Stop ruminating by learning to identify triggers and replace negative thoughts with helpful new responses. Rumination is a habit that can be unlearned with practice and patience -- and sometimes may even require the help of a therapist to get under control.
Keep a Journal
Ruminating involves negative thinking or self-talk about the past, present and future. This type of thought pattern often happens automatically. Chronic rumination can lead to anxiety, depression, and trouble with life functioning, so it is important to keep under control. Corral your runaway thoughts by identifying when, where and how you ruminate. Do this easily by keeping a journal to record your ruminative thoughts. Perhaps you tend to worry late at night while in bed, or when something stressful happens during your day. Note the time of day, location, and any events that precede your rumination. Keeping track of these events in your diary over a few weeks will help you identify your worry patterns.
Habits are very resistant to change. Your inability to stop ruminating is not a reflection of your lack of willpower or motivation to change -- rather, it means that you have some strongly ingrained ways of responding to situations and stress, writes professor of experimental and applied clinical psychology, Edward Watkins, in the Psychology Today article, "Four Tips From Habit Research to Reduce Worry and Rumination." Overcome rumination by altering or removing the cues that trigger your negative thoughts. Try reading a book in bed until you are drowsy and fall right asleep. If sad music triggers your thinking, listen to upbeat music instead. Change the situations that trigger your worry, as a way of breaking the habits that you have built.
Practice New Responses
Change the way that you respond to cues that trigger rumination. Go for a walk, talk to a friend, or engage in a distracting activity when you normally would ruminate, suggests clinical psychologist Dr. Patrick Keelan, in the article "Paralysis by Analysis: How to Stop Ruminating to Improve Your Mood and Your Life," from his website. Practice mindfulness -- be present in the moment and aware of your surroundings, rather than caught up in your own thoughts. Pair relaxation strategies with times that ruminative thoughts usually start. Inhale a lavender scent, or practice meditation. The key is to practice these new habits consistently over time, so that they become your ingrained ways of responding to cues that used to cause rumination. Eventually, these new habits will take hold.
Talk to a Therapist
If ruminative thoughts have been with you for a long time, they may be too difficult to overcome on your own. In this case, consider talking to a professional such as a counselor or psychologist, who can help you implement strategies and techniques to manage rumination. Speaking to a therapist may help you to put negative thoughts into perspective, see mistakes as learning opportunities, and decide on plans of action to tackle issues that underly your ruminative thoughts. You may even find that you start to enjoy your time alone more without ruminative thoughts invading these times of quiet reflection. A therapist can help you make these positive changes when rumination feels uncontrollable.