How to Unhook from Ruminating Thoughts

Place of Serenity | ruminating thoughts

You’ve probably tried before to unhook from ruminating thoughts.

You know the ones – the unhelpful thoughts, memories and worries that are insistent and pretty tenacious! They often appear when you’re trying to sleep. Or before you are about to do something big because those thoughts include an inner critic who says you won’t be good enough.

Acknowledge You’re Tangled up in Ruminating Thoughts

When you become mindfully aware that you are caught up in these thoughts you can start by acknowledging that you are getting tangled up. Notice how your body often constricts with these difficult thoughts – tension takes over.

So soften your body first – muscles, joints, limbs. You open up some space to be with these thoughts without fighting against them. Surrender into them. Breathe deeply. Slow everything down.

Observe Yourself

There is a part of your mind that’s able to step back and observe what you’re thinking. This part of your mind is the observer self. Instead of getting caught up, notice what’s happening.

Sense how your body is feeling. And notice how you find yourself hooked into behaviours that give you temporary relief, such as drinking alcohol, burying yourself deeper into hours of work, shutting yourself off from friends and family etc. Or simply listening in to and believing this inner critic.

Observe yourself doing this, and without judging yourself, you can make a choice. Place of Serenity | ruminating thoughts

Choose something different. The power of your mind to focus on something other than your ruminating thoughts is the power you have within you as a human being.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness as a bridge between the mind and the body:

‘The moment you begin to practice mindful breathing, your body and mind begin to come together with one another in the present moment.’

Mindfulness Meditation and Ruminating Thoughts

This is what we learn with mindfulness meditation. And as you become more present there are a host of ways to unhook from the ruminating thoughts which keep on filling your mind.

For example:

  • Are those repeated thoughts those of a bully?
  • Are you letting yourself be bullied by a voice that’s not really yours?
  • Perhaps hidden in there are links to a parental figure or boss from work.
  • If you buy into the ruminating thoughts, where do they take you?
  • Do they help you with your work/relationship/feelings of peace or happiness? Could you sit and meditate instead and gently let them go?

You have a choice – to keep ruminating.

Or you can shift your focus. Choose to sit with your breath and watch those thoughts as though they are floating by like leaves on a stream, clouds in the sky or an ever-changing video screen.

Place of Serenity | ruminating thoughts

Do Something Completely Different

If ruminating thoughts are really getting you down, there are many ways you can shift your mind’s focus. Nature is a powerful ally. Let her support you by going outside if possible.

Just one of a million ways to connect with nature is by noticing the birds:

Joe Harkness in Norfolk talks about what he calls ‘bird therapy’. His love for bird-watching has helped him with his mental health challenges.

Through birdwatching, Harkness experienced a more grounded sense of wellbeing and the ability to escape negative cycles of unhelpful thoughts.

Even placing feeders and watching birds outside your own window can break up the fog of unwanted ruminating thoughts. More about Joe Harkness speaking with Chris Packham about depression, mindfulness and bird therapy here.

Place of Serenity

Thoughts and Emotions are Always on the Move

When you sit with ruminating thoughts, bring a gentle enquiry towards yourself.

Emotions are energy in motion (e-motion) so you might become aware of the movement of an emotion; that it doesn’t stay stuck. It will move on, sometimes swiftly, other times it may linger. Like leaves on a stream or clouds.

And the only way the same thoughts and emotions keep returning is when you keep feeding those thoughts with your attention. You don’t have to be stuck with the same old thoughts and beliefs for ever.

Next time those ruminating thoughts insistently nag at you, stand back and take charge. Be kind to yourself because we all have minds that do this!

  • Connect your body and mind by focusing on your breath.
  • Breathe deeply into all parts of your body.
  • Feel into your heart and let it open with kindness and self-compassion.
  • Remember that you are a magnificent unique human being.

Remind yourself that you are grounded, alive and YOU are in charge!

Simple, gentle reminders from:

True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

Helpful info: Mental Health Foundation



Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Guide

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