How to Stop Ruminating – The New York Times

Divert your attention. One of the most effective things you can do when your thoughts are spiraling out of control is to distract yourself, Dr. Siegel said. In one study published in 2011, for instance, researchers found that when socially anxious college students redirected their attention by using word-rearranging exercises shortly after giving a three-minute speech, they felt more positive about how their presentation went than those who performed a guided negative rumination session. In another study from 2008, 60 college students were asked to remember events in their lives when they had felt lonely, sad, rejected or hurt. Then they were told to spend eight minutes either ruminating, focusing on mindfulness prompts or distracting themselves with random thoughts and observations. Rumination prolonged negative moods, while distraction mitigated them. Mindfulness neither helped nor worsened their moods.

“Listening to music and focusing intently on the words or tune” can also help break you out of your thoughts — at least temporarily, Dr. Marks said. Other diversion tactics like talking with a friend, playing a game or exercising can also help.

Avoid your triggers. If watching a Hallmark movie brings up overwhelming memories of the loss of a family member, or if scrolling through social media leads to an unhealthy fixation on your appearance, avoiding those triggers can help interrupt such thoughts, said Jodie Louise Russell, a doctoral student who studies the philosophy of rumination in depression and anxiety at the University of Edinburgh. Use the “mute,” “block,” “unfollow” or “not interested” functions on social media liberally, or avoid the internet or certain types of media altogether if you find that they’re doing more harm than good.

Set a worry timer. When you’re ruminating, it’s possible to get stuck in a negative feedback loop where you feel bad about ruminating, which itself can lead to more rumination and deepened feelings of distress. Setting aside 10 to 30 minutes of dedicated “worry or rumination time” periodically can help relieve that pressure. Even the simple act of giving yourself permission to ruminate can help you to feel more relaxed, Dr. Siegel said.

Adding an activity like writing in your journal can also be cathartic and help to clarify and defuse your emotions, Dr. Marks said.

Immerse yourself in the moment. Sometimes people ruminate about things that happened in the past or that will happen in the future, and which have no immediate solutions. To get yourself out of that unproductive thought pattern, Dr. Marks said, take a moment to notice everything that is happening around you, such as: “What do you see in front of you? What’s the temperature in the room? Is there anything that you can smell in the air? Take whatever experience you’re in and completely immerse yourself.”

While the strategies above may be helpful for some people, those who ruminate and also have certain mental illnesses (such as severe OCD) will need more regimented intervention, some experts said. If your rumination gets to a near-constant state, it would be unrealistic for you to try to be distracted or mindful all the time, Dr. Greenberg said — like constantly trying to swat at a fly or hold a balloon underwater.

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