10 Powerful Ways to Stop Ruminating and Finally Let Go

If you want to stop ruminating you have to understand what rumination really is and how it works.

Rumination is the mental habit of overthinking about the past.

For example:

  • Dwelling on past mistakes.
  • Replaying other people’s offenses against you.
  • Obsessing over your flaws and weaknesses.

And while it’s easy for us to slip into rumination, the negative effects can be serious: depression, low self-esteem, anger issues, insomnia, and substance abuse to name just a few.

But fundamentally rumination is a habit.

This means that with a little bit of insight and some practice, you can learn to stop ruminating, let go of the past, and free yourself to live your life moving forward.

In the rest of this guide, we’ll walk through 10 practical steps anyone can take to better understand their tendency to ruminate and work to eliminate it. These are the same techniques I use as a psychologist to help my own clients.

Table of Contents

Feel free to use the links below to jump to a specific section:

1. Distinguish healthy reflection from unhealthy rumination

The first thing to understand about rumination is that it’s almost identical to healthy reflection.

One of the best ways we have to improve ourselves and avoid future mistakes is to take an honest look at our mistakes, shortcomings, and flaws.

For example:

  • After bombing a presentation at work, you deliberately think through each part of the presentation and where you might have made a mistake. Then analyze each mistake and make a plan to avoid them in the future.
  • After a fight with your spouse, you try to think back about all the criticisms leveled against you to sort out which ones are valid and which are not.
  • Occasionally, you remind yourself of how much of a mess you were when you were drinking and how negatively it impacted your loved ones as a way to reinforce your current sobriety.

The key ingredient in healthy reflection is that it’s productive. The goal is true understanding and growth. In other words, reflection leads to new information and/or helps you do something better.

Rumination is very similar to reflection in that it involves a kind of analytical thinking about negatives in the past. But with rumination, it doesn’t lead to anything helpful or useful.

For example:

  • Six months after being fired, you still replay the meeting with your boss and what he said to you, running through all the ways she was a jerk and how unfair it was of her.
  • Immediately after a fight with your spouse, you start stewing on all the times in your marriage that they’ve insulted you or criticized you and how hypocritical they are.
  • Every time you get into a relationship, you start going over and over all the old memories of how alcohol ruined your first relationship and how terrible that was of you.

Healthy reflection is productive thinking about negatives in the past. Rumination is unproductive thinking about negatives in the past.

A few more ways to distinguish healthy reflection from unhealthy rumination:

  • Intentionality. Typically, unhealthy rumination is habitual and reflexive—something you just find yourself doing. Healthy reflection, on the other hand, tends to be deliberate and purposeful.
  • Motivation. Healthy reflection is motivated by a desire to learn and grow and be better. Rumination, on the other hand, is usually motivated by a desire to feel better. Stewing about how wrong someone else was, for example, makes us feel superior in comparison. But it doesn’t actually accomplish anything productive.
  • Timing. After something bad happens—say you make a big mistake or someone does something bad to you—it’s normal for your mind to be automatically drawn to it and to think about it a lot. In other words, some amount of rumination is probably inevitable immediately after the negative event. But if you find yourself continually thinking about the thing even though it’s well behind you, that’s often an indicator of unhealthy rumination.

It’s important to clearly distinguish healthy reflection from unhealthy rumination because it’s very easy to start with the desire to genuinely reflect but then unintentionally slip into unhealthy rumination.

If you want to stop ruminating so much, learn to be extra sensitive to when you cross the line between reflection and rumination.

2. Understand the real need your rumination fills

Many people feel as though rumination is something that happens to them—like an illness they catch. In reality, rumination is much more like a mental behavior—something you do and, to a large degree, have control over.

This is important because the reason a habit of rumination sticks around despite all its negative side effects is that it’s filling some kind of psychological need. In other words, rumination is doing something for you, even if you’re not aware of it.

Here are a few examples of subtle psychological needs that rumination fills:

  • Need for control. When something bad has happened in the past—we’ve lost someone dear to us or made a mistake—there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s in the past and done. As a result, we very understandably can feel helpless in the face of that kind of finality. But, because helplessness is such an uncomfortable feeling, many people get in the habit of ruminating as a way to temporarily alleviate the painful feeling of helplessness and feel more in control. Of course, this sense of control is an illusion. And the relief from helplessness is only temporary. But because rumination “works” to temporarily make you feel less helpless, it can turn into a powerful habit.
  • Need for certainty. Similar to the need for control, we all crave certainty because uncertainty can be uncomfortable and painful. When something bad happens to us, for example, it’s natural to want to understand why. But unfortunately, sometimes we simply cannot and will not ever know. Rumination gives the illusion of certainty because it feels like we’re problem-solving and “working on” understanding why.
  • Need for novelty. We all crave novelty and excitement in our lives and dislike feeling bored and unengaged. And for all its negative effects, rumination can serve to give us something to think about and stay stimulated. For many people who struggle to find meaningful work or stimulation, rumination can be a tempting alternative because it temporarily alleviates the pain of boredom and malaise.
  • Need for superiority. When people get into the habit of ruminating on the wrongs of other people, one of the biggest reasons why is because it makes them feel morally superior. In other words, when you remind yourself of how bad other people are and were to you, it implicitly suggests how in the right and morally superior you are. And for people who have no other outlet for feeling good about themselves, being overly judgmental of others can feel like their only outlet.

