Ruminating… Looping… Spiraling... Downward.

By Dr GaryCA Latest Activity February 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm Views 61,806 Replies 168 Likes 124

Dr GaryTherapist

Ever find yourself thinking about a situation over and over?

Maybe you had a bad day at work, a conflict with a co-worker or what felt like mistreatment from your boss. Or someone on the street, or in the next car, acted thoughtlessly or aggressively. Or a clerk in a store was absent-minded or rude. Or a family member yet again disrespected your feelings.

Later that day, you found yourself replaying the details in your mind like a movie that is stuck in continuous loop, watching every single detail, obsessing about the what’s and why’s, what you said and did, what was done to you, what you wish you had said or done…

Well you get the picture. This is called rumination – going over the same negative situation over and over – in a loop that never ends. Rumination comes natural to humans, and it’s all too easy to get caught up in. But it’s a loop that can lead to a spiral into deep depression.

When is the last time you ruminated? It’s human nature to ruminate, so probably not all that long ago.

Our mind slides into rumination for a number of reasons.

Some people ruminate to avoid their feelings. They fall into their intellect and, like a courtroom scene, go through every last detail, over and over, to try and make sense of it. And without having to feel the intense emotions that the situation brought up in them. Kind of like analysis/paralysis.

Other people ruminate to re-experience feelings. These may be very unpleasant feelings – loss, sadness, fear, anger – but they are nonetheless familiar feelings and, therefore, comfortable in their own way. In other words, these feelings have become a way of life and they are in an ongoing process of gathering evidence that will help to keep them stuck in the same emotional state.

Either way, rumination is about trying to figure something out. To get to an explanation of why something did or didn’t happen the way you wanted it to. Or to justify why we are entitled, if not sentenced, to feeling certain unpleasant emotions.

In other words, to KNOW WHY and to be CERTAIN that you know why. But think about it. How much certainty is there in the world?

Looping… spiraling… The result is being stuck in a negative pattern of thinking and feeling. Now, that’s depressing.

But here’s the good news. It is possible to break out of ruminating behavior.

Give yourself a pep talk. Tell yourself that you did the best you could in a difficult situation. You were who you were during that time and you can’t go back and change anything. Give yourself credit for learning from the situation, and tell yourself that you’ll apply what you learned in the future to avoid similar situations.

Don’t take things so personally. We can’t control how other people behave. They act out of their own self interest, or out of their own suffering, or they’re just not paying attention. Bad behavior toward you may have arisen out of ignorance, or maybe you just happened to be the convenient target. It wasn’t you, it was that other person’s view of the world.

Meditate and pray on acceptance. Life isn’t fair, and we don’t get to control what happens in life. Spend some time working on accepting this truth. You might want to contemplate the serenity prayer from 12 Step groups, which encourages to accept what we cannot change. That’s right, you don’t have to be in control of everything. Isn’t that a relief?

Talk to someone. Tell your story to an objective friend or a counselor and ask them to help you to gain a new perspective on the situation that you are ruminating about. Learn some alternative ways to look at it beyond the limitations of your own view.

Look around you. What’s positive in your life right now? People who care about you and that you care about in return? Activities that you enjoy? Plans for the future? Knowing that you are taking better care of yourself? Better weather around the corner? Get your mind engaged in what’s right in the world.

Look forward. Make the decision to consciously let the past be in the past and focus your attention on the road ahead. Take that rumination energy and use it to push your life forward. Pull yourself out of the tailspin!

Had any experiences in rumination that you want to share? What’s worked for you?

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Replies (168 replies)

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  • Jman79
    Jman79 September 27, 2015 at 4:18 am   

    I never knew what it was called but I have this problem at least 4 times a week. I just dont know what to do anymore. i haven't had 8 hours of sleep in months

  • Dr GaryCA October 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm   

    HI, have you talked to a therapist about this? You might work with someone who is trained in cognitive behavior therapy. That is a good approach for helping clients who ruminate. Stay in touch with us!

