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How to stop ruminating

So I thought I would share three key questions I think are helpful when you find yourself overthinking or ruminating, getting anxious or depressed about the issues that worry you.

When you catch yourself thinking about something, I want you to ask yourself “Is this the right time to be thinking about this?”

Now, I ask that question because a lot of people, when they’re depressed or anxious, ruminate a lot in the middle of the night. They wake up and they start to ruminate about something.

Even if it’s good problem solving, 3:00 AM is rarely the best time to do problem solving. So the first question is, is this the time to be thinking about it? If it’s not, I’m going to do something else. I’m going to read, listen to music, do something else.

The second question I ask is, “Am I avoiding anything?” Because avoidance is quite common in anxiety. A lot of times, our rumination kind of tricks us into thinking we’re doing something useful and meaningful, when in fact we should be doing something else.

The answer to these questions about rumination are – Is it time to be thinking about this? Am I avoiding something? How long have I been thinking about this?

In general, once you establish that what you are doing is unhelpful rumination, give it like a two to three minutes timer. Literally, give it a time limit and say, “At the end of three minutes, if I am not actively problem solving, coming up with steps that are useful, then I will stop thinking about this and go do something. It can be something very mundane and practical like go do the dishes, or it can be something like take a walk, or it can be tuning into your sensory experiences.”

Because getting out of our heads and into the world around us is really one of the best antidotes to rumination. I want you to get engaged with something and really pay attention to that thing. If you are going to go for a walk, then you can experience a mindfulness exercise where while you’re out walking, you play the five senses game. So I you start to notice one visual sight that you really like, and then you look at that and really enjoy seeing it for a minute or two. And then you go to another sense, you know, maybe find one smell you really enjoy, get up close to that smell, enjoy it. Then I want you to get one sensation. Is it the sun on your cheeks, or the breeze on your face, or is it the feel of your feet crunching on leaves or snow? And I want you to really pay attention to that and really enjoy it. And we can go to taste- go and eat something nice.

We’ll go through the different senses and focus on your sensory experiences rather than ruminating about something in your head.


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