We can all get stuck in a perpetual loop of rumination at times, replaying over and over in our minds some negative event or perceived slight. Ruminating is a form of processing thoughts and emotions, and definitely has its purpose on occasion. In fact, like wearing invisible blinders, we keep our attention focused intently on a certain problem we are trying to solve as if nothing else in the world matters until the issue is resolved.
It’s when we obsessively remain in the never-ending replay mode, however, that this type of repetitive thinking can cause some dysfunction. The continuous cycle of negative thinking creates a neurological rut, where, like a tire in the mud, the distorted thoughts get stuck and seem to dig a deeper hole in your mental state. The mulling over of a specific issue or problem is not only exhausting but is almost always a waste of time that can ultimately have an adverse effect on mental health. In particular, it’s when the ruminating involves negative self-talk, like thoughts of worthlessness or inadequacy, that the thought patterns might be correlated to depression and anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Shifting Negative Thought Patterns
CBT is an evidence-based short-term psychotherapy approach that can guide the individual toward reframing the troubling negative thought patterns. The therapist helps them to recognize how recurring negative thoughts or constant worry lead to depressive episodes that can result in a loss of confidence or even impairment in daily functioning.
CBT teaches the individual thought-stopping skills that interrupt the rumination cycle. CBT helps them to identify the negative thoughts, to take charge over them, and then shift to more positive, productive alternative thoughts. To be truly effective, however, CBT should be accompanied by other thought-switching and thought-stopping efforts.
Using Thought Switching/Stopping Techniques in Daily Life
Neuroscience has made inroads in providing a better understanding about the brain’s role in rumination. Recent clinical data show neural network connectivity between a specific area of the prefrontal cortex and the default mode network can contribute to the repetitive negative thinking that may lead to depression. Breaking that connection by decoupling the two through thought switching or thought-stopping actions can help reduce ruminating thereby improving mental functioning and mood.
In addition to the thought switching CBT skills, other techniques that help reduce rumination might include:
- Physical movement. Engaging in dynamic proprioceptive activities, such as walking, yoga, rock climbing, or tai chi, can help distract the individual from the repetitive thoughts.
- Meditation. Practicing mindfulness helps recognize the recurrent thoughts and to draw attention back to the present moment, thus keeping the individual accountable and in control of their thought patterns and emotional state.
- Soothe your soul. Listening to music or engaging in an enjoyable activity that interrupts the negative thoughts can be soothing and even elicit happy memories.
- Find balance. Having a conversation with family members or friends who can remind the individual of times they have overcome challenges and succeeded can help them shift their perspective and break the rumination process.
- Write it down. Creating a thought-stopping journal where negative thoughts can be written down and actively challenged. The negative thoughts lose power once they are on paper and are then open to dissection.
- Be proactive. Avoiding known triggers that spark the negative thoughts. Learning ways to avoid or better manage the triggering situation is empowering.
Allowing a non-stop string of negative thoughts to dominate your headspace is detrimental to overall mental wellness. A continual stream of negative self-talk can often fuel a depressive episode or increase anxiety. For this reason, acquiring coping techniques that can assist the individual in stopping and switching the repetitive negative thoughts toward positive, constructive thinking is essential for protecting mental health.
Alliance Experiential Provides Thought-Stopping Strategies for Managing Rumination
Blake Ruble, LPC, NCC, is the founder of Alliance Experiential, a movement-based mental health therapeutic approach serving the greater Denver metropolitan area. In addition to his role as an experiential therapist, Blake also holds a CMHIMP certification for holistic and integrative treatment that complements therapy. For more information about the program, please reach out to Alliance Experiential today at (720) 990-5033.
By Blake Ruble, Alliance Experiential