Racing thoughts are not only an annoyance but can actually harm your health. Rumination is the act of deep thought. It tends to occur when you are alone and not actively engaged in a task. The history behind this interesting thought process stems back to our early ancestors.
Early humans did nearly everything together, from hunting and gathering to sleeping. Since our ancestors were hardly ever alone the spurts of rumination they did experience were positive. Focusing on the negative, for a short period of time, was very beneficial. It allowed them to review unfavorable situations and prevent those same mistakes from occurring again.
Fast forward to today. Though communication has never been easier and people are virtually connected, humans are far more solitary than our ancestors . The beauty of email, texting and other virtual communication has actually damaged our socialization with one another. Due to the nature of our lives, falling into the habit of prolonged, frequent rumination is common, but detrimental.
Constant or prolonged rumination can negatively affect our health, psychically and mentally. Focusing heavily on negativity can cause or worsen depression and anxiety, break down your self-confidence, ruin your sleep (rumination often happens in bed) and negatively affect your social life. Sadly, the act of rumination usually occurs due to being isolated, yet when we find ourselves in that way of thinking, often the last thing we want to do is be around people. It can turn into a vicious cycle.
Combating these racing thoughts is often easier said than done. Once the cycle of deep, negative though starts it is difficult to get out of. Because of this, preventing ruminating is very important. Try to stay social with people and spend less time by yourself. Even talking on the phone with someone can be helpful as long as you are engaged in conversation. If you find yourself alone and slipping into rumination, go out to a social setting like a coffee shop, invite some friends over, go to a family member’s house or just get a friend on the phone for a chat.
When your brain is focused on an activity it is difficult to distract it with deep thought. Aside from socializing, keeping your body active is a good way to prevent or stop rumination. Physical activity that engages your brain, such as yoga, zumba, strength-training, etc, makes it hard to focus on anything else when practicing the activity. Running or walking can be great too but you may be more apt to continue thinking when doing them. Listen to uplifting music or an audio book to get your mind off negative thoughts.
If you have negative thoughts that revolve around a problem, solve it. Rather than becoming your own victim, challenge your thoughts by searching for 1 thing you can do to solve the problem. For example, say you had a disagreement with your boss at work and now are afraid of possible repercussions like losing your job. Rather than thinking, “Why does this happen to me?”, challenge yourself by thinking “What can I do to solve this problem?”. Call a trusted friend or family member for their advice or contact your boss directly and ask if you could schedule a meeting to discuss the issue.
As stated before, ruminating can be a good thing. Reflecting deeply can be very beneficial but only if done for a short amount of time, say 5 minutes or so at a time. If you have racing thoughts keep these tips in mind or consider speaking with a counselor if you’re really struggling.
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