Everyone experiences ruminating thoughts at times. However, ruminating on bad memories can lead to mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. When ruminating on these memories has a negative impact on your emotional well-being, it is important to know how to stop. Below are 8 ways to stop ruminating on bad memories.


What Is Rumination


Rumination is repetitively dwelling on a negative thought, feeling, or event. This can include recent or past memories. When you ruminate, the focus is on continuously going over in your mind what occurred, rather than processing the experience or looking for solutions. For instance, you might obsessively go over a conversation you had with your boss that didn’t go well, or you may ruminate about the last fight you had before a bad break up. Oftentimes, these repetitive thoughts revolve around negative past events or traumas.


Rumination And Mental Health


While everyone might ruminate about a recent occurrence from time to time, ruminating on traumatic events or memories that occurred in the distant past can be related to some mental health conditions. If you experience depression, you may ruminate on not feeling like you are good enough, or that you will never feel better. These negative ruminations can increase symptoms of depression. Anxiety can lead to rumination about something bad happening such as a job loss, or physical illness. Those who experience posttraumatic stress disorder might ruminate about an intensely traumatic situation, experiencing it over and over again. Unfortunately, rumination can intensify negative thoughts and feelings and perpetuate anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Below are some things you can try to minimize ruminating on bad memories.


1. Practice Self Compassion


Self-compassion is about being kind and gentle with yourself. Instead of berating yourself for a mistake or a bad outcome, treat yourself with empathy and understanding. Treat yourself the way you would treat a close friend in the same situation. Say kind things to yourself and remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and it will be alright. Beating yourself up will often increase ruminating on bad memories, as you reinforce negative self-beliefs. If you are gentle and caring with yourself instead, it can allow you to stop ruminating and focus on ways to create a better outcome going forward.


2. Distract Yourself


When you notice yourself ruminating on bad memories, do something to distract yourself from your thoughts. The best way to do this is to participate in an activity that requires you to focus. You could talk to a friend, read a book, exercise, take a walk, listen to music, or try out a new recipe. If doing these things is not enough to keep the rumination at bay, you can try doing complicated math problems in your head, or reciting something you memorized. Distractions can give you a chance to take a break from focusing on your thoughts.


3. Practice Mindfulness


Practicing mindfulness can help you stop ruminating. Mindfulness refers to being perfectly present in the current moment without judgment. To practice mindfulness, it is important to engage all of your senses on the task at hand. Notice what you are touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing. It is normal for thoughts to come into your mind while you are practicing mindfulness. Instead of attaching to these thoughts, let them come and go and return your focus to engaging all of your senses. You can practice mindfulness with anything. Some common mindfulness activities include meditation, focusing on your breath, and getting out in nature.


4. Repeat A Mantra


Repeating a mantra can help drown out other thoughts so the focus shifts from ruminating, to the mantra. Therefore, it is helpful to say a mantra that resonates with you. You could repeat a phrase, such as thoughts are just thoughts. Repeat a saying that has special meaning to you, such as something a loved one would always say to you. Even repeating a word like stop over and over again can be enough to stop the negative thought loop. Your mantra doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be easy to repeat and enough to override the ruminating thoughts.


5. Schedule A Time To Think


Trying to ignore your thoughts altogether, can actually make them increase. Instead of avoiding your thoughts, schedule a time of day when you allow yourself to ruminate on bad memories. Make sure to limit this time to somewhere between ten and twenty minutes. When your ruminating time is over, have something planned to help you transition. If your thoughts come up outside of the scheduled time, picture a stop sign in your head and remind yourself that you can think about it during the scheduled time tomorrow. Instead of trying to avoid your thoughts, this enables you to set boundaries around ruminating.


6. Feel Your Feelings


Ruminating on bad memories brings up a lot of uncomfortable emotions. Avoiding your feelings about the memory increases negative emotions. While it can seem a little uncomfortable, allowing yourself to feel your feelings can decrease rumination. To do this, name the feeling and notice where you feel it in your body. Sit with the sensation and let it be. Spend about ten minutes sitting with your feelings and then transition by doing something that requires your focus. If you can do this daily, the negative feelings and the rumination should decrease.


7. Focus On The Context Of The Memory


Instead of ruminating on a bad memory, you can try focusing on the context around the memory. This way the focus isn’t on the sadness or embarrassment you felt, it is on what was happening during the memory. You can think about what the weather was like, what time of day it was, or who was there with you. Any non-emotional context that you focus on can help decrease the strong emotional reaction related to the memory, which can help decrease rumination as well.


8. Talk To Someone


When you ruminate on a bad memory, it can be difficult to stop the negative thought loop. Talking to someone about the memory can be enough to help stop the rumination. You can talk to a friend, a family member, or a therapist. Doing this can help you feel less alone. Verbalizing the memory can make it seem less scary. It can help you see it in a different context, which can decrease the negative emotions. If you can’t talk to someone about it, writing it down can also help you view it less emotionally.


If you find yourself ruminating on bad memories, try the tips above. Doing some of these things can help decrease the rumination. Therapy can help if the ruminating thoughts lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD. When you stop ruminating on bad memories, your emotional well-being can improve.


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