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Turn off your thoughts

Getting off the rumination merry-go-round.

Article Author: Kyndal Rock

Article Date:

A woman sitting on a horse on a merry-go-round staring out into the distance.

Have you ever felt like you’re stuck on a merry-go-round in your own head, replaying every thought, action and memory over and over? By the time you get off the ride, you might feel suffocated by your own psyche. There’s a word for this: rumination.

Carousel of chaos

According to the OCD & Anxiety Center, rumination is defined as the act of engaging in a repetitive negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind. It may be distressing or difficult to stop.

“This can be ruminating about things that have happened in the past that made a person sad or angry,” said Karla Repper, PhD, a clinical psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health. “Oftentimes, these are interpersonal or traumatic situations that didn’t go well or things that are coming up in the future.”

Compulsive thoughts

Rumination can consume a lot of time and emotional energy, often leading to serious consequences on mental health. Since the obsession takes place within one’s mind, others often don't know when someone is suffering.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the repetitive and negative aspects of rumination may lead to depression or anxiety or worsen existing conditions.

“There’s evidence that rumination correlates with aspects of personality like perfectionism and neuroticism, and with those who are overly focused on relationships with others,” said Dr. Repper. “However, it can also be driven by anxiety in that it is something people do to have a sense of control over situations that have happened in the past or may occur in the future."

Focusing on situations that didn’t go as planned may lead to sadness or depression, especially if there’s no closure or resolution. When someone who is already experiencing depression starts ruminating, he or she is more likely to fixate on the negative in the past and begin interpreting the present more negatively, possibly leading to a hopeless outlook on the future.

“You come out of it feeling helpless, like you’ve not solved any problems,” said Dr. Repper. “Then, you realize you’ve spent all this time daydreaming about this bad situation and it leaves you feeling agitated.”

Exit the roundabout

Distraction is one of the best cures for rumination.

“If people realize they’re ruminating, they can put a plan in place that involves tasks to distract them from the thing they’re thinking about,” said Dr. Repper.

What works for some people may not work for others. You have to experiment to see what works best.

Examples include:

“Anything that kind of takes over your thoughts and gets your attention will help distract from rumination,” said Dr. Repper.

While distraction may alleviate the intrusive thoughts for a small period of time, it doesn’t guarantee they won’t resurface.

“If you find yourself experiencing a lot of negative emotions all the time and you can link it to this type of thinking, it’s important to seek professional advice to help change your patterns of thought and provide relief from rumination,” said Dr. Repper.

When you or a loved one is dealing with this style of negative thinking and it creates problems in your everyday tasks or life, it's important to seek medical advice from a trusted source. The mental health professionals at Baptist Behavioral Health are here for you. To find a provider, call 904.376.3800.

The OCD & Anxiety Center, American Psychiatric Association

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