8 ways to manage our ruminations


Rumination is a style of thinking about the causes and consequences of one’s negative moods. These moods are thought about in a way that is repetitive, focusing upon why they happened and what that could potentially mean for us.  

Brooding too much on negative events plays an integral part in the onset of depression and anxiety and the level of stress we experience. If left unmanaged, rumination can also play a big part in other mental health problems including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and eating disorders.  

Rumination can be a major problem because it rarely offers new insights or solutions on how to actually handle a situation. Instead it can actually make the situation a lot worse by escalating the negative thoughts we are already experiencing. If you find your mind is wandering in a negative direction and this is impacting your ability to function or harming your quality of life, here are some tips on how you can manage it.   


1. Keep your mind present through Mindfulness 

Paying attention to the here-and-now, can keep your mind present and free of repetitive preoccupations. Mindfulness is a method not for you to suppress your thoughts and feelings – however negative they may be – but instead just to become more aware of them in a more controlled and more intentional way. Just listening non-judgmentally to your thoughts and feelings and allowing them just to be, can remove the obsessional intensity from them.   


2. Jog your memory with photographs 

Break up your negative thinking by going through photographs of happy memories. As you look through them, you could try to recall not just what you were thinking back then but also what your body felt like. You might be surprised that noticing how your mood affects your physical sensations can have a positive effect on interrupting your ruminations. Ask family and friends to help you remember the context of the pictures – this will also have the added benefit of bringing another perspective into your deliberations.   


3. Listen to music 

Raid your Spotify account or tune into Radio 3. Music holds the power to put us directly back into a place when we listened to it in the past i.e. before our problems began; and the pieces can fill in memories of people and situations which have nothing to do with our current circumstances.  


4. Distract yourself 

Gardening, playing games, reading, watching old films and cooking are all ways to reduce ruminating about a current worry and getting your mind focused. But it will only work if the distracting activity you are engaging in is something you find truly enjoyable and you feel totally absorbed in. Indeed, if the activities aren’t fun or immersive for you, it is likely your mind will find its way back to the negative thoughts and feelings you were trying to avoid in the first place. So, if films are your thing, get out the DVDs; if cooking is your thing, cook up a storm. 


5. Enact some ‘worry time’  

This might seem a little bizarre but you might consider scheduling a specific time in the day just to worry. During this ‘worry time’ – which should be no longer than twenty minutes – you can give yourself free rein to indulge all the ruminative thoughts you are having. Then for the rest of the day, if these thoughts start to creep up on you, you can put them off until this time and get on with something else. Over time your mind will get used to the fact that you have a specific time in the day dedicated to worry and this may cause your ruminations to dissipate.  


6. Talk to friends and family  

Just hearing someone saying that they relate to your worries can give you a different perspective and guide you towards a calmer, less worried mind. You can also ask friends and family members to help you think of times when things turned out fine. Conversations with encouraging others can shift your perspective to a different memory network in your brain, and start you down a more positive neural path. 


7. Notice ‘cognitive distortions’ 

With our minds running out of control, it might not be easy to step back and examine our thoughts in an objective way. If we could however, we might see how one thought is possibly escalating into another (what we might call ‘catastrophising’) and how ‘cognitive distortions’ – exaggerated or irrational thought patterns – may have crept into our thinking. Take some time out of the day to really examine these thought patterns – are these recurrent thoughts based on anything real? Are you for example ruminating on something that you cannot control? If so, you might ask yourself whether dwelling on something you cannot do anything about is helping the matter or just keeping you in a negative emotional space.  


8. Separate out problems and plans  

Once you have separated out what you can control from what you cannot, you can also separate out the actual problems themselves from the plans to solve them.