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous September 15, 2014 at 7:11 pm   

    This is an old post so I don't know if I'll get an answer. I was in a 20 yr emotionally, verbally and at times physically abusive marriage. We are still going through divorce, asset separation. I feel if I treat him like a normal person, then I am not showing him the consequences of his cruelty. I feel if I don't keep all his cruelty uppermost in my mind then I may be letting him off the hook. I have refused to do mediation in person only over phone but even that triggered me for weeks, just having to hear his voice and listen to his lies. If I continue to let him lie etc. then he wins, right? He walks away scot free from a life of cruelty behind closed doors and gets to be the 'nice guy' he has always acted in company. If I forget everything he has done and not hold my line in the sand of no contact, then I am letting him get away and losing what little pride I have left. I ruminate about his abuse for far too long daily when I should be moving forward and sorting out divorce stuff - but it is so triggering for me that I spend days in paralysis of how unfair him basically taking 2 decades of my life was. How can I stand my ground, make sure he and everybody else knows what he is, get through all this legal stuff without falling apart or spending hours ruminating. there must be a position of strength I can take that does not include continuously going over his abuse. I don't want to be friendly, civil or negotiate anything in person with this thing. That is not a solution I can ever live with. I put up with too much for much too long to ever let my guard down or treat him in anyway as if this was a 'normal' marriage. I swallowed too much pride and gave too much ground and was the bigger person for 2 decades. I need to find a way to stand my ground, know and accept that he is what he is and a way to feel that allows me to stop thinking about the abuse and also a way to get me through doing the paperwork, going through finances etc. to get this over with without spending day broken down by the injustice of it all. I don't want him in my life, I don't miss him in anyway, he has a new women who is on cloud 9 over her 'win' who I imagine will be broken in a few years unless she is tougher than him. I just want to stop thinking of the abuse - if I do he gets away with it and if I don't he wins and continues to abuse me in my own head!!

  • Dr GaryCA October 11, 2015 at 10:03 pm   

    HI, I am so sorry I didn't see your message earlier. It has been a year so you may not be struggling so much now with the rumination. You described this so well. And I am sorry to hear what happened to you. Have you talked to a therapist about this? Standing by if you want to give us an update.

  • 123kittenboy
    123kittenboy November 11, 2014 at 2:30 am   

    I meant my post is below…

  • 123kittenboy
    123kittenboy November 11, 2014 at 2:29 am   

    I posted above…email me if u need to.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous November 11, 2014 at 2:28 am   

    I had a very very similar experience with my ex…eerily so. U are talking about verbal and emotional abuse…I also went through a bitter divorce several years ago. I won't be anywhere near my ex. We have children together…what helped me was a couple of books by Patricia Evans called the verbally abusive relationship and the controlling relationship. So many of these types of abusers have narcissistic traits and a personality disorder…but these guys live in another universe not similar to yours. Once I read these books it helped me recover so much. There are other articles and sites u can google to help as well. These guys are baffling, cruel and can be charming at the beginning…but you are a victim…there is no "it takes two to tango" with these guys…it takes one who refuses to dance or go seek help or do marriage counseling…u can reply to my email address if you like. But go on and live ur life. It isn't ur fault.

  • skivinspannah
    skivinspannah January 17, 2014 at 2:05 am   

    I do this all the time and I want my brain to switch off! I've never done drugs but I see the appeal of something knocking me out for a week! I don't want to die but I want a holiday from my brain.

  • Dr GaryCA January 18, 2014 at 2:27 pm   


    Have you talked to a therapist about rumination and what you might be able to do about it? You might give this a try. For example. cognitive behavior therapy might be helpful. You might also try the ideas I suggested.

    Stay in touch!


  • skivinspannah
    skivinspannah January 18, 2014 at 2:32 pm   

    I have and I am seeing one at the moment but it doesn't seem to help. I've been on medication for it for a third of my life and am so scared I'll never recover. I just haven't got the energy for it if this is how life will be.

  • Dr GaryCA January 18, 2014 at 6:57 pm   

    Therapy is a process. It does take time and patience. I hope you will keep working at it. Therapy works!

  • flic28
    flic28 January 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm   

    Thanks for your reply Gary. It's really helpful to know there are support networks out there like this one. This has been really useful. I am feeling a lot better now. It's difficult when u r stuck in that negative repetition (ruminating) but when I can come out the other side things look a lot different and brighter. I hope everyone can experience this too and see that there are kind hearted people out there and the world isn't such a cruel place (although it can feel like that at times) thanks

  • Dr GaryCA January 3, 2014 at 8:17 pm   

    HI flic,

    You are very welcome, my friend. I really appreciate this. It's so important to have a support network, and so many people don't have one. That's what Depression Connect is all about. As you said so well, a reminder that there are a lot of caring people in the world. We just have to get connected with them. Glad you are here!


