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Rumination: How to Stop Ruminating [Complete Guide]

Updated 18 May 2023
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Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

Rumination Definition

What is Rumination/Ruminative Thinking?

Rumination refers to repetitive thinking or dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings, the things that cause them, and what they can lead to.

Rumination anchors your focus on the negative aspects of your life. Ruminative thinking can take a toll on your mental health and well-being and worsen mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

When a person ruminates, it can be tough to get out of a negative thought cycle, and very easy to fall is a low mood and depressive state.

Learning to interrupt ruminative thinking and find healthy coping mechanisms can help a person improve their mental well-being and live more presently.


How Do I Know If I Have a Rumination Disorder?

It is important to recognize that rumination and rumination disorder are different.

Rumination disorder is an eating disorder that involves frequent regurgitation of food. By contrast, ruminating is a cycle of thinking that can worsen symptoms of mental health disorders.


What Is Rumination a Symptom Of?

Ruminating as a type of thinking is most commonly a symptom of anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with depressive disorders.


Is Rumination a Mental Illness?

Rumination itself is not a mental illness. However, it is commonly a symptom of numerous mental health conditions.

If you find yourself experiencing ruminating thoughts frequently, you should talk to a professional, like your healthcare provider, a professional in the psychiatry field, or a mental health professional, who can help you identify any underlying problems and get any medical advice you may need.

Types of Rumination

What Are the Four Types of Ruminative Thinking?

The four types of rumination include:

  1. Brooding
    This type of rumination is described as passive thinking about one’s mood or current situation. Brooding is often associated with adolescents, but it can happen at any age. With brooding, the individual is often looking at themselves in a negative way and thinking about the things they have done wrong.
  2. Reflection
    Compared to brooding, reflection is different in that it is an intentional inward examination of why a person feels the way they do. Rumination is often used as a way for individuals to grasp why things are how they are and try to find a solution to their problems.
  3. Intrusive
    Intrusive rumination involves unintentional and often uncontrollable thoughts related to a stressful event. With intrusive rumination, no matter how much a person wants to stop thinking about a specific event, it can feel very difficult to do so.
  4. Deliberate Rumination
    With deliberate rumination, a person is actively thinking about a situation so that they can understand it from every side. The individual may be trying to “get to the bottom of it” and try to make sense of everything that is happening so that they can feel that they have come to a conclusion.
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Rumination Examples

What Are Examples of Rumination?

Ruminating thoughts aren’t the same for everyone and can look very different from person to person.

What you ruminate about may be the opposite of what another person ruminates about.

For one person, it may mean constantly replaying a conversation you had with someone in your head. Possibly, there was conflict, or the person said hurtful things.

These words may constantly replay in your head because you are trying to understand why these things were said or what you think you did wrong.

Another person may ruminate about an upcoming event. They may be feeling anxious about going, may not want to see someone that will be there, or could be trying to make sure everything is perfect and goes the way they want it to.

Causes of Rumination

Why Do I Keep Replaying Scenarios in My Head?

You replay scenarios in your head for many different reasons, even if you don’t want to.

As a human, it is not abnormal to try to understand why something happened the way it did or understand why you are feeling the way you do.

By replaying scenarios in your head, you are trying to grasp where things may have gone wrong or what you can do in the future to prevent it from happening again.

You may be replaying scenarios in your head repetitively as a way to cope.

It may offer temporary relief to anxiety or depression because you feel that the more you understand it, the better you can change it in the future.

However, ruminating thoughts often lead to unhealthy cycles that worsen your mental health.

Replaying scenarios and negative events in your head, over and over again, can keep you stuck in a harmful state of mind, whether you want to be or not.


What Causes Ruminating Thoughts?

Ruminating thoughts can come from a number of different things, including:

What Causes a Person to Ruminate?

People often ruminate because they are trying to make sense of something that happened to them.

They believe that replaying the situation over and over again in their head may give them some kind of clarity and answer to their problem when really, it can do the opposite.

Other common causes of ruminating thoughts are stressful and traumatic events.

A person’s experiences can cause a lot of difficult feelings and emotions that are difficult to process.

Rumination may be a person’s way of coping with these negative emotions because they are trying to figure out ways to avoid the same thing happening in the future, but these thought processes only become more harmful over time.

Lastly, rumination is commonly a symptom of mental health illnesses like anxiety and depression. Depressive rumination can often prolong depressive symptoms and episodes of sadness.

If you are experiencing ruminating thoughts, reach out for professional support to help determine if there may be any underlying causes.