Of course, there are many other psychological needs that rumination could fill. But these are some of the most common and serve to illustrate the idea that rumination might stick around as a habit because it’s “doing work.”

If you’ve struggled with rumination for a long time and can’t seem to get a handle on it or let it go, it’s important to seriously ask yourself this question:

What am I getting out of my habit of rumination?

Because if you want to truly be free from rumination, you’ll have to understand what that psychological need it fills really is and figure out a healthier way to address it.

3. Make time to be sad on purpose

One of the most common things people get stuck ruminating on is loss: Death of a loved one, loss of a job or identity, divorce or end of a relationship, etc.

Put another way, we often have a hard time “letting go” of someone or something we loved or values. And of course, this kind of grief is completely understandable!

But here’s the thing:

Ruminating about a loss can actually interfere with a healthy grieving process and the ability to accept the loss and move forward.

Now, this might sound a little counterintuitive… After all, the common wisdom is that what gets in the way of healthy grief is avoiding processing the loss and our grief. So wouldn’t thinking about it be good?

Not quite. The key distinction here is that a major component of healthy grief is to process not only the loss but also our feelings about the loss—sadness, anger, guilt, etc.

The problem with rumination is that we often end up ruminating about the loss as a way of distracting ourselves from the feelings associated with the loss. This means that it will look and seem like you’re trying to deal with and manage the loss and grief, but really you’re avoiding the hardest part—the emotions.

In order to let go of the habit of rumination and actually process your feelings after a loss, it helps to make a time to do this formally. And one way of doing this is with an exercise I call scheduled sadness.

Scheduled sadness simply means making a regular time to be sad on purpose. This is helpful because it teaches your mind that, while painful, sadness and grief aren’t and or things to be feared and avoided. By confronting your sadness head-on, you actually rob it of much of its excessive pain and intensity—a key step in the healthy grieving process

So, commit to making a little time to be with your sadness and processor wholeheartedly and you’ll find that your impulse to ruminate on your loss will fade.

4. Change your relationship with anger

Angry rumination is a particular type of rumination where, instead of ruminating on your own mistakes or flaws, you ruminate on those of others.

For example:

  • Running through previous memories of your boss being a jerk and not sympathetic
  • Replaying examples in your mind of when your spouse was just as critical to you as she says you’re being now
  • Cataloging all the ways people of a different political party are idiots and don’t really understand things

Obviously, there are many downsides to angry rumination, including chronic stress, relationship difficulties, lost productivity, workplace issues, etc.

So why do we do it? Why do we sit and stew over the mistakes and flaws of others?

Because it makes us angry.

Wait a second… Anger’s a negative emotion, so why would I try and make myself angry by ruminating?

It’s a common misconception that anger is a “negative” emotion. People assume that because anger often leads to bad decisions and regrettable actions that it must be negative. But, as most emotion researchers will tell you, anger is actually a “positive” emotion because the feeling itself is pleasurable.

See, anger is an ego-inflating emotion. It makes us feel good about ourselves and boosts our sense of power and superiority.

Think about it: When you criticize someone else for being an idiot, you’re implying that you’re smart. Or when you judge someone else for being immoral or unethical, you’re implying how right and good you are.

While anger has its uses, we very often end up using it like a drug—to temporarily make ourselves feel better. And the way we do that is to ruminate on how wrong or bad other people are!

This means that if you want to stop ruminating so much, you need to develop enough self-awareness to realize that you’re doing this and cultivate a healthier way to feel good about yourself.

There are plenty of ways to improve your self-esteem without putting other people down in the process.

You can learn more about the psychology of anger in this article I wrote: The Secret Life of Anger

5. Build up your tolerance for helplessness

Often our need to ruminate is motivated by a fear of helplessness.

