were special to you. Try to recall your feelings in detail. Your sense of belonging. Your relationship to the subject. Focus on the events that originally made this memory so important.
Changing Your Rhythm
The best way to break any cycle of behavior is to change the rhythm of your daily life. Your regular routine could be reinforcing your rumination. If you habitually begin ruminating when you first wake up in the morning, set your schedule to include a morning walk. Walking and hiking are both excellent ways of giving your ruminating thoughts a work-out and it can help to draw them to a conclusion. The change of scenery will also help you break away from rumination. Choose pathways you know to be particularly pleasant or that you haven't tried yet but have heard are well worth the visit. Parks, garden paths, and waterways can be particularly mood-elevating.
Add some music to your life. Music both reflects our mood and serves to place us in our desired spirits. If the last time you listened to music was to put on some angry, heavy metal or a sad song to cry to, then it's time to try something more upbeat. Create a playlist of music that relaxes your mind, inspires you, or makes you want to start tapping your foot. This change to upbeat music will help reduce the anxieties associated with rumination.
You can also revisit locations where you have truly felt happy or at peace with yourself. This will help reactivate the memories that brought you these positive emotions.
Problems can overwhelm us, especially if we've allowed them to compile. As we've discussed, rumination is defined as unresolved thoughts and problems. At some point, we have to let those thoughts reach the end of their course. Separate your problems. The chances are, you know how to solve the smaller ones. Once the easier stuff is out of the way you can work on the big ones. Create a realistic plan for moving forward through them. If they are problems that have been shoved to one side for a long time, an overnight reversal in your plan isn't going to solve them. It will take work, but you don't have to approach it alone.
When To Seek Help For Rumination And Anxious Thoughts
If by definition, you have been ruminating for a long time, it's not going to be easy to break the cycle by yourself. The pathways between your emotions and your memories that contain your anxieties have formed a rut, and your mind may have long ago found ways of avoiding the most deeply embedded issues.
If you have trouble clarifying your anxieties, or if your anxieties have become a fixation in your life, you should discuss guidance with a professional counselor. If you feel your problems are too overwhelming to be solved or if you have difficulty confronting them, professional guidance can help with sorting them out and looking at each one realistically. If your rumination is a symptom of an anxiety disorder or depression, seeking professional help can be the first step on the road to changing your life.
BetterHelp Can Help
If you are looking for help with managing anxiety and restless thoughts, support is just a click away. With BetterHelp, it's easier than ever before to speak to someone one on one without making a great material investment. You don't have to worry about driving to rush to an appointment. You can take your appointments from the comfort of home (or wherever you have an internet connection). There's no prescreening and no doctor visits, just qualified and licensed counselors (many of whom are doctors and nurses) ready to give you advice. There's no obligation, and you can log in any time when you're ready to begin asking questions. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
"David supported me in becoming aware of my strengths and being the best version of myself. He helped me in a period of my life in which I was literally stuck and my negative beliefs were holding me back from being myself and shine."
"I worked with another counselor for over 6 months before working with Arielle Ballard. In one 30 minute session, I got more accomplished in terms of structuring goals, building coping mechanisms, and recognizing thought patterns, than I had in the 6 months working with the other counselor. I'm pleased with my progress and am very greatful to Arielle."
If you struggle with ruminations, help is available to you, and you can find relief from the thoughts that are burdensome to you. They might feel like they won't go away right now, but through practice and with the help of a therapist, you can start living a happier and healthier life by reducing the effect that ruminations and anxiety have on you. Take the first step today.