What Triggers Rumination?

Everybody’s triggers are different.

Some people may experience rumination from common and daily stressors. For others, it may be a person, place, or thing that may remind stressful or traumatic experiences.

It is important to learn your triggers so that you can learn ways to cope with them effectively.

Effects of Rumination

What are the Effects of Rumination?

Some of the most common effects of rumination can include:

  • Worsened mental health conditions
  • Negative mood
  • Increased risk of harmful behaviors, such as substance abuse, poor eating habits
  • Risk of high blood pressure
  • Inadequate sleep


What Are The Long-term Effects Of Ruminative Thinking?

Rumination can have long-term effects on both your physical and mental health.

Not only can rumination cause distress and a negative downward spiral of thinking, but it can also have lasting effects on your body and mind.

Rumination can contribute to and worsen mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety.

It can also affect a person’s eating habits, which can lead to malnutrition or weight changes.

Rumination can also affect a person’s home or school life. It can make life very difficult to perform well as your mind is consumed with never-ending negative thoughts.


What Happens To Your Brain When You Ruminate?

According to Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, rumination likely involves a range of processes that are associated with attention, self-referential processing, and memory recalling.

How Our Brain Processes Rumination

Can Ruminating Thoughts Lead to Depression?

Ruminating thoughts can contribute to and worsen depression.

Research shows that ruminative thinking can lead to the onset of depressive disorder.

Rumination is considered to be a maladaptive coping mechanism that involves repetitive and unproductive analysis of a person’s negative emotional state, which worsens an already low mood.

Individuals who ruminate are fixated on these negative thoughts and are preoccupied with problem-solving.


Can Ruminating Thoughts Lead to Other Mental Illnesses?

Ruminating thoughts can lead to other mental illnesses other than depression, including:

How To Stop Ruminating Infographic

Dangers of Rumination

Is Rumination Always a Bad Thing?

Rumination most often involves repetitive negative thinking, which can be harmful to your health and well-being.

While rumination is almost always negative, some people discuss the idea of positive rumination, where one focuses on thoughts that remind them of positive emotions.


Can Ruminating Thoughts Be Dangerous?

Ruminating thoughts can become dangerous and put someone in a very bad and negative state of mind.

It can put a person at risk of self-harming behaviors or suicidal thoughts.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, or if you are in danger, call 911.

Rumination OCD

What is Obsessive Rumination Disorder?

When it comes to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), rumination involves excessive time thinking or worrying about specific thoughts or actions.

This repetitiveness can cause high amounts of distress to a person and can make it very hard to function daily.


What is the Difference Between OCD and Rumination?

OCD and rumination are not the same exact thing. However, they do share some similarities.

One of the main differences between the two is that OCD involves intrusive and unwanted obsessions. With rumination, the thoughts can be self-perpetuating and can almost seem interesting to a person because they are trying to gain a better understanding of an experience.


What Does OCD Rumination Feel Like?

OCD rumination can feel very stressful, and it can be hard to control your thoughts or find calmness because you get stuck in a loop of negative, repetitive thoughts.

For someone experiencing OCD rumination, it can feel like what seems like a never-ending search for an answer.

How Do You Stop OCD Rumination?

Some ways to help stop the cycle of OCD rumination can include:

  • Journaling or writing
    Writing down your thoughts can help you process them and let them out to help you find relief and peace rather than replaying the thoughts in your head.
  • Distracting yourself
    If you catch yourself starting to ruminate, break your thought cycle. Find something to do, such as talking to a loved one, listening to music, cleaning, or anything else that may take your mind away from the repetitive thought.
  • Build your confidence and self-esteem
    Ruminating thoughts can affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life, and this negative thinking can take a toll on the way a person perceives themselves and their abilities. By building your self-esteem, you can learn to replace those negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Meditate and practice mindfulness
    Using relaxation techniques like meditation can help a person find relief from stress and calmness in both their body and mind. Practicing mindfulness can help a person focus on the present moment instead of worrying about the past or the future.
4 Ways To Stop OCD Rumination

Why Is Rumination Bad With OCD?

Rumination and OCD can cause distress and worsen the symptoms of OCD.

It can lead to a variety of intrusive thoughts that repeat themselves and lead a person into a negative mental state that can be very difficult to cope with.

Fortunately, support and therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful in teaching a person healthy coping strategies for rumination and OCD.

Rumination Anxiety

Is Rumination a Form of Anxiety?

Rumination is a symptom that can occur from anxiety.

