When “Over Thinking” is Ruminating and Why it Should be Taken Seriously

Most of us worry from time to time about things like money, our loved ones, and what the future may bring. This sort of thinking is a normal part of being human. However, dwelling on an issue or even multiple issues to the point that it impacts your quality of life could mean that your “over thinking” is actually rumination which can be a sign of depression and anxiety. Prolonged and intense periods of rumination can impact your mood and ability to cope.

What is ruminating?

Ruminating is thinking about something for long periods and/or dwelling on a problem many times a day. Unlike problem-solving which leads to a decision, ruminating rarely, if ever, results in resolution. More often, the ruminator works themselves up by replaying the issue, incident, or “what if” over and over in their mind without coming to a conclusion and putting the matter to rest. Ruminating can hold the mind captive and preoccupied for periods ranging from a few hours to months.

Common signs of ruminating:

  • Going over and over in your mind past events or situations
  • Second-guessing your choices, even if you felt certain at the time you made them
  • Replaying your mistakes — large and small — in your mind
  • Being so absorbed with past regrets or fear about the future that you cannot enjoy the present
  • Re-living upsetting conversations or situations and wishing you had said or done things differently

When ruminating and worrying persist for weeks on end, you may benefit from medical and psychological support. Extended periods of ruminating suggest depression and anxiety. Both can leave people feeling out of control and powerless with a sense of dread about anything and everything.

How to tell if you are experiencing anxiety or depression. Common symptoms include all the above and more:

  • Ruminating
  • Imagining worst-case scenarios to the extent that they seem inevitable
  • Fretting about things that you cannot control, improve, or change
  • Expecting the worst
  • Being uncomfortable around people due to the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing
  • Feeling like you have nothing of value to say and that you will appear stupid
  • Finding yourself avoiding situations that used to be comfortable
  • Frequently or always feeling sad
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite — with associated weight gain or loss
  • Poor concentration
  • Nervousness/irritability
  • Moodiness
  • Lack of interest and low level of motivation

How to cope with ruminating:

If you find yourself in ruminating mode, develop your ability to redirect your thoughts by using some of these techniques:

  • Be mindful of the quality of your thoughts as ruminating can sneak up on you. If you find yourself dwelling on something you cannot change, or are worrying about  “what ifs”, you can stop this thought pattern by turning your thoughts to something else.  Free your mind and focus your thoughts on something pleasant such as your last vacation or a special time with a loved one.  This thought swapping takes practice, but eventually, it can come easily.
  • Exercise, dance, sing, reach out to a friend, or watch a comedy show to redirect your thoughts.
  • If you are stuck over thinking a decision you must make, remind yourself that not all decisions are critical. Know what matters to you and decide how much time and analysis this particular choice warrants. Important decisions may seem overwhelming for an anxious person. Set yourself a deadline to make the decision, then make it, and let go.
  • If you are ruminating at bedtime, jot your thoughts down on paper. Once on paper, they can more easily be out of your head.
  • Consider activities that help with relaxation such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and listening to music. They can be very effective in calming the ruminating mind.

Left unaddressed, ruminating can be incapacitating. It can impact your mental and physical health, happiness, and your ability to be fully present in your relationships and at work.

If you need help dealing with this challenge, please contact us at 905.703.0003 for an appointment.