  • Ron annomomous
    Ron annomomous December 30, 2013 at 8:50 pm   

    I also ruminate all the time for ages after every time I have contact with my wife (separated fake or real)
    After a phone call, a text or a physical conversation.
    This article has helped me to identify it & now hopefully I can do something more productive when I realise I'm doing it next…

  • Dr GaryCA January 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm   

    Hey Ron,

    Thanks for checking in. Glad to hear this was helpful. And I hope you will keep us posted on how you're doing!


  • flic28
    flic28 December 30, 2013 at 7:05 pm   

    I ruminate all the time and this is a big cause of my depression as mine is often triggered by an event. Eg a family member recently sent the most awful messages to me suggesting I was making up having pregnancy sickness and suggesting I have a mental disorder and eating disorder instead!! Absolutely disgusted that this person could even think that I would harm the health of to baby just to look thin. I have lost a bit of weight because the morning sickness and constant nausea has been so bad. This is the case for a lot of women so I know I'm not alone. But I have felt so hurt and upset by these comments and constantly go over them in my head - just don't know how to stop myself thinking about it. Can't help thinking how unfair and insensitive this person is. I wish I could just not care and ignore this but I can't let it go. This has made me feel so low and I wish I knew how to help myself. Especially as I need to pull myself together as not good for baby. Reading this article has helped me understand rumination and why we do it. Just need to use strategies to replace this unhelpful process!

  • Dr GaryCA January 3, 2014 at 12:41 pm   

    Hey flic,

    I am glad the article was helpful to you in some way. And I just want to remind you that one of the hardest lessons of life is that we have no control over how other people choose to think, feel, or behave. It's always a mystery, and disappointing, when family members do things like what you described. Lots of troubled people out there is how I look at it.

    So focus on what's positive in your life, stay connected with positive, supportive people. Set limits with people who can't be there for you.

    Stay in touch!


  • Kelko27
    Kelko27 December 3, 2013 at 6:26 pm   

    Rumination has been a big problem for me. I keep myself trying to explain every single thing that did not come the way I expected. I have tried different things to get rid of that but I always find myself doing it again Its like an addition cause you know is harmful but you can't avoid it

  • Dr GaryCA January 3, 2014 at 12:26 pm   

    Hi Kelko,

    Nice to hear from you. I understand what you mean here. What might help is to think about meeting with a counselor. A technique like cognitive behavior therapy might help a lot. Something to consider. You can learn to avoid rumination.

    Stay in touch!


  • pidid
    pidid November 16, 2013 at 1:14 pm   

    Thanks for the post. First off I am not depressed yet but I am just starting to ruminate, and it has been after I watched a horrid video with someone getting murdered in real life, good thing that I am a christian so believing in what I do has helped me. Also I am still hanging out with friends and stuff but I cant stop thinking about what kind of world we live in and why people treat others like that. The thing I have noticed is I am less interested into my hobbys like programming and stuff like that. So am I ruminating just to be sure, if so will these steps help me get my life back in course. I have already tried some steps and it temporarily gets the subject out of my head but then after it comes back. Thanks!

  • Dr GaryCA January 3, 2014 at 12:23 pm   

    Hi pidid,

    Nice to hear from you. Sorry I didn't see this sooner. It sounds like you have a lot of positive distractions to help you counteract the rumination. This might also be a learning experience, there may be certain types of videos that you want to avoid. I have certainly learned to avoid violent movies. Just a thought.

    If the rumination continues, I definitely recommend talking to a therapist.

    Take care!


  • try2bpauseitive
    try2bpauseitive October 24, 2013 at 3:40 am   

    This has been possibly the biggest part of my problems in dealing with being suicidal from anxiety/panic/depression. The "Give yourself a pep talk." and "Don't take things so personally." paragraphs really struck home for me. I just gotta keep reminding myself of those words.

  • Dr GaryCA October 27, 2013 at 10:28 am   

    Hey try2b,

    I know exactly what you mean. The whole rumination thing is a big contributor to the thought processes that, in turn, can keep you stuck in the cycle of depression. It's one step at a time, as you re-learn those negative thought processes. Be patient with yourself!

    Hope you will stay connected with us, my friend!


  • chyna mom
    chyna mom October 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm   

    Yes. After my dear dog recently passed away. I couldn't stop the rumination thoughts of her. I couldn't concentrate or sleep. But now I have another adopted fur child and my thoughts are more positive and peaceful. My new dog us my therapy dog. I sleep so much better.

