Bipolar depression can fuel negative thought loops, and hypo/mania can flood your mind with rapid flights of ideas. Find relief from rumination with these strategies.
Rumination can make you feel like a prisoner, trapped in a tiring cycle of negative thoughts.
Breaking the cycle of rumination takes some practice, but learning to manage your mind can free it up for more positive pursuits.
Here are four strategies to overcome destructive thoughts:
#1 Disentangle Yourself
Interrupting a pattern of negative thinking is a skill, and it starts with acknowledging your feelings and thoughts for what they are—and what they are not. Change your relationship with your thoughts and feelings, which are not facts, even though they’re often treated as such.
Back away and drop the effort to argue, comfort, or deal with repetitive worries, advises licensed psychologist Sally Winston, PhD.
Tell yourself not to spend time exploring “mind junk.” Says Winston: “Thoughts and feelings pass on their own if they are simply acknowledged and not fueled, paradoxically, by the effort to make them go away.”
Reminding yourself that your thoughts are not facts is a good first step to creating some distance between your conscious mind and a habitual thought loop.
#2 Use Mind Imagery
When peer specialist Stephen N. wants to interrupt a period of rumination, he visualizes himself on a riverbank, watching leaves float down a river.
“They’re big when they’re up close,” he says, “but they get smaller and smaller as they disappear in the distance.”
Harnessing your creativity to imagine an immersive, meditative experience can help to break the pattern of obsessive thought loops.
#3 Try Breathwork
Yogic breathing can help to calm an overanxious mind. Christine E. uses free meditation apps that calm the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the fight-or-flight response) and provide a sense of safety.
She also relies on guided chants to soothing music.
What they all have in common: There’s not one word about leaving worries behind.
“When a meditation tells me to stop thinking about something,” she says, “all that does is make me start wondering what it is I’m supposed to stop thinking about, and suddenly there I am thinking about it!”
Not all meditative and mindful experiences need to be completed while seated and silent, though; mindful movement in the form of intentional activities and exercise can make a big difference.
#4 Share the Burden
When the mind won’t calm down, sometimes it helps to unload with someone you fully trust.
“You need someone who will be there for you no matter what,” says Becky. “Sometimes, depending on the situation, they need to put you first.”
This kind of support can come from your close relationships—friends and family—or from members of a peer support group or a counselor, talk therapist, or psychologist.
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