Ruminating over the past, present, or future can be challenging, but there are strategies to manage it. Here are a few tips that can help.

Immersing yourself in deep thought or pondering over the past, present, or future situations can be a healthy way to sort through problems. It can also help you gain the self-awareness needed to move on from positive and negative life experiences.

When these thoughts become repetitive or focused only on the negative aspects, it could mean you’re experiencing rumination.

Experts do not consider rumination a mental health condition, but it can accompany conditions like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and depression. Still, if it happens frequently or is particularly intense, it can cause distress and harm your mental well-being.

If you’re experiencing unwanted rumination about something that happened in the past, a scenario that just happened, or an upcoming event or situation, you’re not alone. In reality, many people find themselves stuck in rumination mode occasionally.

Still, you probably want these thoughts to stop, whether you ruminate frequently or sporadically. If so, these tips might be a great place to start.

The actual event or situation that triggers rumination might seem like the root cause, but there are often other underlying reasons.

These may include:

  • an undiagnosed anxiety disorder
  • depression
  • perfectionism
  • other mental health conditions
  • personality traits

Identifying these conditions or characteristics can help you understand your rumination better. Discovering underlying causes may also help determine if talking with a mental health professional might be beneficial.

According to a 2015 study, rumination-focused cognitive behavioral therapy may benefit people with depression who also experience rumination.

Ruminating about the past can sometimes occur because of unaddressed emotions. These may include sadness over a loss or guilt about your role in a past event or situation.

Often, rumination takes up space in your mind, preventing negative or uncomfortable emotions from entering, which may be a strategy that you adopt to avoid dealing with them.

Allowing yourself to feel, process, and move through these uncomfortable emotions may help lessen the intensity or frequency of intrusive and unwelcomed thoughts.

Reviewing events repeatedly or entertaining a negative thought about a situation could be your mind’s way of exerting some control over the scenario.

For example, suppose you ruminate over an upcoming job interview and can’t get self-defeating thoughts out of your mind.

In that case, consider what aspects of the interview you can control, such as pre-interview prepping or ensuring you are well-rested. Determining what you can do to be proactive in a situation and taking action may help reduce rumination.

Sometimes, negative thoughts can rewrite history and paint an unfavorable picture of what really happened. So, if you find yourself caught in a cycle of self-doubt or guilt over a past situation, it might be helpful to determine if your perspective aligns with “reality.”

Despite your current thoughts, your feelings are valid. Consider grounding practices to help bring your attention to the present moment, and observe your thoughts without judgment.

Grounding yourself may help you embrace self-compassion and distance your thoughts from the past.

This also helps with ruminating about future events. For example, are you constantly thinking about the possible worst-case scenario? If so, it may be helpful to remember that situations often turn out better than you think they will.

Giving your ruminating thoughts identities can help you have more power over them. Naming them allows you to be aware they exist, but offers the option of not choosing to give them attention.

Consider the following prompt when these thoughts come:

“I see you [named thought], but I’m not engaging with you right now.”

Utilizing this technique essentially adopts the “where your attention goes, your mind will follow” adage and may help shift your thoughts in a more positive direction.

A large 2018 study suggested that short bursts of exercise reduced rumination and improved mood in people with mental health conditions.

You may also consider engaging in activities such as:

  • going on a brisk walk
  • getting involved in a hobby
  • cleaning and organizing the house
  • enjoying activities in nature, like gardening

When stuck in a negative thought loop, verbalizing anything positive may seem daunting. Still, practicing positive affirmations can help counteract negativity and perhaps reduce the time you spend ruminating.

It can also allow you to manifest positivity in your life, which may help alter the negative mindset associated with rumination.

If you ruminate about a specific problem, sometimes inaction leads to more rumination. To rectify this, consider counteracting negative thought loops by putting those thoughts into action.

You can begin by making a list or outline that lays out the problem while also brainstorming potential solutions.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to solve the problem to stop ruminating about it — just the movement toward solving it can help.

You don’t have to go through this alone, consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member for support.

Alternatively, if someone you care about experiences rumination, it’s helpful to understand that they may have difficulty controlling these thoughts.

Try to offer an empathetic ear and listen to their concerns without judgment.

Ruminating over the past, present, or future is common and happens to everyone at one time or another. But when it occurs frequently, it can harm your mental health and well-being.

There are strategies you can implement to help manage the repetitive thought loop in your mind and reduce the amount of time you spend ruminating.

People do not consider rumination to be a mental health condition or disorder, but it can coexist with depression, anxiety, or OCD.

So, if you continue to have difficulty overcoming repetitive and intrusive thoughts, consider talking with a mental health professional about your concerns.