We’ve all heard how bad it is to ruminate — that is, to chew on something troubling, turning it over and over in your mind.
Doing this makes you feel worse instead of better, so according to traditional wisdom, you’re supposed to watch your thoughts.
You’re supposed to just STOP if you find yourself ruminating.
But no one tells you how.
Feels So Bad It’s Good
The reason no one tells you how you’re supposed to stop ruminating is because it’s not clear how to do it besides simply using willpower.
As Bob Newhart advised a client in the famous therapist sketch, “Just stop it.” Obviously, it’s not that easy.
In order to make it stop, you have to understand why you’re ruminating in the first place.
We already know you’re not an idiot who wants to make yourself suffer for some unknown reason (only intelligent, thoughtful people read this blog after all).
If you had a choice, you wouldn’t choose to ruminate on things that trouble you.
Many people believe they’ll feel better if they can just stop ruminating. But the reality is — are you ready for this? — It’s the bad feelings that cause the rumination, not the other way around.
Ruminating is unnecessary when we feel good about ourselves and our lives. When things go south, we use rumination to feel in control again, to feel better.
That’s why it’s so hard to stop. Do you really want to yank a massage therapist off your back when you have sore muscles? Ruminating is like trying to massage away the bad feelings by thinking about them.
What Is Rumination?
When you ruminate (popularly known as “obsessing”), your mind is trying to figure out why you feel the way you do and how you can feel better. “What exactly is bothering me, and how can I get a handle on it?”
Your thoughts are running around looking for answers to the puzzle, trying to soothe emotion with intellect.
The key to stopping rumination is to focus on where the answers lie: in your feelings.
Not too long ago, I found myself obsessing about a situation that was beyond my control. I won’t bore you with the details, mainly because I can’t remember them (thank you, perimenopause).
At a certain point I asked myself, “What am I feeling?” And once I was able to answer that question, I calmed right down. I was feeling scared, and that’s why my mind was running fast and going nowhere like a perimenopausal hamster in a wheel.
I said to myself, “I’m scared and worried about this.” And acknowledging my feelings calmed me down.
Notice the situation didn’t change, but I was able to let go of ruminating when I simply focused on my feelings.
My rumination was a smokescreen. The emotions were running the whole show from behind the scenes.
When you find yourself obsessing about something, ask yourself this:
I know what I’m thinking, but what am I feeling?
This list of feeling words can help. Of the many lists you can find on the Web, this is one that’s not too overwhelming or confusing.
I’m always amazed at how calming it is just to feel what I’m feeling, and give it a name. My mind can relax when it can see what it’s running from.
That’s how I stop rumination in its tracks. Check out my book, Constructive Wallowing, if you want more details about how to do this.
What about you? Do you have something that works for you?