(How to Stop Ruminating addressed the problems people most frequently encounter when learning how to turn off rumination. If you don’t know how to turn off rumination at all, start with that article. This article addresses the problems that people most frequently encounter when they know How to Stop Ruminating, but can’t seem to stop all the time.)
If you know How to Stop Ruminating, but can’t seem to stop all the time, consider the following questions:
Justification: Have you made a clear decision to stop ruminating, or is there a part of you that’s still trying to figure it out? In other words, are you justifying rumination in some way?
Justification is by far the most significant problem people encounter when trying to consistently stop ruminating. There’s a part of you that’s trying to stop and another part of you that is still trying to solve the problem. You can’t stop ruminating and keep trying to solve the problem at the same time. That’s like holding a ball and trying to put it down at the same time. The only way you are going to be able to stop is if you make a clear decision to do so, which may require addressing specific justifications. For additional help with this, check out: How are you justifying rumination?
Inconsistency: Are you trying to stop ruminating all the time, or just most of the time? For example, are you giving in when you get scared?
For a whole bunch of reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, eliminating rumination only part of the time doesn’t work. If you want to get better, you will have to eliminate rumination all the time. Treat this like a deadly allergy, not a diet.
Being too careful: Are you carefully thinking about the decision to stop ruminating each time you have the urge to ruminate?
Carefully considering the decision each time doesn’t work for multiple reasons. It effectively means you’re ruminating a bit each time, and it also maintains your sense of threat. It typically also leads to inconsistency. Make the decision to stop ruminating once and then ruthlessly adhere to it.
Verbalizing the obsession or identifying the threat: Are you verbalizing the obsession in your mind before you disengage from it? Are you taking a moment to figure out why you’re feeling threatened?
Even this is too much engagement. When you feel the initial feeling of threat, don’t even take a moment to put words to what the threat is. If you’ve already put words to it, disengage as soon as you can.
I like to use the following metaphor:
Imagine that the feeling of threat you feel is your phone dinging when you get a text message. What you’re doing is reading the text before deciding not to respond. Instead, don’t even read it.
Self-talk: Are you coaching or talking to yourself about not ruminating?
Don’t talk to yourself about not ruminating; just don’t ruminate. (We all talk to ourselves a little bit; just don’t have ongoing conversations with yourself about refraining from ruminating.)
Misguided Cognitive Therapy: Are you trying to convince yourself it’s ‘just OCD’ or that your fear is unrealistic?
While this might seem like a good idea, it’s rumination, plain and simple. The question exists; don’t engage with it at all.
Being upset when the problem occurs to you again: Do you feel surprised and upset when you’re reminded of the problem?
This problem is something you’ve been worrying about for a long time, so of course you’re not just going to forget about it, and of course it will come to mind from time to time.
The goal of not ruminating isn’t to stop this from happening, it’s to learn that you don’t have to get stuck when it does. Once you learn this, the thought occurring to you will be so non-threatening that you hardly notice it.
I’d also like to point out that if the thought occurs to you, that means you must have successfully disengaged from it. Congratulations! Now do the same thing again.
Doing exposures that are actually compulsions: Are you making yourself think about the problem because you think it’s exposure?
Your intentions are good, but you’re probably just ruminating. Focus on Response Prevention (completely eliminating rumination) instead.
Other forms of rumination: Are you thinking about things related to the problem, even if they’re not directly aimed at solving the problem?
Rumination comes in many forms, such as:
- Planning, anticipating, preparing
- Self-reflecting, introspecting, trying to understand your OCD
- Finding a good way to frame/think about the problem
- Thinking about the topic of the OCD/anxiety, or a related topic, for enjoyment or intellectual stimulation
If you’re thinking about your OCD, you’re probably ruminating.
While I’m sure the above is not an exhaustive list, it covers the vast majority of problems that people have when trying to stop ruminating all the time. I hope you find it helpful.