Additionally, rumination can lead to and worsen anxiety disorders.

A person with anxiety experiences persistent worry that affects their daily life. With rumination, a person with anxiety will experience these repetitive thoughts and worries in their head over and over again.

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Is it Anxiety? Find Out Now

How Do I Stop Rumination Anxiety?

When a person experiences rumination anxiety, it can be tough to control worrying thoughts.

Some ways to stop rumination anxiety is by taking a breath and trying to be present in each moment. Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques can help you find relief from anxiousness and worrying thoughts.

Another way to stop rumination anxiety is by finding ways to distract yourself and interrupt worrying thoughts. This may include things like calling a friend, doing things around the house, or possibly listening to music or watching a video.

If you feel that you are experiencing ruminating thoughts and anxiety, it can be helpful to consult with a healthcare professional and consider starting therapy.

Going to therapy can help you address any underlying problems that may be contributing to ruminating thoughts and also help you learn how to identify, cope and restructure negative thought processes.

How To Stop Ruminating

How To Stop Ruminating Infographic

What Is the Best Medication for Ruminating Thoughts?

Treatment for rumination most commonly involves a form of psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication.

The most common medication for rumination can include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are often used to treat depression.


How Do You Stop Ruminating?

There are different ways to stop ruminating and disrupt the negative loop of thoughts.

Some ways to stop ruminating can include:

  • Distracting yourself and diverting your attention to something else
    Engaging in activities that you enjoy can help to distract you from ruminating thoughts. Activities like exercise, reading, or spending time with friends can help to shift your focus away from negative thoughts.
  • Learn your triggers and how to cope with them
    To learn your triggers and cope with them, it’s important to first identify what situations or thoughts tend to trigger your ruminating thoughts. This can be done through self-reflection, therapy, or even journaling. Once you have a clear understanding of your triggers, you can start to develop coping mechanisms to help manage them.
  • Journal and write down your feelings
    Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you to gain perspective and process your emotions. This can also help you to identify patterns in your thinking that contribute to rumination.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation
    Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, you can help to interrupt ruminating thoughts and focus on the here and now.
  • Going to therapy
    A therapist can help you explore the underlying causes of your rumination and provide you with tools to manage it. Through therapy, you can learn how to recognize negative thinking patterns and develop more positive thought patterns. Additionally, therapy can provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to process and work through difficult emotions that may be contributing to your rumination.
Coping Skills For Ruminating Thoughts

Can Antidepressants Stop Rumination?

Some antidepressants may be helpful in stopping rumination. However, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider to help decide what the safest and most effective treatment approach is for you.


What Is the Best Therapy for Rumination?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common and effective therapy for rumination and is also used to treat a variety of different mental health disorders and substance use disorders.

Rumination-focused cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person with ruminating thoughts learn how to identify negative thoughts and feelings and learn how to interrupt them and change them.


You have questions. We have answers.

Our goal is to provide the most helpful information. Please reach out to us if you have any additional questions. We are here to help in any way we can.

“Ponder” and “contemplate” hold similar meanings to ruminate.

One thing that these three words have in common is that they all refer to a consideration or examination that is done with close attention and deliberately.

A person may ruminate to cope with stress and difficult feelings or events.

When a person meditates, they are often trying to make sense of a negative experience, searching for answers, or possibly trying to figure out where they went wrong so they can avoid it in the future.

However, rumination is often an unhealthy coping mechanism that only ends up making matters worse and creating a cycle of negativity and stress.

Rumination can be a symptom of attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

If a person has ADHD, it can be tough to stop the worrisome thoughts that are causing stress and affecting their daily life.

ADHD rumination can have a big impact on your everyday life and your overall health and well-being.

OCD rumination is similar in the way that the individual gets stuck in a negative loop of worrying or stressful thoughts.

Rumination can come from both ADHD and anxiety.

A person diagnosed with ADHD or anxiety may have the tendency to ruminate. Often about their worries or obsessive thinking.

A person who has experienced trauma may ruminate and have a hard time controlling their thoughts around their traumatic experiences.

As much as they want to forget or stop thinking about it, they may replay the experience in their head, trying to make sense of it all or as a way to process difficult emotions.

The term neurosis is no longer used today because it was used to describe a mechanism rather than an observable behavior.

Having a neurotic personality means being disposed toward emotional instability, self-consciousness, and negative emotions.

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Rumination can be linked with negative effects on one’s mental health and overall well-being. Sandstone Care is here to support teens and young adults with mental health and substance use disorders.