The past has a lot of lessons to teach. Reflecting on our past mistakes, misfortunes or failures can be helpful to process emotions. When it comes to mental health, our attitude towards the past can influence our emotions and behaviors in the present and the future. It is healthy to give yourself some time to process past events and allow yourself to grieve. We can learn to avoid making the same mistakes, build better coping mechanisms, value forgiveness and/or memories.
However, when constant negative thoughts about our past or uncontrollable events start invading our mind, we are doing what is called rumination. Rumination diminishes our quality of life because we are unable to live in the present moment. A common phrase for this is to “cry over spilled milk,” which gives us no resolution.
Rumination can be identified when we find ourselves having the same thought over, and over again during a prolonged period of time. These thoughts are usually self-defeating and can feel restricting because they seem to have no solution or escape. People ruminate for many reasons, but the most common reasons include:
1. The belief that by ruminating we’ll find a solution or gain insight to a problem
2. Facing ongoing uncontrollable stressors. Overthinking can give us a perceived control over these factors.
Ruminating is detrimental to our mental health. It can intensify depression and anxiety, decrease self-esteem, impair our ability to process emotions, isolate us, and create unhealthy cycles.
TIPS TO STOP RUMINATING
When you notice you start having non-stop thoughts about the same situation or problem, find things to distract yourself and help you break the cycle.
– Watch a movie
– Call a friend
– Listen to music
– Do a puzzle
– Read a book
CHALLENGE YOUR THOUGHTS
Most of the time ruminating thoughts are irrational and catastrophic, making our problems seem bigger and more dramatic than they really are. The best way to solve these feelings is to question our thoughts and find your strengths. Ask yourself questions such as
What evidence do I have to support this thought?
Is this thought based on facts or feelings?
Will this matter a week from now, a year from now, or 5 years from now?
What would I tell a friend is this situation? or what would a friend say?
IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS
when you find yourself ruminating take note of what’s going on around you. Who is there, what time is it, what were you doing, etc. When you know what triggers negative thoughts you can work on avoiding or managing triggers.
USE A WORRY MAP
Saying “stop worrying” sounds a lot easier than it is to actually do it. A worry map takes you through different steps to manage worrying. If your worry has a solution do it now or make an action plan. If not, then write down on a list for later and let it go. Use this list for “worry postponement”, sometimes not being able to worry causes…worry! Schedule a time in your day for 15 minutes to worry all you want. However you can’t worry outside the scheduled time.
TALK TO A FRIEND OR COUNSELOR
Being able to express out loud our worries, feelings, etc. can be very therapeutic. Having someone validate our experiences and “get it all out” helps us process emotions in a healthy way and provides introspection.
“To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.” –Jack Kornfield