Stop Worry & Rumination – control worry and feel calmer.

Written by Hilary Dixon

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, worrying about what might happen or might NOT happen. 

The opposite of this is past focussed worrying (rumination), where you keep returning to the worry in what feels like an automatic process, something that just keeps happening. Perhaps you go over past conversations or something you did or didn’t do? Or, 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. 

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 and, worse still, if the information on that 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 you will benefit HUGELY from learning some techniques to stop worry and release yourself from this past focussed, circular thinking pattern. By adopting some techniques that interrupt the rumination cycle you will find your anxiety reduces and you will be far more productive with your time.

Download a sheet here that will help you on your way to overcoming rumination and worry. I use this with my clients which helps them make a conscious decision to detach from it.


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”, pinch the skin on the back of your hand, and distract yourself away from this habitual pattern of thinking by asking yourself some questions. Here are some questions that will help you to stop ruminating. 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.

Name the days of the week backwards. 

Name 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?

Try the technique above to un-hook yourself from the rumination. Success comes from interrupting the habitual cycle and so you can be more productive instead of wasting time thinking on something that is most likely beyond your control.  

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.

Listen to a sample below:
Therapy Tonic Taster

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! 

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