What Can I Do to Stop Repetitive Thoughts That Are Negative?

Reviewed by Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Published 12/09/2020

Have you ever been in bed at night and started thinking about embarrassing moments from your past? Perhaps your mind has wandered during the day to negative thoughts, starting to make you feel anxious or depressed. Why do you keep ruminating like this, and what can be done to stop it? Well, ruminating thoughts are something that many people deal with each day, and you might need to learn how to take specific actions to keep it from happening all the time. Knowing that it’s a normal thing that others struggle with is nice, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

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Read on to explore steps that you can take to stop rumination in its tracks. Knowing how to stop obsessive thoughts can put you in a better place mentally. The ideas for stopping ruminating thoughts below should be very practical, and you won’t have trouble doing them. Just know that learning how to stop ruminating can take time. So long as you’re committed to giving it a good shot, you should start to ruminate less and less as time goes on.

What Is Ruminative Thinking?

Ruminative thinking involves thinking about things obsessively. It’s when your mind can’t seem to let go of something negative. You could be trying to have a good day and wind up being put in a bad mood by ruminating thoughts. This can be very troublesome, and many people even note that it can throw them into full depression or give them a sense of anxiety. If you regularly have thoughts that you can’t stop thinking about, then the techniques below will make a difference.

As an example of ruminative thinking, you’ll find that people often obsess over embarrassing or negative moments that happen to them. If you embarrassed yourself by getting rejected while asking a potential love interest out, then that could be a thought that you would obsess over. Something that you said was embarrassing at work and caused people to laugh at you could turn into a ruminating thought. It’s not fun to focus so much on your failures or embarrassing moments in life, and this is why it’s so crucial to be able to stop ruminating as soon as you can.

Distract Your Mind With Other Thoughts

Perhaps the most effective thing that you can do to stop rumination is to distract your mind with other thoughts. You might start thinking about uncomfortable moments in your life or specific moments from your day at any time. If you don’t allow your brain to dwell on those topics, then you can snuff out the problem of rumination before it really starts to bother you. Distracting yourself with other thoughts or doing other things will be a perfect way to go about this. Many people who have ruminating thoughts will get good at this to feel more at peace.

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For example, you could start to think about something that makes you happy instead of sad. Try to remember your favorite movie's plot or start thinking about the groceries that you need to pick up from the store this week. What you choose to distract your mind with is not really the important thing here. It’s simply about learning to avoid having your mind dwell on those negative thoughts. Distracting yourself might be easier if you think about something engrossing or if you actually start doing some sort of task that requires concentration.

Some people will start playing a video game or crossword puzzles to make ruminating thoughts go away. You might even get good results by watching a television show or a movie. Over time, you should forget about the negative thoughts that were bothering you. You might get so good at doing this that you won’t even remember the negative thoughts that you were having. This is a simple coping mechanism that works for many who have problems with obsessive rumination.

Question Those Negative Thoughts

It can also be effective to question those negative thoughts that you’re having. You might think that you’re an embarrassment sometimes or that you’re a failure. Even some of the most successful people in the world will struggle with self-doubt and rumination sometimes. Questioning the negative thoughts that you have can help you to make them go away in some cases. You can answer those negative thoughts that you’re having with positive examples of how you can do a good job in different areas.

There will also be moments of triumph and happiness for every moment of failure or embarrassment that you go through in life. If you can try to use positive thoughts to counter the negative ones, then you’re going to feel a lot better. Some people are better at doing this than others, of course. You can also choose to work on your ability to question those negative thoughts with a professional if you need assistance. Many people go to therapy when they have rumination issues because therapists understand problems like this very well.

Consider Meditation

Meditation could be a very solid way to stop rumination in its tracks if you get good at it. Lots of people wind up using meditation as an effective coping mechanism when they struggle with ruminating thoughts. This works well because you’re able to clear your mind when you get good at meditating. For some people, the concept of meditation is spiritual, but it doesn’t have to be if you aren’t into that. You really just need to close your eyes and focus on clearing your mind of all thoughts.

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You can perform breathing exercises that will help you have a better meditation session, too. Taking slow and deep breathes will help you get into the relaxed state you need to be in. Some people also count to ten forward and backward in their minds as they take deep breaths. You can easily develop your own system for getting into a relaxed meditative state, but this is a simple way to get good results. Consider trying it out the next time you find yourself ruminating.

Improve Your Self-Esteem

Improving your self-esteem is going to allow you to stop thinking so negatively about yourself. Sometimes rumination will be emblematic of the fact that you don’t have enough self-confidence. Your self-doubt is manifesting itself as these obsessive negative thoughts. Thankfully, making some changes in your life could put you in a much better place overall. Many people start to change things in their lives so that they can feel better about things, and you can start to take concrete steps toward realizing some of your life goals.

For you, it might mean that you need to focus on your physical fitness if that has been bothering you. It’s common for people to feel self-conscious about body issues or weight problems. Very attractive people have doubts about themselves and the flaws that they wish to hide. You’re probably your own worst enemy when it comes to judging your physique, but you can change how you see yourself. Focusing on a physical fitness routine and exercising each day will allow you to sculpt your body.

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Being able to see the changes to your body over time will make you feel more confident. You can try to focus on doing this so that your self-esteem will go up at a steady pace. If other things bother you and cause rumination, you can focus on improving those, too. Some people ruminate about things such as not doing well at academics, and studying more will help you turn things around. You can improve over time because people aren’t creatures that stay the same.

Is Rumination A Mental Illness?

Rumination is considered by some to be close to a mental illness, but most wouldn’t call it a full-blown mental illness on its own. However, ruminative thinking is definitely an issue that can cause you to feel anxious. If you’re worried about whether you have anxiety issues or not, then taking this anxiety test is going to be a good idea. It’s a great way to determine whether you have anxiety or not that can help you decide to go see your doctor. It isn’t meant to diagnose you with anxiety, but it’s just a helpful, informative tool that gives people a push in the right direction when they need to get help.

The obsessive thoughts you are having might not be a mental illness by themselves, but they can be symptoms of other mental illnesses. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, anxiety types, and various forms of depression will have ruminating issues. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about what you’re going through if rumination has become a significant problem for you. This could be a sign that you’re struggling with your mental health in other ways, and you can get help whenever you choose to reach out.