When something bad has happened to us in the past that we can’t fix or address, it makes us feel helpless. And we hate feeling helpless! So we end up getting ourselves into all sorts of unhealthy habits because they temporarily help us avoid that feeling.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you recently lost your job. You know that the most important thing for you to be doing right now is to look for another job, but you seem to spend a lot of time stuck in the past—ruminating on all the things that could have led to you being let go, analyzing potential mistakes you made, and generally trying to understand what happened. You feel weak and powerless every time you think about “being let go.” And because you haven’t found another job yet, you find yourself ruminating and stewing and generally overthinking about your past job and why they fired you.

The trouble is there’s probably no way to know for sure why it happened. And it’s unlikely that you’d find an answer if they didn’t tell you immediately.

In fact, it’s very possible there simply was no “good reason” or that reason had nothing to do with your or your performance—the company was just trying to save money and you were unlucky enough to be in the batch of people they let go.

See how helplessness pervades all of this? And do you see how ruminating and thinking about what happened gives you something to do? See how it temporarily makes you feel like you have a job again and can be productive and solve problems? In other words, do you see how rumination is a kind of substitute for work? It feels like you’re being productive and doing something useful.

Of course, by definition, rumination isn’t useful—it just feels that way. And it comes with all sorts of negative side effects that easily outweigh the short-lived hit of distraction from helplessness.

All of which means, if you want to stop using rumination as a way to cope with your feelings of helplessness, you need a better alternative.

Now, you could substitute some other habit to help distract you from the helplessness: video games, drugs, social media, etc.

But the real solution here is to face up to your helplessness and meet it square in the face—to acknowledge that helplessness feels bad but isn’t actually dangerous. Which means you can build up a tolerance to it.

This is crucial because if you spend all your time and energy running away from the feeling of helplessness, you’ll have little time or energy left to run toward the things you want—a new job, a better relationship with your partner, etc.

Helplessness feels bad but that doesn’t mean it is bad. Slowly and steadily build up a tolerance to helplessness and eventually you’ll be able to get on with life despite it.

6. Learn the true meaning of forgiveness

Many people get stuck in the habit of rumination because they can’t forgive someone who’s wronged them. Years or even decades could have gone by, and yet, they still can seem to “let go” and “move on.”

One of the big problems I see people running into with letting go of rumination and embracing forgiveness is that people misunderstand what forgiveness is, actually, and how to go about doing it.

Here are a few thoughts on forgiveness and how to think differently about it so that you can let go of rumination and finally be free to move on.

  1. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. As long as you have a functioning memory, you will always remember painful events from the past. Simply deciding to forgive someone won’t change that. And it’s totally normal that each time those memories surface you’re going to feel some difficult emotion like anger or sadness. Again, this is totally normal. Forgiveness can’t magically wipe away difficult feelings. This is important to remember because if you assume that forgiving someone means you’ll never have to think about the pain they caused you and never experience any difficult feelings around it, you’re going to be continually disappointed and likely to keep ruminating.
  2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean endorsement. Another common misconception that makes it hard for people to truly forgive and move on is that they assume forgiveness implies that you are somehow okay with the wrong someone did to you. Not at all. Forgiveness is not about the other person or what they did; forgiveness is about you and how you want to spend your time and energy. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you’re whitewashing or ignoring the wrong they did. You can forgive someone and still acknowledge that what they did was wrong.
  3. Forgiveness is a process, not a decision. The decision to forgive someone is an important first step but it’s not the end. Again, because you have a functioning memory you’re always going to have to deal with memories of the other person and their offense and all the thoughts and feelings that go along with those memories. You may even have to continue dealing with the person who wronged you. In any case, it’s important to acknowledge that forgiveness is something you continue to do. And while it usually gets easier with time, it’s not something you simply decide on and then are done with.

Forgiveness is a complex topic, especially since it’s so often intertwined with religious, moral, or cultural practices and beliefs. But from a psychological perspective, if you want to “let go” of past wrongs done to you, the key is to understand the psychology of forgiveness and how it actually works.

You can learn more about it here: The Psychology of Forgiveness: 7 Lessons on How to Finally Let Go and Forgive Someone

7. Face up to the costs of your rumination

As we’ve discussed in the points above, there are many subtle but powerful reasons why we continue ruminating. Despite its costs, rumination fills a variety of psychological needs, and so, can become a powerful and difficult-to-shake habit.

One way to make this process a little bit easier is to really clarify the true costs of your rumination habit. Because when you can really see the extent to which you’re suffering from your rumination habit and all the good things you’re giving up as a result of it, letting go can be significantly easier.

