what is rumination and how do i manage it

What is rumination?

In today’s fast-paced world, the prevalence of anxiety and rumination has become a common challenge for many individuals. The constant barrage of stressors often leads to a spiral of negative thoughts that can significantly impact mental well-being. In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of anxiety and rumination, exploring effective strategies to break free from their grip and reclaim a sense of inner peace.

Rumination is the experience of repetitive thinking about negative things or events, and their respective antecedents and consequences. The continuous dwelling can lead to depression or anxiety (“Rumination…”, APA). Rumination can elicit sequelae of anxiety including self-doubt, low self-esteem, pessimistic cognitions, and an overactive nervous system (Managing rumination (Drake, 2022)).

It’s important to monitor your nervous system and implement behavioral strategies to reduce activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Sometimes forming logical thoughts to regulate emotions and sensations is challenging. Therefore, engaging in activities like taking a cold shower, firmly holding an ice cube, moving gently, and listening to music can all be ways to self-regulate without allowing rumination and anxiety to dominate. Below is a comprehensive set of strategies to identify and confront the obsessive or repetitive thinking that characterizes rumination.

How to identify and understand the root causes of rumination:

  • Stay grounded in the present. Rumination might be an attempt to undo or rewrite history in favorable ways. Sometimes, perpetual negative thinking can inaccurately skew how you develop and interpret narratives about events or situations. Grounding can help you stay in the present, access self-compassion, consider positive outcomes, and learn to distance current thoughts from past thoughts.
  • Give your rumination thoughts a name or label. Sometimes creating a separate entity of rumination thoughts and characterizing it with a size, shape, color, and texture can place the thoughts outside our mind. It helps to remember that we are not our negative thoughts and we have the power to simply notice them or ignore them. It is believed that this technique follows the adage “where your attention goes, your mind will follow.”
  • Be curious and identify the underlying reason for your rumination. Are you ruminating because you’re a perfectionist? Do you struggle with depression and anxiety? The goal isn’t merely to understand why some event or situation provoked rumination but what is it about your underlying experience that puts you at risk for ruminating in response to that event or situation.
  • Normalize feeling your feelings. Rumination can prevent you from actually acknowledging and processing uncomfortable feelings. Letting these thoughts or emotions pass without processing them enables future episodes of rumination and stagnation.
  • Differentiate what you can and cannot control. When we face uncertain or uncontrollable situations, our mind can exert control by continuously reviewing the event or negative thought. If you can identify a proactive way to control a situation through action, then do it. Otherwise, you must choose to not dwell over uncontrollable situations since the outcome will be the same regardless of how much you think about it.

break the cycle of rumination

Concrete steps to break the cycle of rumination:

  1. Practice acceptance of how you feel and reframe situations to advance a sense of safety. Instead of asking why you feel the way you do, consider asking what questions. Some examples include: What are my choices right now? What tools do I have available? What people, places, or things will help me feel safer in this moment?
  2. Practice mindfulness to lower stress levels, regulate emotions, and improve mental focus. Deep breathing exercises and engaging your five senses in a grounding exercise can all relieve stress in the moment. Additional activities include journaling, meditation, and yoga.
  3. Create a habit of verbalizing positive affirmations or mantras, particularly when you notice yourself stuck ruminating. This can shape a positive mindset.
  4. Take action when appropriate and safe to do so. Sometimes inaction can yield more rumination. Break down your action-items into small chunks. Organize your ideas on a list and gradually build tangible steps towards achievement. Refrain from all-or-nothing thinking when making progress towards goal-completion.
  5. Place your focus and attention on your body by exercising, walking, engaging in a pleasurable hobby, organizing, listening to music, or spending time in nature. This not only allows the body to unwind but it can potentially inhibit rumination from taking place as you will be distracted by other, more pleasant, environmental stimuli.
  6. Manage your stress to prevent anxiety and rumination from cultivating. Stress management promotes self-soothing and relaxation throughout the day. Such activities may include getting ample sleep and sticking to a sleep-wake time routine, eating healthy foods and at regular intervals throughout the day, exercising regularly, accessing social support from people and/or pets, getting sunlight, and engaging in relaxation techniques.

(Casablanca, 2022)

It is important to learn and practice self-regulation techniques to cope with everyday stressors that contribute to rumination and anxiety. Having a support network to help keep you accountable and to encourage you along the way when you slip into rumination. Sometimes, a simple piece of advice or validation can go a long way to shift thinking. Explore the option of finding a mental health therapist or program.

At PCI, we specialize in the treatment of different mental health issues using a holistic and multidimensional approach. Call PCI today to speak with a care coordinator that can guide you through starting treatment. We put you first.


1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (n.d.). Tips and strategies to manage anxiety and stress. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/tips

2. American Psychiatric Association. (2020, March 5). Rumination: A cycle of negative thinking. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/rumination-a-cycle-of-negative-thinking#:~:text=Rumination%20involves%20repetitive%20thinking%20or,and%20can%20worsen%20existing%20conditions

3. Casablanca, S.S. (2022, April 6). Do you know how to manage your emotions and why it matters?. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/health/emotional-regulation

4. Drake, K. (2022, May 20). How to stop ruminating: 9 tips. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/health/tips-to-help-stop-ruminating