Alexandra Dobbs
Sophrologist and Hypnotherapist
Alexandra Dobbs
Sophrologist and Hypnotherapist

How to stop chewing over the same thoughts?

cow ruminating

Whats' the difference between thinking and brooding over?

As soon as we awake, a continuous stream of thoughts, like a river that never stops, flows through the field of our consciousness. The majority of our thoughts scroll automatically, without us having chosen to produce them. Some are induced by external stimuli, others by bodily sensations, while others just follow one another without any apparent link with the previous one or current situation.

This process contributes to our survival and well-being. It allows us to anticipate future events, draw lessons from the past, imagine solutions to problems, generate new and fruitful ideas. Thinking over a past event is a natural process. Returning to a situation of failure, for example, is healthy; the brain seeks to learn some lessons and adapt its response in case we face the situation again one day.
However, after an intense uncomfortable emotion or a daily annoyance, some people cannot stop their rehashing it. They ruminate. Unlike doubt, regret or worry, rumination is characterized by its repetitive nature. Negative thoughts arise and spin in a loop. At first, they focus on the event that has just taken place, but little by little they can slide towards other situations of the past, of the present, stirring up the most intimate doubts.

The person who ruminates locks him/herself in his/her problems, concerns, negative thoughts, reproaches, whether against him/herself or against others. Often, it only takes one insignificant event to cause hours or days of mental torture and disarray while remaining inactive. These ruminations are the result of a habit, taken for years, of endlessly rehashing one's problems, or that of a very strong emotion of fear, sadness, shame. Be that as it may, ruminations are a decoy: the person thinks he/she is thinking, while he/she is dwelling on it. The person is not looking for a solution to move towards positive changes.
Some psychologists today distinguish worries and ruminations. Anxieties and worries aim above all to anticipate future dangers (even if we rehash past events), while ruminations grind one or more themes in a loop (loss, error, failure, self-depreciation), their meanings, their causes, as well as the (painful) affects of the moment, in the (largely illusory) hope of understanding and changing.
According to Dr Richard Moss 80% of our attention is directed towards judgments towards oneself (eg: I am useless, I will never succeed,…), judgments towards someone else (eg: he/she knows better than me , he/she's annoying...), the past (eg: if I had had better parents, better teachers...) or the future (eg: I wouldn't make it...).

The exercise with the car incident

“The car incidnet exercise” proposed as part of a study by British researcher Ed Watkins, helps to better illustrate our two main ways of thinking. Imagine you have a very important meeting, like a job interview or a date. When about to leave, your car does not start.

Faced with this situation, there are, on the one hand, those who will begin to ruminate, asking themselves: “Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening precisely today? … ", who think of all the disaster scenarios that could happen and do not even think of a solution to try to manage the situation. On the other hand, there are those who will wonder, "How did this happen? How can I fix my car problem? How do I solve this problem with my having an important meeting?"

All these people are crossed by unpleasant emotions but their intensity will be less for those who are in search of a solution, those who act. In general, we alternate between these two modes of thinking, depending on the situation. It balances out. It becomes a problem when a person tends to ruminate mainly in an abstract way, because this risks causing a real loss of ability to manage situations, problems; the person finds him/herself trapped in an endless cycle, going around in circles, without being able to change the situations he/she is facing.

How can I tell when I'm chewing over the same thoughts?

French Psychiatrist, Christophe André, suggests three questions to find out if you are caught in a moment of rumination:
1. Do I feel like I have made progress towards a solution?
2. If not, do I feel like I see things more clearly?
3. If not, do I feel relieved to have thought of it?
If the answer is "no" to all three questions, it means that you are longer thinking but ruminating. It also important to be able to know if you are still in the reality. That is to say, am I reasoning from concrete facts? Or have I gone into an endless and unanswerable virtual reality, the virtual reality of my anxieties (eg: "how will all this end?") or the virtual reality of the possible causes of my suffering (eg: "why is all this happening to me now?").

How to stop chewing over the same old thoughts?

Here are some exercises to help you get out of ruminations, to turn off "Mental radio", as Christophe André calls it. These exercises are simple but require regular practice to be effective.
Move: in these moments, paradoxically, the best ally to tear ourselves away from our ruminations is no longer our brain but our body, getting up, moving, going for a walk. Studies show that 10 minutes of brisk walking significantly reduces the flow of our ruminations. Walk and then come back to the problem later with a clearer mind!
Redirect your attention: learn to focus your attention on a concrete and/or specific element (eg your breathing, a word, an image), making sure to constantly return to this element while thoughts inevitably arise. This allows you to concentrate and refocus better. You can focus your attention on your bodily sensations (eg on the path of the air in your nostrils and respiratory movements, on what you hear, feel in each part of the body, the smells you perceive, the taste in your mouth). This can also be done with mental visualizations, voluntary and repeated ones, of good times, of success, etc… of the current day or week.
Musular relaxation: people who ruminate—especially those who dwell on worries—often have tense muscles. The methodical learning of relaxation makes it possible to reduce the tone and consequently the overactivation of the autonomic nervous system. The ability to relax on the spot also facilitates the interruption of ruminations when you realize that they are starting.
Controlled worry time: developed by Psychologist Thomas D. Borkovec, this consists of actively thinking about spinning ideas during daily sessions of at least thirty minutes. The sessions are done without a break, if possible, always in the same place and at the same time (not in bed or in the evening). You put your thoughts down in writing, making sure to make them as concrete as possible. This helps to better identify them, to structure them, to sort them out and to distance oneself from them. During the sessions, you try to move from rehashing to a methodical approach to concrete problem and "sub-problem" resolution. The rest of the day, you need to practice detecting the onset of rumination episodes. As soon as they occur, you internally shout "Stop! It's toxic thinking! That's enough!" and you try to postpone the rehashing to the next controlled rumination session.
Mindfulness meditation: meditation will help you train in passive and detached observation of  the flow of your thoughts, as if you were simply watchinge clouds pass in the sky, without interpreting, without judging, without following any of them, in any way.


Whatever the practice, please be kind to yourself because it takes some time before it becomes a reflex. Also note that there are also, of course, environments or situations that are anxiety-provoking, deleterious and that lead to rumination. It is then necessary to manage to identify them to get out of them. If you can't do it alone or when rumination becomes chronic and it was never your way of thinking, seek help from a mental health professional.

How can Sophrology and Hypnosis help?

I will be guide you in this learning process. You will receive personalized exercises and audio recordings, you will learn not to let yourself be overwhelmed by your thoughts, which are "just thoughts", and eventually become autonomous. … Read customer feedback


Photo credit: cow (Pixabay)

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