Here are some of the more common costs people incur as a result of being stuck in a habit of ruminating:

  1. Chronic stress. While rumination may lead to feeling good in the moment, the long-term effects are often pretty negative. Chronic stress is one of the most serious. Many people who have struggled with rumination experience negative symptoms like muscle tension and aches, fatigue and low energy, or chronic pain.
  2. Insomnia and poor sleep. A very common result of chronic rumination is that it often interferes with sleep. Many people find that their rumination habit often rears its ugly head right as they’re lying down to fall asleep, resulting in hours of lost sleep and stress. If it goes on long enough, this can eventually lead to full-blown insomnia.
  3. Concentration problems and procrastination. One of the most serious consequences of ruminating is that it easily distracts us, breaks our focus, and kills our productivity. If you’ve ever been in the middle of doing some really good, creative work only to get sidetracked by a random thought and a cascade of rumination, you understand this.
  4. Anxiety. Interestingly, rumination and worry are really two sides of the same coin. While rumination is overthinking about the past, worry is simply overthinking about the future. This means that it’s actually very easy to begin ruminating about something in the past and then end up worrying about something in the future, which leads to a lot of anxiety.
  5. Depression. Perhaps the most serious result of rumination, depression can be an extremely painful and debilitating experience. What most people don’t realize about depression is that for many people, rumination is actually the main engine and driver of their depression. And if you think about it, this makes sense: How could you not start to feel pretty depressed if you were in the habit of constantly criticizing, judging, and berating yourself for past mistakes and perceived flaws?
  6. Opportunity cost. So far we’ve talked about many of the negative things that are added to our life as a result of rumination. But what’s equally significant—though harder to see—is all the good things we give up because of how much time and energy we pour into rumination. How many hours of time have you wasted ruminating that could have been invested into your partner or kids? How many hours or days of lost productivity on meaningful work have come from rumination? How many dreams, passions, and goals don’t ever get realized because we waste so much energy by ruminating? In other words, how much of your present and future have you sacrificed for your past?

It’s painful, but one of the most effective strategies to help you stop ruminating and move on is to take an honest inventory of all the costs and downsides that come from your rumination habit.

8. Clarify your values

While not coming to terms with all the costs of your rumination habit can be a problem, so too can the opposite…

It’s easy to stay stuck in rumination if you’re not clear on what you really want, on your values.

Rumination is like being chained to the past. Your mental habit of overthinking previous mistakes and negatives in your life means that you are effectively living in the past, and therefore, not living in the present.

One of the best ways to break this cycle and really free yourself from rumination is to get much more clear about your values—the things that matter most to you in life that you want to pursue and move toward.

Put another way…

It’s hard to move away from what you don’t want when you don’t really know what you do want.

Values clarification means taking some time to genuinely reflect on and think about what you really want:

  • What are your goals for the future?
  • What do you aspire to do or become?
  • What are your ambitions and dreams for yourself?
  • What things make you excited and motivated?

Now, answering these questions can be surprisingly difficult—in large part because they’re kind of intimidating!

But like anything else, the trick is to start small and specific.

One simple way to begin clarifying your values and goals is to actually write down your bucket list.

Most people know what a bucket list is but few people actually take the time to create their own—to write down the list of things they want to achieve or experience before they die. This is unfortunate because it’s a relatively easy exercise that can have tremendous positive effects.

Not only will the list serve as a reminder of your values and the things you aspire to, but perhaps more importantly, the very act of generating a bucket list will help you discover what your values actually are.

So, schedule 20-30 minutes one day to sit down with pen and paper and start brainstorming ideas for things you would love to do or experiences you would love to have someday. Be as ambitious and optimistic as you can.

I think you’ll find that this simple little exercise will have a big impact on your ability to pull your attention out of the past and refocus it onto your present and future.

For more ideas and exercises to help you discover and clarify your values, check out this guide: Know Your Values: 7 ways to Discover and Clarify Your Personal Values

9. Practice being more assertive

Here’s one way to look at why you ruminate so much and why it’s so hard to stop:

Retreating into your mind and “solving problems” there feels a lot less scary than trying to solve problems in the world.

In other words, rumination can be a form of procrastination from life.

Much like the student who spends hours doing the pseudo-work of cleaning their room as a way to avoid writing a paper, similarly, we do the pseudo-work of ruminating on the past as a way to avoiding dealing with real problems in our life.

For example:

Suppose you are unhappy in your marriage. Communication is strained, there’s little to no intimacy left, and you feel more like roommates than partners (much less lovers). That can be a pretty daunting challenge. And if you feel daunted by it and insecure in your chances to actually improve things, then it’s not hard to see how you could end up procrastinating on the hard work of addressing major issues in your marriage by ruminating in your mind about how bad things have gotten and why.

The solution to this dilemma is assertiveness.

In a broad sense, assertiveness is the willingness to go after what you want despite feeling afraid, uncertain, or confused:

  • It could be as simple as requesting to take some time off at work even though you know it’s a busy time and your supervisor might be irritated by it.
  • It could mean deciding to bring up your dissatisfaction with your sex life, even though it makes you uncomfortable and anxious.
  • It could mean putting boundaries on bad behavior from someone and being willing to enforce those boundaries even though you’re afraid of how you’ll be perceived or what people will think of you.

