Six Ways to Shift Overthinking and Rumination

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Ruminations involve over-thinking or obsessing about our feelings, life events, negative experiences, situations, or people. Ruminating thoughts are intrusive and overwhelming and often linked to adverse mental health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and so on. 

What Causes Ruminating Thoughts?

When you ruminate, you can’t stop thinking about a negative experience or emotions. Occasional ruminating thoughts are expected, as everyone contemplates now and then. You may excessively think about an upcoming stressful event such as medical intervention, important performance, sports competition, or a final exam. 

Nevertheless, there is a difference between thinking about problems that can be solved and ruminations about the things you have no control over in your life. Such ruminations are often a part of anxiety and depression disorders. 

Ruminating thoughts may also be triggered by a recent traumatic event, a specific stressor, or your personality traits such as perfectionism. In addition, people with low self-esteem or body image issues are prone to over-thinking about their flaws. Finally, if you have a phobia, you may ruminate on your fears when you have to face them (for example, a person with a fear of flying traveling by air).

So, when we are worried, upset, or sad, we tend to over-think relationships, feelings, and life experiences. 

But some people tend to overthink until they stress themselves out. And they obsess about almost anything. Persistent rumination may be a sign of a mental health condition, so you may want to address your habit to overthink everything with your doctor. 

However, here are some self-help strategies that you can practice to shift overthinking and stop ruminating on everything in your life.

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1. Practice Meditation

Mindfulness meditation can be an excellent tool to reduce stress caused by ruminations and alleviate symptoms of anxiety. It can also help you feel at peace with your thoughts and feelings, promoting relaxation and increasing your mood and optimism. 

Research shows that mindful persons tend to experience lower levels of rumination and higher levels of self-compassion. They also tend to be less depressed. 

A practice of settling your mind and focusing on the current moment can help you spot your ruminations as they appear in your mind. Mindfulness meditation allows you to stay present at the moment and to observe your disturbing thoughts without reacting to them.  

2. Identify Your ANTs

Mindfulness meditation and journaling can help you recognize automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that spontaneously come to your mind during the day. 

We spend a great deal of our waking hours mind-wandering. Sometimes, a large proportion of thoughts that randomly pop up in your head are negative and self-criticizing thoughts that contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. 

Journaling can be a great way to note down and keep track of your ruminations. It can also help you follow the patterns of situations, occasions, or thoughts that trigger overthinking.

In addition, regular mindfulness exercises can boost the awareness of your ANTs, empowering you to let go of unproductive thinking patterns, shift your mindset, and stop overthinking everything

3. Say No to Perfectionism

Perfectionists are prone to rumination, continually fearing that they are not good enough. If you are a perfectionist, you may be excessively self-critical and unforgiving of your own and other people’s mistakes. 

While a reasonable dose of striving, motivation, and determination is healthy, perfectionism can be harmful to your productivity, satisfaction, and mental health. In addition, perfectionism is often linked to mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or addiction. 

Perfectionists tend to have unrealistic ambitions and unreasonably high expectations from themselves and others. Any failure to live up to those standards may cause emotional distress. If you are a perfectionist, you may be setting impractical goals, often ruminating about your mistakes and future obstacles. 

4. Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion means treating yourself with understanding and kindness. A habit of being self-compassionate can help you overcome perfectionism and become more forgiving of yourself. 

According to leading self-compassion experts Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Chris Germer, self-compassion can also lead to more accurate self-concepts and understanding that all humans are bound to fail at one time or another. It can improve resilience and help you develop more adaptive responses to emotional distress. 

5. Try Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is one of the central techniques in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, effective in treating ruminations, negativity, anxiety, and depression. 

According to the principle of cognitive mediation, how we feel results from how we think of our experiences, not from experiences themselves. This means that you can change how you feel by changing how you think about your experiences. 

Cognitive restructuring can help you shift your overthinking by showing you how to organize your past experiences and modify your negative thoughts about them. 

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So, when you contemplate something that happened to you, write down what happened in your journal (what triggered your mood). Then, write down your initial thoughts and emotions that followed. Finally, try to come up with alternative ways of thinking about what happened.

Ruminations quote

6. Distract Yourself

Self-distraction can be an effective tool to stop ruminating and shift to positive thinking patterns. When you realize that you are overthinking something, consciously distract yourself by finding something else to do or think about. 

For example, you can go for a walk on the beach or around your neighborhood, watch a movie, read a book, or call a family member or friend to turn your away from disturbing ruminations. 

Physical activity can be a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts and boost your mood. Exercise has proven to release endorphins in the brain, promoting a sense of well-being. It can also provide a needed break from automatic negative thoughts and help you feel relaxed.   


Ruminations are destructive thought patterns that can be harmful to our psychological and emotional well-being. We reach for ruminations because they provide a false sense of control over our lives. However, as innumerable things are beyond our control or power, overthinking is often useless, making you feel even more anxious, confused, or unhappy. 

However, there are strategies you can practice to stop overthinking everything in your life and regain confidence. 

If you feel that you cannot cope with unwanted intrusive thoughts on your own, coaching may be helpful.  A coach can help you identify negative thoughts and learn ways to shift to a positive mindset. Book a time to speak about what’s possible

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Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood is a Certified Life Coach, and best-selling author. Her mission is to empower high-performing adults and teens to become resilient self-leaders by reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming imposter syndrome, working through trauma, and re-discovering their AuthenticMe®.

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