Anxiety and rumination typically go hand in hand, depending on what type of anxiety you may suffer from. Even folks who don’t see themselves as anxious can experience negative thoughts or worries that just don’t seem to go away. You can’t seem to move on with your days to-do list or focus on your family or relaxation time because you are plagued by unwanted thoughts.
One thing to be aware of is that if therapy is needed or if you are experiencing anxiety and ruminating thoughts to a high degree, it is important that you seek help from a professional.
In this article, I hope to provide some tips and tricks that have worked for me to stop ruminating and anxiety in it’s tracks when I have had a difficult time moving past certain unwanted negative thought patterns. I am not a professional therapist or psychologist, but I am a sufferer of anxiety, low level depression, and have tendencies towards obsessive thoughts and rumination.
Take all of this with a grain of salt because I cannot know what it is like to be you or how you process or deal with thoughts and problems in your life. However, I have used these tips, which are backed by scientific research or empirical evidence, with success, and my hope is that they will help you too ❤.
Ruminating and Anxiety
First off, I’d like to give a little info on what exactly ruminating is and how it’s caused by or conjoined with anxiety.
Rumination is basically repetitive thoughts or mental problems that you experience without ever solving or finishing them. You may be thinking about something in your relationship that bothers you or feelings of unworthiness or failure. You are unable to finish the thoughts with solutions or positive outcomes. This can cause anxiety and depression to intensify because you feel stuck and your brain can trigger other related thoughts and problems that add on but don’t end up anywhere productive.
Some people spend hours a day having these types of thoughts. I personally have been through periods of my life where I was bombarded with negative thought patterns that just wouldn’t quit.
A thought would just seem to pop up out of nowhere and then I would sink into this repetitive re-hashing of the thought over and over without actually working towards overcoming it or solving it. Almost as if it were the mental equivalent of quick sand.
This would typically end in tears. I had weeks where this occurred every day, multiple times per day.
I knew I had to solve it. Aside from reading some self-help books, and journaling out the problems and potential solutions, I started looking for ways to overcome these thought spirals when I wanted to get on with my day (often, these incidences occurred when I was walking to pick up my children from school – not the best timing).
The following are some examples of techniques and tricks I used to get me through those tough times, stop ruminating and anxiety, and to help me become happier and more in control of my thought patterns.
Some of these are lighthearted and fun and others are more technical and serious. Pick and choose at your preference!
Stop Anxiety with A Song
A few years ago, Mindlab International conducted a study that had participants conduct anxiety-inducing puzzles while listening to music. During this time, their brain activity, heart rate, and breathing were monitored.
This study found that the song “Weightless” by Marconi Union caused a reduction in participants’ overall anxiety by a whopping 65 percent, along with a 35 percent reduction in resting baseline physiological rates. Pretty neat!
None of this is by accident. The band, Marconi Union actually worked with professionals to design the song for this purpose. It lowers cortisol and tames anxiety to such a degree that people are advised not to drive while listening to it as it can cause drowsiness.
Music in general is shown to have anxiety-taming effects. Try making a playlist of songs that help you relax and feel calm to listen to when your brain starts to get the better of you.
Dump Your Brain
Sometimes you’ve simply just got to get everything in your head out in the physical realm. It’s astounding how well this can work. We all know that journaling in general can be very therapeutic. A specifically helpful type of journaling for those with rumination can be a brain dump.
(Read more about journaling for emotional self-care in this post: Self-Care: Practices to Reduce Stress, Accomplish Goals, and Benefit the Mind & Body)
Brain dump refers to the process of writing everything down in a sort of stream-of-consciousness. Dumping your thoughts onto paper so to speak.
After you’ve done this, you can go one step further by analyzing logically which thoughts are really worth your time and energy and which aren’t. Even if you are aware that the thoughts you are having are not productive, it is often cathartic to write them down. Using your logical brain to think through the thoughts and write them out can help to finish the thought and perhaps even help you move forward, at least for the time being.
Below is a brain dumping worksheet I created that I use for myself when I have repetitive unwanted or unproductive thoughts. Feel free to snag it for yourself!
Look at Smiling Faces
Just looking at smiling faces can help you to connect with the feeling of happiness. I figured this one out when I was looking for images and caught myself smiling when I saw other smiling faces.
My day had been particularly challenging and I’d just had a negative incident occur a bit beforehand. Regardless, I was smiling! I often see my children or partner smiling when they are watching a TV show where others are smiling as well and so I thought, this could be a neat little hack. So, me being me, I looked into it.
Just try it. If you look at smiling faces, you will more often than not catch yourself smiling. This is due to a reflex humans have to mimic observed facial expressions.
