Education & Career Trends: May 31, 2023
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GP
- Excerpts are taken from an article published on psychologytoday.com.
Most of us have had experiences where we can’t stop thinking about something, no matter how hard we try. We pick apart the situation to see what we could have done differently or try to analyze the minutiae of the incident to figure out what it all means. Clinical psychologist Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema referred to this process as rumination and defined it as “a method of coping with negative mood that involves self-focused attention” and “repetitive and passive focus on one’s negative emotions.”
Though most of us ruminate from time to time, some people ruminate frequently, and people who do this are at higher risk for developing mental health issues.
Below are nine strategies for coping with overthinking.
1. Recognise that rumination is different from problem-solving or planning.
- Problem-solving and planning are active coping strategies, while rumination involves rethinking situations, analysing them, and replaying them without forming an action plan or feeling a sense of resolution.
- Sometimes simply recognising that you are ruminating can be a helpful step toward decreasing it and getting on a different track.
2. Research suggests that distraction may help.
- Because the pull of rumination can be strong, specifically select activities that are highly engaging and positive so that they effectively shift your attention from overthinking.
- Examples may include vigorous exercise, taking a hot shower, doing a crossword puzzle, holding an ice cube in your hand (a suggestion from dialectical behaviour therapy), watching an engrossing movie, playing a game, or any other type of healthy activity that you find helpful.
3. Stop fighting with your thoughts.
- This might seem counterintuitive, but acceptance and commitment therapy suggests that efforts to stop certain thoughts can have a paradoxical effect.
- Suppose you observe your thoughts in non-judgmental wonder (e.g., thinking it’s interesting your mind is repeating something, rather than getting frustrated with yourself for not being able to stop it).
- In that case, they might decrease in frequency or intensity.
- The example that is often used is trying not to think about a white bear and being unable to think of anything else. If you instead allow yourself to think of the white bear, you may actually think of it less or at least not feel as distressed by it.
4. Challenge perfectionistic standards.
- Are you judging your behaviour against an unrealistic vision of how a person would ideally act in a situation?
- Are you overly focused on any minor missteps or negative aspects while discounting the positive aspects?
- One strategy that might help is thinking about what you would tell a friend who felt the way that you do.
5. Plan dedicated daily rumination time.
- Schedule a dedicated time (e.g., 30 minutes) in the day when you plan to ruminate, an exercise similar to one developed by Dr. Thomas Borkovec for worry.
- This might sound strange, but the idea is that if you start ruminating or worrying at any other time during the day, it is easier to change course if you think to yourself, “I don’t need to think about this now. I will save it for my designated time later.”
- When people devote time to ruminating in a focused way, they often find that they can’t fill the full time, or they find some resolution at the end of it.
- This is in contrast to a common pattern of ruminating, which involves going in and out of it in a shallow way of thinking throughout the day while completing other tasks.
6. Try relating to your thoughts differently via mindfulness or prayer.
- Some people turn their concerns over to a higher power when ruminating, and this seems to help them gain acceptance and peace about a situation.
- For people who are not religious or who are just looking for an additional healthy coping strategy, they can try meditation and/or mindfulness exercises.
7. Write thoughts out instead of letting them circle around in your head.
- The key is to make sure that the writing is leading to a sense of resolve and relief rather than adding a new place for ruminating.
- If it makes things worse, then it is best to try some of the other strategies.
8. Talk to someone about the problem and gain a new perspective.
- Just beware of co-rumination (“extensively discussing and revisiting problems, speculating about problems, and focusing on negative feelings”), which can exacerbate the problem.
9. Create positive emotions.
- It might seem like this is particularly hard to do when stuck in a rumination cycle.
- However, if you can find a way to add some positive emotions (reading or watching something funny, listening to an upbeat song), even briefly, it might help you to look at your problem differently or in a more lighthearted way.
Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)