Ever wonder why your anxious and obsessive thinking keeps playing like a feedback loop in your head? Do you want to break the cycle but don’t know how? Do you often feel like it’s hard to be in the present moment? Many people have heard of the term ‘ruminating’ or overthinking and understand that it is generally not helpful; however, most people aren’t aware that ruminating actually fuels anxiety and is considered a mental compulsion. Even more common, most people don’t know how to stop ruminating and overthinking.
Ruminating is a common mental compulsion that sufferers of anxiety, OCD and eating disorders find themselves occupied with many hours of the day. Whether you are ruminating about a work project, a social interaction or the amount of food you ate today-it’s all ruminating and it all reinforces the anxiety cycle.
When we ruminate, we are trying to problem solve a typically unanswerable question. The question usually starts with “what if.” And because these are usually about things that resemble uncertainty, there is no way to know for sure. Thus, there is no end to the obsessive thoughts. Rumination makes us temporarily feel like we are in control of this uncertainty. If we can just figure it out- we won’t have to deal with the fear of the unknown, right? WRONG! Everything in life is uncertain. Some things, more than others. There is no way to know for SURE if the sun will come up tomorrow, we just take our best guess and trust in that.
So instead of ruminating and spiking your anxiety, I help my clients tolerate and embrace uncertainty. It’s the only option, anyways. We only ever have our best guess and we must learn to take peace in that.
A few tips when you catch yourself ruminating or trying to figure out an unanswerable question:
Use mindfulness to separate from the rumination: “Oh, I notice I am ruminating about something I cannot answer right now.”
Try a non engagement response to the rumination: “Maybe, maybe not, nothing is for certain.” “It’s not my job to figure that out.” “I can’t predict the future. Anything is possible.” “That would suck, but I would handle it.”
Redirect your attention back to the present moment and engage with your 5 senses. Ruminating takes us out of the present and into our heads. Go back to what you were doing before you started ruminating: playing with your dog, working, talking to a friend, watching a TV show, etc.
You might have to practice these skills over and over before it becomes more natural. That’s okay! By practicing these skills you are creating a new neural pathway and eventually it will get easier. In the meantime: practice, practice, practice and give yourself tons of compassion! Book a consult today to get help with this process.
By: Allyson Ford, MA, LPCC