When something doesn’t go your way, you’ll often walk away from the situation physically, but mentally, you continue to replay it. Call it rumination, overthinking, or rehashing — but that lingering feeling of holding onto something in your past is ubiquitous, and holding onto those anxious thoughts can make you feel like you’re walking around with extra weight on your shoulders.
“The problem with rumination is that it can increase the distress caused by a problem, and prompt us to get upset with ourselves for past mistakes that cannot be undone,” Edward Selby, Ph.D., an associate psychology professor at Rutgers University, tells Thrive. Natural ruminators are more likely to stress themselves out from overthinking after a situation has passed. Those persisting thoughts are counterproductive — but they’re actually more manageable than you think.
Here is an expert-backed strategy you can use to train your brain to catch your rumination in the moment, and finally let go of that one experience that’s been on your mind for far too long:
Find distractions to help “weather the storm”
When you keep rehashing scenarios in your head, the first step to stopping that automatic replay is getting out of your head, Selby notes. That starts with busying yourself with something else. “Options can include physical activity, like exercise, artistic outlets, like painting and music, or entertainment, like watching a funny movie,” he says. While finding the distraction that works for you is personal, but it’s most important to focus on what brings you joy. And remember, it’s about redirecting your mind, not erasing the situation entirely. “The distraction is used to give yourself time to calm down,” he adds.
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