Freedom From Ruminating Thoughts - Serenity in Suffering

Slowly noticing the tension in my jaw as my teeth began aching, alerted me my overthinking a particular situation had me on a never ending merry-go-round again. Restless, anxious and exhausted from another round of ruminating thoughts, I knew no answers came from this negative streaming of scenarios. Unless I found freedom from ruminating thoughts, anxiety and procrastination were my steady companions.

Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends. Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always. We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning to “be still”, so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.

what is rumination?

According to the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, expert psychologist at Yale University, legendary for her studies in rumination, rumination is a mode of responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and on the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms…people who are ruminating remain fixated on the problems and on their feelings about them without taking action.” Rumination is negative, focusing relentlessly on feelings and problems.

Rumination, or “overthinking” about life events or problems over and over is exactly the cause for remaining trapped. Resulting in procrastination, over sensitivity to criticism and inability to make decisions. Examples of rumination include:

  • When feeling upset about your work performance or other responsibilities, you continually relive the feelings and thoughts about the related incidents.
  • Reliving disagreements or uncomfortable conversations over and over in your head
  • Drawing assumptions from a past event. Replaying that event, drawing faulty conclusions and projecting them on all future events of that type.
gold scale with the past on one side and the word future on the other

The Difference Between Rumination and Worry

Many people mistakenly conclude rumination and worry are one and the same. Worry comprises negative thoughts over situations out of our control. Worry attempts problem solving a situation with an uncertain outcome or yet future. Even if worry touches a past event, researchers found the driving force was still focused on future impact. Most worry is rooted in fear. People worry because they think it will prepare them for the unknown.

Conversely, rumination is negative thinking about past events, why they happened, what they mean, with excessive focus on feelings. People who engage in rumination believe it helps them problem solve, which in fact is the polar opposite of finding solutions to their problems. Rumination often precipitates feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

reasons to stop ruminating thoughts

Research done by Susan Nolan-Hoeksema revealed several harmful consequences to persistent rumination. The following four reasons are most compelling.

  • Rumination leads to depression and anxiety. People who engage in persistent rumination suffer longer periods of depression, and are more susceptible to chronic forms of depression and anxiety.
  • Rumination undermines problem solving. Rumination creates a lens through which you see your problems as unsolvable. The negativity surrounding ruminating thoughts destroys confidence and portrays the problems as insurmountable. Those prone to rumination were less likely to implement a solution even if they found one.
  • Rumination provokes more negative emotions. The ruminator views problems through a negative lens concluding the majority of their memories and past experiences are negative. They become self-critical, critical of others and talk exclusively about their problems.
  • Rumination defeats motivation. The negativity of rumination convinces you that your problems are inescapable. In several studies, ruminators refused participation in activities designed to improve mood and physical well-being.
  • Rumination distracts from God’s Truth. Stuck in the cycle of rumination, events present a false reality apart from God’s truth and sovereignty.
farm file that looks like a maze, farm buildings in the background at sunset,  freedom from ruminating thoughts

Stop Ruminating Thoughts with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an invaluable tool for helping us gain freedom from ruminating thoughts. Mindfulness shifts us from the past to the present and from negativity to acceptance without judgment. Mindfulness also brings awareness to God’s Presence, gifting us with the stillness necessary to hear His voice over the noise of ruminating thoughts. The following techniques arrest the cycle of ruminating thoughts. Follow with a quiet time of prayer, meditating on the truth of God’s Word.

Mindfulness Techniques For Overcoming Ruminating Thoughts

  • The STOP Method. The STOP Method provides a way of stopping a stress reaction before it starts, but also furnishes an alternative to rumination. Learn the STOP Method HERE.
  • Change the Channel. Changing the channel is a form of distraction. When trapped in rumination, begin mindful breathing, focusing on your breath. Then “change the channel” of your thoughts by reciting the alphabet backwards, recalling in detail a scene from your favorite movie, or my favorite, recite Bible verses from memory slowly, focusing on the words. Another method of changing the channel is working crossword puzzles, sudoku or Bible trivia.
  • Five Senses Activity. The five senses activity grounds you in the present moment forcing your mind’s focus on your immediate surroundings. First, notice 5 things that you can see. Increase awareness of of your environment. Choose one thing you normally overlook; examine it carefully. Second, notice 4 things you can feel. Bring attention to the things that you currently feel, such as the texture of your clothing or an object nearby, even the temperature of the room. Third, notice 3 things that you can hear. Listen for and notice things in the background or farther away. Perhaps the birds chirping outside or an appliance humming in the next room. Fourth, notice 2 things you can smell. Bring awareness to scents that you usually filter out, either pleasant or unpleasant. Finally, notice 1 thing you can taste. Take a sip of a drink, chew gum, or notice the current taste in your mouth.
  • Self-Compassion Activity. Negative self-talk is the hallmark of ruminating thoughts. For easy tips for practicing self-compassion and a powerful self-compassion mindfulness activity head over to my article for full details.
ocean overflowing rocks on shore at sunset freedom from ruminating thoughts

Stop Ruminating Thoughts by Praying Scripture

When trapped in a round of rumination, I realize I need God’s help, but struggle to stop the endless negative streaming replay of thoughts long enough to pray. The best method I learned for overcoming my inability for prayer was praying scripture. By praying God’s words, not mine, I literally took my own thoughts captive, forcing their submission to truth. The following verses are my most effective weapons. I memorized these and several more, so I had them at the ready anytime. If memorization is hard for you, make up index cards you keep with you for easy reference.

  • Philippians 4:6-9
  • Romans 12:2
  • Isaiah 26:3-4
  • Romans 8:31-39
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
  • 2 Corinthians 10:5
  • Psalm 94:19
  • Psalm 46:10
  • Proverbs 3:5-8
  • Joshua 1:9
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • Psalm 56:3-4
river with large rocks viewed through tall green grasses at twilight

freedom from ruminating thoughts

Truly pursuing freedom from ruminating thoughts, we must first acknowledge we have this problem. Secondly, we must seriously consider how satan capitalizes on the tendency for rumination by infiltrating doubt and fear into our thoughts. Indulging ruminating thoughts distracts you from God’s truth, leading to lack of faith and trust in God regarding the past and future aspects of your life. Resulting in a slippery path downward to doubting your salvation and God’s forgiveness and redemption of your past. Ultimately, the perpetuation of ruminating thoughts challenges God’s sovereignty in your life.

Obtaining freedom from ruminating thoughts is a process of renewing your mind with the truth of God’s Word. A mind renewed by scripture no longer dwells on negative replays of past situations. Emotions cease driving reactions and fueling fear, anxiety and procrastination. Instead the truth of God’s Word transforms your mind, unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit enabling you to live a life of faith and trust.