Cluster Three: The mental anguish of rumination
These methods deal with the difficult problem of a brain that won’t stop thinking about distressing thoughts or where worry suffocates your mental and emotional life. These worries hum along in the background, generating tension or sick feelings, destroying concentration and diminishing the capacity to pay attention to the good things in life.
Therapy does not need to focus on any specific worry, but rather on the act of worrying itself – the following methods are the most effective in eliminating rumination.
Anxiety Management Method 7: Turning it off
If a ruminating brain is like an engine stuck in gear and overheating, then slowing or stopping it gives it a chance to cool off. The goal of ‘turning it off’ is to give the ruminative mind a chance to rest and calm down.
Sit quietly with eyes closed and focus on an image of an open container ready to receive every issue on your mind. See and name each issue or worry and imagine putting it into the container. When no more issues come to mind, ‘put a lid’ on the container and place it on a shelf or in some other out of the way place until you need to go back to get something from it. Once you have the container on the shelf, you invite into the space that is left in your mind whatever is the most important current thought or feeling.
At night, right before sleep, invite a peaceful thought to focus on while drifting off.
Anxiety Management Method 8: Persistent interruption of rumination
Ruminative worry has a life of its own, consistently interfering with every other thought in your mind. The key to changing this pattern is to be persistent with your attempts to use thought stopping and thought replacement. Its important to attempt to interrupt the pattern every time you catch yourself ruminating – you’ve spent a long time establishing this pattern and it will take persistence to wear it down.
Thought stopping – use the command “Stop” and/or a visual image to remind yourself that you are going into an old habit. The command serves as a punishment and a distractor.
Thought replacement – substitute a reassuring, assertive or self-accepting statement after you have managed to stop the thought. You may need to develop a set of these statements that you can look at or recall from memory.
Anxiety Management Method 9: Worry well, but only once
Some worries just have to be faced head-on, and worrying about them the right way can help eliminate secondary, unnecessary worrying. When you feel that your worries are out of control try this next method:
- Worry through all the issues within a time limit of 10-20 mins and cover all the bases
- Do anything that must be done at the present timeSet a time when it’ll be necessary to think about the worry again
- Write that time on a calendar
- Whenever the thought pops up again say, “Stop! I already worried” and divert your thoughts as quickly as possible to another activity – you may need to make a list of these possible diversions beforehand.
Anxiety Management Method 10: Learn to plan instead of worry
A big difference between planning and worrying is that a good plan doesn’t need constant review. An anxious brain, however, will reconsider a plan over and over to be sure it’s the right plan. This is all just ruminating worry disguising itself as making a plan and then seeking constant reassurance.
It is important to learn the fundamentals of planning as it can make a big difference in calming a ruminative mind. These include:
- Concretely identifying the problem
- Listing the problem solving options
- Picking one of the options
- Writing out a plan of action
To be successful in this approach, you must also have learned to apply the thought-stopping/thought-replacing tools or you can turn planning into endless cycles of replanning.
Once a plan has been made you can use the fact that you have the plan as a concrete reassurance to prevent the round-robin of ruminative replanning. The plan becomes part of the thought-stopping statement, “Stop! I have a plan!” It also helps the endless reassurance-seeking, because it provides written solutions even to problems the ruminator considers hopelessly complex.