Socrates proclaimed that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Yet it’s doubtful he meant the kind of intense overthinking that can lead to anxiety, depression, and generalized stressed-out-ness. The ruminator replays his or her thoughts on an endless loop. They obsessively stew over bothersome events and think they’re “problem-solving.” Unfortunately, this kind of toxic thought cycle just leads to more of the same.
Sometimes, the thing we’re angsting over isn’t a real problem at all. We often mistake our interpretation of events as factual conclusions. If your boss didn’t give you the time of day when you said hello in the elevator, it’s probably not because she hates you. It could mean she has a lot on her plate and was lost in thought at that moment.
The next time you find yourself rehashing past incidents ad nauseam, try one of these hacks to mute your inner ruminator.
Put things in perspective.
Growing up, did your mom ever say to you, “This too shall pass?” Instead of dwelling on the negative, keep calm and remind yourself of everything that is going well in your life right now.
Whatever the situation is that’s sending your thoughts into overdrive, ask yourself whether it will still bother you a week from now. What about in five months? If you think it will just be a blip on the radar by then, give yourself permission to grant an early release to those negative thoughts.
Use a timer for a short session of sanctioned ruminating.
Quieting the ruminator’s thought train is no easy task. Instead of pretending whatever’s bothering you doesn’t exist, allow it a finite amount of time to occupy your mental bandwidth. Treat it like any other task that requires your attention and set a timer for five to ten minutes to wallow with abandon.
You can use that time worrying, analyzing, second-guessing yourself, etc. Write it down if that helps channel your feelings. Then, when the timer goes off, you are done and you need to tune out those toxic thoughts for now.
Lace up those kicks and get moving.
Exercise is a proven mood booster. For the ruminator, it’s also an effective technique to ward off overthinking. Any time you push yourself physically, you refocus your brain away from those nagging thoughts. You get into a flow state. You’ll be so busy monitoring your breathing, feeling the stretch of your muscles, maintaining a rhythm. But obsessive thinking?—ain’t nobody got time for that.
And if exercise isn’t your jam (no judgements), pick another activity that involves movement, like cleaning your apartment. Clear mind/sparkling toilet bowl= win-win.
It feels like we’re living in a 24/7 cycle of insanity these days and the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. But stop for a moment, and try to feel grateful for all of the big and little things life that make each day worth living. Family and friends. Rainbows and puppies. A perfect flat white. Let whatever brings a smile to your face lift you up and out of your overthinking funk.
Alas, you may not be able to extinguish your ruminating tendencies permanently. But following these tips can help loosen the death grip these destructive thought cycles have on your life.
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