Do you worry, ruminate or over-think things? The brain of my younger self certainly had a strong tendency to worry when the long holidays came around. As the boredom grew, my anxiety grew with it. I had a vast space to fill and my brain’s default mode became busy thinking about what happened in the past or what could happen in the future.
Brain scans show that when people don’t have a task to do, their brains most likely reflect or plan, hence the default mode.
If you tend to worry, your future based thoughts may start with “what if…” and you probably anticipate some negative outcome. These thoughts come from a place of fear and imagination by worrying about what might happen or what might NOT happen.
The opposite of this is past focussed worry (often called rumination) where you keep revisiting the past in what feels like an automatic process. Perhaps you go over past conversations or something you did or didn’t do or? Maybe you play different scenarios in your head hoping to gain clarity over a current situation? Your thoughts may start with “if only”, as you experience a feeling of regret, sadness, embarrassment, loss etc.
Relationships are good fuel for rumination. You may have come out of one and you keep revisiting the texts you sent each other, or thinking “if only I had done X then Y wouldn’t have happened”? The bottom line is that rumination feels rubbish and is exhausting.
Rumination -a circular thinking pattern
Compare it to refreshing the webpage on your computer over and over again and revisiting the content on that page. Nothing changes, you don’t gain any greater insight each time. Worse still, if the information on the page is defeatist it will inflate any feelings of sadness, shame, regret, low self-worth and other negative emotions. Don’t get me wrong, negative emotions should not be avoided! But it’s the habitual, revisiting of past events that needs to be addressed to reduce any anxiety you are experiencing. The more we ruminate or worry, the stronger the habit becomes and the harder it is to change. The less we ruminate or worry, the weaker the habit becomes.
If this is a behaviour you recognise then take a look below. By adopting a technique that succeeds at interrupting your circular thinking pattern you will find your anxiety reduces.
6 Great Techniques to Stop Worry and Rumination – give one a go !
1. Action something -rumination is about worry so rather than stay with the worry, DO something productive if that’s possible. For instance, if you are ruminating about not getting the job you applied for then perhaps you need to start searching for other opportunities online.
2. When you find yourself ruminating, say to yourself “STOP” and pinch the skin on the back of your hand, and ask yourself a question such as one from the list below. These questions will make you notice the moment of “NOW”, not the past or future. Feel free to add any of your own questions that you know will bring you back to the “here and now”.
What is your name?
Give some eye contact to something or someone near you.
If allowed, touch something or someone. Notice how it feels.
How old are you now?
Choose positive things to focus on.
What have you eaten today?
Name five blue or green things in the room.
Recall the days of the week backwards.
List the months of the year backwards.
Count backwards, from 100, 5 at a time.
What is your favourite meal, or place to visit… Imagine you are there.
Notice how present you are in this moment right now?
3. Distraction-Singing, exercise, playing an instrument, crochet, video game. Do something to unhook yourself from this unproductive behaviour.
4. Download a tonic from the Therapy Bubble Library.
5. Establish a “GO TO” or happy place in your mind, a place that you can go to which makes you feel calm, safe and comfortable. It can be real or imagined such as a beautiful view, a beach you visited on holiday, your garden or some other soothing scene. When you picture it in your mind, make it as real as you can by introducing the 5 senses. What can you see, smell, touch, hear and taste (ice cream!)? Notice how you feel when you do this.
From now on when you find yourself worrying or ruminating imagine a STOP sign and say “STOP” and then take yourself in your imagination to your “GO TO”/happy place.
6. Ask the part of you that worries to step back and the part of you that gets on with things to step forward. It may sound simple but it really does work in the majority of cases!
Try any of the techniques above to un-hook yourself from the habitual cycle of rumination. Success comes from interrupting the cycle so persevere as habits are not changed instantly. Also, this could be more than a habit so if you don’t succeed please do seek professional help.