Now here’s the cool part: once you are actively smiling, you literally trick your brain into thinking you are happy! Other feelings such as depression, anxiety, and overwhelm will melt away or take a back seat to the overriding message your face is sending to your brain! Pretty nifty if you ask me.
What’s more, is when you are smiling, you can manage feelings and physical symptoms of stress better, and you can physically lower your heart rate! (see this study).
Pro Tip: Take this a step further and watch something funny on TV. Not only will you see smiling faces, but you will hopefully laugh. Laughter has been shown to be a fantastic stress reducer and you will be distracted from your rumination.
Plan Your Ideal Day Free of Ruminating and Anxiety
If you like to make lists and write down things or if you are a planner (all of the above for me!), then you’ll enjoy this.
Write down your ideal day. You can be as detailed as you want. Include meals if you’d like or just activities and the people you’d like to do it with.
You can be super fantasy-driven here or you can be more realistic and practical. Either way, try and add a few things that are actually attainable.
If your ideal day reveals that you’d love to go outside in nature, try and do that today! Maybe you notice that you stop to eat a sweet treat here and there, make sure to get yourself something tasty today.
Planning out positive, enjoyable activities can distract you from the negative in your life. You can focus on things you DO love and times that you are free of stress and anxiety. More over, you will have to use recall for this activity which will remind you of past events that were highly positive and rewarding.
Top it all off by trying to accomplish a couple of things from your list.
Create A Vision Board
Another fun activity, similar to planning out an idea day is to plan out a dream or vision board.
This can easily be done online on websites like Dream It Alive, or you can use pictures from magazines or your own doodles or photos (or any combination) to create your ideal life or future.
You can plan this in detail while writing out goals but I recommend for the purpose of taming anxiety and rumination, to keep it simple and focus on the visual creative aspect.
Completing this can give you a piece of home made art you can hang in your home and reflect on anytime you are feeling negatively about your life. Be reminded of your goals and your hopes and dreams for yourself and your family.
I placed mine on a large cork board and put it up in my home gym/office space!
Hang Out With a Kid
Call, talk to, or hang out with a kid! It could be your own, a nephew, niece, cousin, or friend’s kid.
Children are grounded in the present by their reliance on their senses. They don’t feel the pressure of future plans or past memories at all times like we adults often do.
The brains of children aren’t fully developed and so they are much more in-the-moment (aka mindful) with their experiences. Being with kids helps you to do the same. Putting aside your worries and your fears and focusing on the present is a well known way to conquer ruminating and anxiety, however, if you’re anything like me, I can’t just turn on my “mindfulness button” and start living in the present just like that.
Being with kids helps me to be in the moment with them because their innocence, laughter and excitement for life are contagious.
If you don’t have any kids in your life, that’s a shame. A pet will do the job as well however!
Take A Social Media Break
I’ve talked before about how social media can contribute to anxiety.
Studies have shown that there is such a thing as “Facebook depression“. And it’s not just Facebook that’s at fault either, the same holds true for Snapchat and Instagram. “The first experimental study examining use of multiple platforms shows a causal link between time spent on these social media and increased depression and loneliness” along with body dissatisfaction (more on that here).
The effects of social media on anxiety are compounded further if a lot of your ruminating and anxiety are socially based. Using it frequently can result in social media anxiety due to the addictive, obsessive nature of social media use. See here if you think this may affect you.
Taking time out from social media or instilling some family tech-free time is definitely part of social self-care.
Learn Something New
Research has shown recently that learning new skills helps to buffer against stress and burnout.
Gaining new skills builds confidence and is actually better at combating stress than performing relaxing activities!
Also, when I am in the process of learning something new and using my creative side to produce something beautiful or useful, I am not focusing on negative thoughts or stressors in my life. One fun and simple activity anyone can try (this is especially fun when combined with hanging out with kids!) is to look up tutorials for how to draw cute kawaii or cartoon animals, food, and objects.
Try it out with these cute coffee and doughnut tutorials!
Listen to an Inspiring Podcast
Podcasts and TED Talks are excellent distractors.
Often when thoughts start to creep up and I am trying to focus on chores or making meals, I’ll pop on an educational, interesting, or inspiring podcast.
Depending on your mood or personality, you might enjoy distraction with true crime or science based podcasts or you may want to improve your life with self-help and uplifting podcasts and TED Talks.
Here are some I recommend (please share your favourites with me in the comments or on my social media!)
Star Talk Radio with Neil deGrasse Tyson
Happier with Gretchen Rubin
Rise Podcast with Rachel Hollis
Stop Ruminating and Anxiety In Its Tracks
I sincerely hope that this list can help you in some way. Even if it’s just for one day.
Finding peace in our minds can be a very difficult task and we can use all of the help we can get.
Remember to seek help if you need it! Take care of yourselves 💜.