In short…

Assertiveness is the opposite of procrastination.

It means doing what needs to be done despite feeling pulled to run the other way.

And once you see that rumination is one of your default strategies for avoidance and running the other way, it should be clear that the way out is to get better at being assertive—at pursuing the things you want despite feeling afraid or uncomfortable.

Like anything, becoming more assertive takes time and practice. It won’t happen overnight.

But if you slowly practice being more assertive in small ways, you’ll find it easier to be assertive in bigger ways. And once that happens, I think you’ll discover that your need for rumination diminishes significantly.

You can learn more about becoming more assertive in my guide: How to Be Assertive: A Step-by-Step Guide

10. Short-circuit rumination with the 3Ms

So far, all the strategies we’ve discussed for how to stop ruminating are long-term ones—they address the underlying causes of rumination and work on those.

And while these approaches are powerful and offer the most effective way to end the habit of rumination long-term, they’re also slow. They don’t “work” immediately.

But sometimes, when we find ourselves caught in a spiral of rumination, we just need something to quickly kick us out of that negative spiral so we can get back to what we were doing—work, a conversation, playing with our kids, etc.

My favorite little strategy for kicking yourself out of any negative thought pattern or bad mood is what I call the 3Ms.

The basic idea is that three of the best ways to change your thoughts and break free of difficult emotions in the short term are to move your body physically, make or fix something, and meet or interact with someone else socially.

  • Move. Often the best way to break free of rumination is to simply start moving. Go for a walk, hit the gym, do some pushups, or put on your favorite song and dance. Almost by definition, rumination means you’re stuck in your head. And one of the simplest ways to get out of your head is to get into your body.
  • Make. There’s something almost magical about using creativity and productivity to combat unhealthy mental and emotional states. For example, you might bake a batch of cookies, mow the lawn, write a short blog post, fix that leaky faucet in the bedroom, or go organize a batch of old photos. Just doing something—even something very small—that’s either creative or productive is often a great way to break free of rumination.
  • Meet. We human beings are social creatures. And even the most introverted among us benefit from the right kind of social interaction and connection. Which means that harnessing the power of social connection can be a really useful tool to break free from rumination and re-engage with life. Call a friend, text an old buddy, FaceTime with your kids, browse old photos even. Anything that gives you a sense of genuine connection with important people in your life will be a powerful way to get unstuck from rumination.

Summary and Key Points

Rumination is the mental habit of overthinking about the past. It includes things like dwelling on past mistakes or losses and habitually revisiting old slights and offenses against you even though doing so isn’t helpful or productive.

While there’s no one way to stop ruminating so much, take together these ideas should help:

  • Distinguish healthy reflection from unhealthy rumination
  • Understand the real need your rumination fills
  • Make time to be sad on purpose
  • Change your relationship with anger
  • Build up your tolerance for helplessness
  • Learn the true meaning of forgiveness
  • Face up to the costs of your rumination
  • Clarify your values
  • Practice being more assertive
  • Short-circuit rumination with the 3Ms


Add Yours

Nick- This is by far far one of the finest articles I have ever read. This IS my problem and I now see it in stark reality for what it truly is. I feel like it has been an evil friend who comes to my rescue in my darkest moments but is really robbing my soul of light and happiness. Thank you for providing real methods to combat this beast. I am standing at the bottom of the mountain and its a big climb but today I am going to take my first step!

I agree 1000xs Doug.. Nick’s nuggets of real Wisdom are tools we can choose to use…once we fully comprehend them. We must break the HABIT of negative ruminations – the answers are not in the PAST/memories that still carry the negative emotions – never expressed at the time – for whatever reason. Make time to hour the lesson in the event and with forward thinking for positive outcomes…. chose to honour the feelings that still surround the memory….summarize the lesson and use Nick’s 3M’s to move your body; make something creative with the new found energy; go out and meet (online or phone calls) other human beings, moving forward into new, friendships, or rekindling ones that you wish to give time to …. (covid-19 safe -of course 2020-2021….) Happy New Year and thanks Nick.

I have had problems for the last four years and it has taken over my life and marriage I have done lots of counselling and taken different medications to try to help and none really work I am trying my best with your help to get rid or my ruminating thoughts thanks fof your help .

I appreciated your comment … especially I’m at the base of the mountain at the mo myself!
I hope now ( which is quite a while since you first posted!) that you have got to the top of the mountain or just further on from where you were originally were! Let me know! Best wishes

I found it helpful that you distinguished healthy reflection from unhealthy rumination, something I’ve never been entirely clear about until now!

