Reduce Rumination and Worry

Ruminating or dwelling on your thoughts can be quite damaging to your mental health. You churn your thoughts over and over in your head. doing yourself nothing but harm. This article invites you to try some simple techniques to end this irrational behavior.
Reduce Rumination and Worry

Last update: 01 January, 2021

Rumination syndrome is an illness in which people repeatedly regurgitate food from their stomach to chew, swallow, or spit out. Something rather similar can happen with your thoughts. Indeed, this article is dedicated to showing you various ways to reduce this particular type of rumination.

In psychological rumination, you turn thoughts over and over in your head, which isn’t good for you. You regurgitate them again and again until they’re of absolutely no use or value to you. Furthermore, you might become completely absorbed by a particular thought, which takes your attention away from everything else, and often negatively affects your mood.

Your brain needlessly uses up glucose, which is your brain’s fuel. There’s no escape, and your thoughts are locked in. It’s as if your mind’s a prison cell. If this feeling sounds familiar to you, read this article. You’ll find a series of techniques and approaches that’ll help you find the escape route. Indeed, a continuous cycle of rumination only leads to anxiety and depression, so it’s best to break it as soon as possible.

A woman looking worried, needing to reduce rumination.

Reduce rumination: postponing your worry

This is a classic cognitive-behavioral therapeutic strategy. However, it’s only a temporary measure. But you can use it until you learn relaxation and restructuring skills to manage your worry. This is the procedure:

  • Identify worries and concerns that are unnecessary and unpleasant and are affecting your daily life.
  • Choose a period of about 15 – 30 minutes to worry when you have nothing else to do. Make sure you don’t do this just before bed.
  • If you notice you’re worrying, put off that worry to the period you’ve earmarked for it.
  • Use the worrying time to develop strategies for dealing with it.
  • This exercise will help you realize that a lot of the things that are worrying you aren’t urgent. Furthermore, it’ll allow you to understand how they’re interfering in your present moment. This, in turn, creates more worry, as you’re prevented from doing what you’re meant to be doing at that particular time. A common way out might be to act on impulse, but this often has disastrous consequences.

Reduce rumination: worry is futile

This exercise shows you that only a small amount of the negative things you expect to happen actually do happen. Most of your worries and problems don’t come to fruition at the end of the day. They either resolve themselves or you find a way to solve them when they actually do appear.

Take the following steps and you’ll see how futile worrying actually is:

  • Write down what you were worrying about last week.
  • Indicate the extent of your worry and time spent on what might happen. Write down the worst results that actually happened and those that didn’t.
  • Work out whether your worry was directed towards the problem’s solution or the fear of your inability to deal with it.
  • Finally, specify whether the problems you faced were linked to the worry or tension surrounding them. This could be in the form of insomnia, headaches, muscle tension, etc. On the other hand, did they relate more to real obstacles such as last-minute breakdowns, your inability to take public transport, robberies, etc.?

You’ll find that your results show that what’s really limiting and exhausting you is your anticipation of what might happen and your imagined inability to deal with it. Worry is a dysfunctional way of dealing with problems. You tend to believe that, if you’re busy worrying, you’re actually solving your problems.

Reduce rumination: decatastrophizing

Decatastrophizing doesn’t mean viewing a negative event as neutral or unimportant. For example, if you lose your job, you might be very upset. But by decatastrophizing, you critically evaluate the real impact of the situation and its possible solutions.

  • Write down your concerns and the dreaded results if they should happen.
  • Write down what’s really happened. Add whether the results have been better or worse than you expected (worse, not so bad, a bit better, quite a lot better, or much better). Then, write down how you’ve coped with the results.
  • Finally, to make it easier for you to remember this information, review it every afternoon and relive it through your imagination. This seems to be much more effective than just talking about it.

Don’t focus your attention on negative thoughts. And don’t fill your head with imagined consequences of events (for example, a heart attack). Instead, try to adopt a balanced view of what’s happened. You might not have a job any longer, but you can spend more time with your family. Furthermore, you can retrain and get a better job. Make the best of a bad situation.

Exposure and response prevention

In order to get used to certain situations, you can start by exposing yourself to worry by using your imagination. However, you should carry this out in the presence of a trained therapist. This is because it isn’t necessarily an advisable technique in dealing with all problems. For example, grieving after a loss.

The object of this exercise is for you to get used to the images that make you anxious. Consequently, you become able to tolerate the emotion without the need to carry out safety behaviors in order to deal with it. These safety behaviors might include calling a relative before making decisions. Or checking your email repeatedly to see if you received a response. Or even taking an anti-anxiety medication at the slightest feeling of alarm or worry.

Exposure and response exercise

  • Create a detailed picture. Include situations and start with those that make you the least anxious.
  • Think of the first worrying image and conjure up the most disastrous consequence that could result from it.
  • Once you’ve completed the previous step, re-conjure the image in your head for at least 25 – 30 minutes. Describe what you’re seeing and feeling out loud.
  • During the exposure, don’t apply any coping strategies like cognitive restructuring or relaxation techniques. Furthermore, don’t try to distract yourself or escape from the image. You also mustn’t carry out any safety behaviors, like those mentioned earlier.
  • Towards the end of the exposure, imagine what things will be like a bit later (one day, one month, six months, one to two years) in order to encourage the process of decatastrophizing.
  • Once the exposure time is over, you’ll presumably have accustomed yourself to the anxiety. Now think of as many alternatives as you can to the worst consequence you expected.
  • When the exposure generates no more than a slight level of anxiety, despite you imagining worst-case scenarios, move on to your next area of worry.
A woman looking thoughtful.

Positive rumination

This is ruminating but with positive thoughts. It works like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The idea is for you to ruminate on positive thoughts in the same way as you did with the negative ones. This way, you prevent negative thoughts from entering your mind.

  • You make the same kinds of unrealistic predictions as you did with the negative thoughts.
  • At the same time, if negative thoughts or feelings interfere you ask the therapist to “deal with them” for a while until your thoughts have stabilized.
  • Images, sensations, and events will come into play, some of which will be very positive and not entirely realistic. This might concern the way in which they’re portrayed. For example, triumph, appreciation, etc.
  • When you’ve experienced a rumination that’s as intense as those of your worrying ones, the exercise is finished. Now’s the time for you to reflect upon the emotions you felt.

You probably now understand that you shouldn’t worry incessantly. Furthermore, it certainly isn’t a good way to solve problems. You’ll always have certain fixed ideas that are based on your beliefs and expectations. But they don’t need to be an obstacle for you in dealing with your other thoughts.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bandura, A. (1987). Pensamiento y acción: fundamentos sociales. Barcelona: Martínez Roca (Orig. 1986). 

  • Borkovec, T.D., Ray, W.J., y Stöber, J. (1998). Worry: A cognitive phenomenon intimately linked to affective, physiological, and interpersonal processes. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 22, 561-576.

  • Carter, W.R., Johnson, M., y Borkovec, T.D. (1986). Worry: An electrocortical analysis. Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy, 8, 193-204.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.