How to Tackle Rumination: What to Do When Thoughts Get Stuck in Your Head

Rumination—overthinking, redigesting, stressing over events and situations that feel unfinished, unresolved, or otherwise not understood “well enough”— can feel like the bane of our existence. Hours and hours of time, sleep, productivity, sanity can feel taken from us as we feel stuck reprocessing even when we don’t want to. The brain seems to have a mind of its own… anxiety and hopelessness rush in. Even if we try to wave the white flag of surrender and say we’re done!—it seems like there is no escape, the overthinking brain takes over and spins and spins us some more. It is misery. It doesn’t have to be this way!

A little while ago my brilliant friend, Amanda Stern, whom readers here may remember wrote a gripping memoir called Little Panic about growing up with an undiagnosed panic disorder (I wrote about the book and how parents or anyone can respond to panic symptoms in this blog post here), asked me about the differences between rumination and thinking. While this is what we may call an “evergreen” question—always relevant to human beings given our wired-in capacity to overthink— especially in these stressful times when we have too much time on our hands to stress-sit and overthink, these ruminative journeys feel especially daunting and vexing and we need to be prepared with ideas that work. Here is my cheat sheet for how to respond differently to ruminative thoughts. And that’s really the gist: we can’t stop thoughts, but by seeing them as less important, we can change our response to them (not dropping everything to prioritize them every time…) and in so doing, we rewire the brain to not keep sending us on these relentless thought missions. Please read the cheat sheet here and make sure to sign up for Amanda’s weekly newsletter here. And if you’re not signed up to receive my blog posts—please do here.

And…. One more thing. I wrote my Valentine’s post about how to take care of our loving hearts—by….wait for it…. Giving ourselves permission to cry! A bit vexingly my MailChimp program did not send it out, are they trying to actually break my heart?!?, so I am linking to it here. Please check it out and accept my belated Valentine to you, my dear readers!

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tamar chansky phd

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