This article was incredibly eye opening and I’m thankful for the tools you’ve given to help break the rumination cycle. I have wasted so much time stuck in the past but now that you’ve equipped me to recognize and name what I’ve been trapped in, I feel like I can break free and get on with my life. You have no idea how much this has blessed my life. Thank you!

This is a wonderful article which gives me so many practical ways to deal with my issue of rumination. I am on a clearer path now to deal with it. The 3Ms are priceless! Thank you for the time and energy you spend on helping others.

I’m so impressed with your articles. I’ve not commented before either but I’ve been pondering how to discern rumination from introspectively finding meaning, resolution and processing the associated grief. I’m trying to learn how to avoid short-circuiting or suppressing this process by using skills that effectively spiritually bypass them, yet learn the new skills to overcome this rumination. It’s certainly not clear cut!

PS you so thoroughly addressed and answered my questions on the subject, very well, so I’m really grateful. May Santa bless you!

Thanks Nick. By far, the best post. I think most of the problems that originate starts with rumination and worry.
And this post should serve as a guideline to reduce rumination and worry.

Wonderful. It can’t help solve my difficulties but hopefully it will stop my ruminating on them and being more accepting and even positive.

Your article is very helpful since I always tend to ruminate if something bad happens to me and consequently, I have this fear of close relationships, have trust issues and I become cautious that I lost some people who would become good friends. Thank you so much.

Maybe someday you can publish your articles in a Kindle book. All of them. It will be a pleasure to read all of them at the beach in our kindle, Best wishes,

Hi Nick, I have been reading your posts for a year now and this article was of great use. Especially as I have been ruminating alot this last year. I have enjoyed your posts. They have been very informative. Thank you for all your time and work you put it to these posts. It is very much appreciated. Like the others who have commented, I to think you should perhaps consider writing a book. You have a way of putting psychology across which people who don’t have a background in it can understand. All the best to you and Merry Christmas.

Thanks for this article!
It’s a long read but… a necessary one. This is my greatest problem.
I’ve never been able to forgive my father. And, here’s a recipe for forgiveness. I’m looking forward to the read. Thanks! Lynda

This was an awesome read and I am happy that I took the time out to get familiar with what you wrote. I’ve been ruminating since forever, and sometimes I try really hard to stop; then get drag back to an extremely sad place. Kudos on a great article!

This is an awesome article! Full of insights and strategies to improve. I even took notes while reading it! Congratulations, Nick!

This was such an eye-opening article, thoroughly explaining something that has long afflicted me, and I couldn’t determine the why. I know I will reference this for years to come. Thank you so much!

Hi Nick, I think I’ve always suffered with rumination / low self esteem related. My father was narcissistic, my mother depressed and fighting to protect her children. I used drugs from a young age to self medicate. But around 38 years I encountered a long-term very troubling relationship with a malignant narcissist whom was my neighbour and literally every boundary I had was invalidated, abused, I reacted poorly at times, unable to handle the bully. Every attempt to mediate leads to more gaslighting, manipulation etc. This was directed towards all members of my family too, it was out of a horror movie. I suffered with GAD and social anxiety in my 20’s and when this stuff started happening (altercations etc) my ruminations got so bad as to reading the point of full blown OCD. It used to be the complex web of blame and deceit projected onto me, but after over 2.5 years away from him I will still rationalise a horrendous insult said to me (belittling my role as a father) a hundred or more times a day. I’ve been on a high dose SSRI’s for years, therapy for years too (inner child! inner critic! over controller! etc), but now cash has run out. Can rumination turn to OCD or do you think I always had it? I’m most curious. Anyway, this will be my guide moving forwards, In trying to purge myself of the past, it’s a ball and chain with the master wearing horns type affair, yes so much time lost to negativity that engulfed me.

Loved the specific breakdown of rumination in this article. Helped me recognize what and why I can’t seem to stop myself.
One thing you didn’t note..but I realize is my basic issue right now…
You’re article made me think about how helpless I feel and I then connected to the intense fear that I won’t be able to improve my life and be happy again on my own. I don’t see hope for myself if I can’t FIX what happened so I can go back to the past relationship. I don’t trust the future or myself anymore.
Thanks. Recognition of my own issues just may mean I can use your 3 ideas to stop ruminating on him.
I have to add that I ruminate any time something goes bad such as losing the job or having intense arguments that end badly with anyone. The results in my life have usually been so destructive to my life. It’s created an intense fear and expectation that there will be a very cruel moment that ends what good has happened up to that point.
Wow..I think I need to face this.

Thanks Nick!!! for your article. A lot of very good information.

From my past experience, Item 10. Short-circuit rumination with the 3Ms, move, make, and meet is priceless! (as stated by Laura above.)

Never heard this advice from anyone(doctors, therapists…, it took me a lifetime to figure this out on my own. But I can confirm that these 3 things can and do work in real life. My quality of life went up greatly when I applied these truths.


Thanks Tom
I ruminate from the minute I get up for two years about having to leave my teaching career with anxiety and depression. I try to change my thinking but these will help me. I told therapist if I can just stop thinking I would be good—- excited to try!
Dee C

Due to anxiety I lost my job, then, I lost a job offer that was the best i never even imagined could exist in my field. I then was being to cautious and Unassertive and they gave the position away 3 days later. I still have no job, and for 2 months I can’t stop (I mean can’t) thinking about how I lost the offer. Since I have to look for a job still I am constantly reminded of it daily for 2 months.

I plan on trying to use this article to get my life back.

I have enjoyed this article. I made a certain investment venture which didn’t work out like i had expected. This caused me alot of rumination and consquently depression. This article will help me alot.

Thank you for your wonderful, comprehensive article! I have dealt with rumination since childhood. Recently, I lost a job that was important to me, and I have found myself ruminating about it. Thank you so much for this amazing article. It’s really helpful and insightful. I have it bookmarked.

This was extremely helpful. None of the short, unhelpful lists we often find on the internet. This was well considered and a gift to those of us stuck ruminating. I have metastatic cancer at 53 and find I am constantly assessing my life to date. Exhausting and a waste of precious time and energy. Thank you for your ideas????

Absolutely excellent article! So completely thorough and helpful! It’s the absolutley best and last article I’m reading on this subject! Thank you so much!

I have never really thought about the “cost” of my ruminating. That was very eye opening and let’s me see that it’s not just in my head but is affecting how I engage in the present. Physically here but mentally distracted.

What if an experience created so much stress that a person was stuck in a fight, flight or freeze state? So it’s not so much a thinking rumination as a constant background dullness and exhaustion and a profound loss of any idea what goals or future would be. I’ve done everything on my bucket list. Is it just mental fatigue from ruminating?

Thanks very much Nick. I have had a tricky patient at work that I have been ruminating over, mostly at night. Reading your article has given me some excellent food for thought and practical strategies to try. Much appreciated.
Kind regards

What a deep and meaningful article! Looked online to help me distinguish between healthy processing and ruminating because it used to be my go to and I am going through a break up now. I was afraid of doing the processing wrong, in a way that only makes things worse. Have been working on the things in this article for maybe two years now and reading this made me realize I no longer ruminate, I just make time to feel. So to anyone who’s worried stopping to ruminate might be impossible – it does take time and effort, but it’s most definitely possible!! And it feels so much safer, more powerful and genuine to actually feel all the things. Anyway, many thanks for the article, truly appreciated

Wow….thank you. This really puts things into perspective…I know I have always had a tendency to ruminate too much or too long…usually regarding relationship issues….it isn’t healthy for myself, (which I realize), nor really fair to the other person….

Last night I realised that the insomnia of the last week had been caused by my own rumination. I went to bed saying to myself, “I am ruminating. I am ruminating” and that seemed to break up the thoughts a bit. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, and found this article. Honestly it is one of the best mental health articles I’ve ever read… especially about the secret payoffs of rumination. I am going to refer to this a lot in the future. Thanks!

Thanks Nick, an outstanding article.

Since the traumatic death of a family member, I’ve had constant ruminations about other people leaving too (more or less focused on my partner leaving/cheating etc, while in reality she’s the one who has tried to support most with grief.)

It’s been nothing short of absolute torture. Feeling so keen to move forwards but so trapped by persistent thoughts of a nightmare on loop, eating away at your self esteem and hope for the future.

I’ve had to cut my back, I have chronic insomnia and am on antidepressants, as well as three rounds of counselling over the last 9 months.

It’s exhausting almost to the point of suicide (sounds dramatic, but when you’re constantly submerged in such overwhelm, life loses near most all of its appeal)

I will be trying to apply your recommended techniques, which better capture the reality as I’ve felt it, compared to any book I’ve read , or therapy session I’ve attended.

I’m super late to comment, but I need as many tools as possible to help me with rumination of situations that send me into rage. I enjoyed the article and will try to add these to what I do to get out of it!!

Wow. This was so eye-opening. I didn’t know that it was called that (“ruminating”) and that I do it so much. No wonder…
Thanks, Nick.

I came across this article as ive realised i always ruminate when im driving to and from work in my car. This article helped me understand why i was doing it and gave me practical tips how to stop it. Thanks

I have suffered from what feels like compulsive rumination for decades. If someone gets angry at me or if there is conflict and we don’t work it out immediately, I can ruminate for *days*. It’s been hard to find resources that directly address this thing — most are too general or too trite in offering solutions (get more sleep, don’t be so sensative yadda yadda). Your article has been immensely helpful to me. For me, yes it’s helplessness (childhood trauma). Conflict re-stimulates the trauma. So my rumination is literally in a primitive way trying to rescue myself. Thing is, it doesn’t work at all in reality, however it must feel empowering on some level. Your ideas here are good and thanks for writing.

Thanks, this was amazing. The part about helplessness was the most illuminating. I’ve been stuck for months thinking about a break up, riddled with guilt even though nothing happened – we parted ways in an adult and friendly way because we are not compatible. But since he is such an amazing person, I keep thinking I might have made a mistake. A mistake which could have been avoided if we had reflected more in the moment and communicated properly. I tried to talk to him but he no longer wants to try again and the regret is drowning me.

It’s been months (the relationship was brief, the rumination has far outlasted the time we dated) and now I am stuck in a loop. It is getting much better with time but I noticed that like the article says, rumination has become sort of a habit: something I do when I am bored or when I feel uncomfortable, lonely or scared about the future.

It can interfere with the present, as sometime I switch off when I am with friends, at work. Sometimes it keep me awake and rolling in bed. And I am not able to date as I am not over him yet. But perhaps most importantly, I did not spend enough time to get to know the guy all that well so all this rumination is making me perhaps overestimate him and the potential of a relationship between us.

I avoid helplessness, but if I faced it head on, I would not need to turn to my little “habit”. I am conscious of my vulnerability but the main thing making me helpless right now is thinking that rumination is happening to me, and letting it control me, when I am actually doing it to myself.

Another great article of yours. Clear and concise, no redundant sentence, and full of juicy points.
A suggestion if it’s helpful: A sidebar of category list may help readers to navigate among topics ~
Thanks A LOT for your posts Nick!

I’ve been dealing with rumination and depression since discovering my (now ex) wife’s infidelity. At times it has been crippling. This is literally the first thing I’ve read that seems truly helpful. Understanding why I ruminate, what functions it serves, is eye opening.

Thank you for this article!

Thank you so much Nick. Rumination is ruling my life right now on many fronts, and it’s exhausting. I’ve bookmarked this article to return to.

Thanks, this article was helpful. I replay past mistreatment from time to time and sometimes it makes me angry and nervous. The reasons of my rumination are feeling disconnected from people around me at work and low self esteem. But working out and taking magnesium supplement has helped a lot. Don’t worry ????

Thanks, this article was helpful. I replay past mistreatment from time to time and sometimes it makes feel angry and irritable.

Didn’t realize I was filling psychological needs with my rumination. Excellent and thorough article! Thank you for your wisdom and insight.

I get stuck in my head after a presentation goes badly. I feel that I have humiliated myself and restoration is near impossible. How do these things happen? I’m usually well-prepared but my passions lead me horribly astray. I feel as if I’m becoming the old person who has lost control. I need to get myself together. I’ll study your article on assertiveness. Thank you, Nick.

Thanks for this insightful article. You pretty much hit the nail of the head on the source and derivatives of the main cause of my mental troubles— rumination and anger. Love how you root caused it, described the symptoms, and even gave a thorough outline of how to overcome it and move forward. Probably the best help I’ve received in my search for answers thus far; thank you!

As another reader commented, this is the best self-help article I’ve ever read. I have had a severe rumination habit that I feel is really causing me harm. At times I am desperate to get out of the loop. I understand how I got there — 4 years of real trauma, death of my parents, my own chronic illness problem and near death ordeal, dementia of two family members, moving multiple times, on and on. There was no aspect of my life that wasn’t unsettled. I understand now that I have been trying to control and make sense of it all. So thankyou for this, it really made sense to me. I went out and took a brisk walk after I read it. And I will read it again and again.

I’m guessing the connection with low self-esteem, stems from ruminating not being productive. Ruminating will only grant you a temporary and false feeling of control, and since nothing actually happens, you are only reinforcing your own (learned) helplessness: The only thing you know to do (ruminating), does not help you, and thus you must actually be helpless.

Hi Nick!
Great article. I just a have a little query though. Doesn’t going for a walk, or gym etc amount to distracting oneself from facing the real issues?

Reading these comments, suggests plenty of people having similar challenges, yet in day to day life, you never meet anyone truly supportive. Let me ruminate about that, just a bit…

I especially appreciate the way you break down the different types of rumination and the underlying needs that they may be fulfilling. I also think the 3Ms are a great way to short-circuit rumination at the moment.

Thank you Nick; from the bottom of my heart. I learned so much about myself today. One-of-a-kind life-changing article.

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