  • Dr GaryCA October 27, 2013 at 10:29 am   

    Hi chyna mom,

    It can be so sad to lose a pet. They are family members. I am happy to hear you have brought a new pet into your life. Pets are great therapy.

    Thanks for sharing this.


  • MegaStrify
    MegaStrify October 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm   

    Im depressed forever

  • Dr GaryCA October 27, 2013 at 10:30 am   

    Hi MegaStrify,

    Depression can be a chronic condition, but that doesn't mean it can't be treatable. So I hope you will reach out for help if you aren't already. Stay in touch with us!


  • xX_Chris_Xx
    xX_Chris_Xx July 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm   

    I do that and I just had 1 not that long ago I wish I could go back in time to fix that moment.. But ik I can't now I just hope she still loves me and pray she won't leave knowing she's upset it's difficult for me to enjoy simple things like being with family and friend I couldn't even enjoy a good movie I wanted to see.. I want to talk to a therapist for help or maybe someone here can help me.. I'm young I'm only 16 but I feel so much anger, stress, sadness, depression, self hatred, ect. And some of the burdens I bear probably aren't even mine but I still beat them I'm compelled to help others and make them happy but I'm usually the guy who helps others but sometimes doesn't have help when I need it..

  • Dr GaryCA October 27, 2013 at 4:58 pm   

    Hi Chris,

    sorry I didn't see this message until today.

    We can't go back in time, as you said, but we can do the best we can do in the present moment. It sounds like you are dealing with a lot right now. Have you talked to a counselor? You might want to talk to your parents about how your are feeling or with a school counselor.

    Take good care of yourself! Give yourself the love and concern that you give to others.

    And stay in touch with us.


  • Giirl22
    Giirl22 June 20, 2013 at 6:01 am   

    This is really helpful, I ruminate over something I do and then I feel guilty because I didnt do what others wanted me too. If someone isn't confirming my action I get panic attacks and high stress. I cannot do anything but to think about that and I push myself to do what they want me to so there is no discussion anymore. I feel sooo bad :(

  • Dr GaryCA October 27, 2013 at 5:00 pm   

    Hi! Glad to hear this was helpful. As I always tell myself, and my clients, we have no control how other people decide to think, feel, or behave. All we can do is the best we can to be kind to ourselves and others, but we also have to take good care of ourselves. Nice to see you! Gary

  • jmmofftt
    jmmofftt May 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm   

    The thing is that I try not to dwell over an over. I just want to understand so badly. Maybe so I can give myself an acceptable reason why someone who loves me would hurt me and not have to feel guilty about staying. Furthermore I'm scared of the same thing happening again.

  • Dr GaryCA June 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm   

    Hi, have you ever talked to a therapist about this? It could help a lot. I hope you will stay in touch with us. Gary

  • Diabeta
    Diabeta April 17, 2013 at 1:49 am   

    I have been a chronic ruminator or obssessed person much of my life! You are right about the negative feelings being comfortable in some ways they are all that you know! I am going through a particularly stressful situation now where I'm not only ruminating but adding more torturous thoughts such as: they don't care, I'm missing out on the fun they're having, I'm being ignored-though this is true!, etc and, yes I've been deeply depressed.

  • Dr GaryCA June 11, 2013 at 10:13 pm   

    Hi Diabeta,

    Sorry I didn't see this sooner. I hope you will check in and let us know how you are doing. Are you talking to a therapist?


  • Diabeta
    Diabeta June 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm   

    No therapist though I've had more than one in the past. I'm doing better emotionally I'm happy to report! Mainly physical issues now which also cause depression for me!

    RANDOLPH DRAGONS January 27, 2013 at 6:04 pm   


  • Dr GaryCA March 15, 2013 at 7:50 pm   

    Hey Randolph!

    I am glad this is helpful. Thanks for checking in!


  • missina
    missina January 24, 2013 at 3:18 am   

    Thank you! This helped me a lot!! Im going to work on not living in the past :) I'm tired of doing this to myself If I don't try to change now I'll be forever in this slump

  • Dr GaryCA March 15, 2013 at 7:51 pm   

    Hi Missina, I am glad to hear this was helpful to you. Thanks for letting me know. Gary

  • ariana50
    ariana50 December 11, 2012 at 9:57 pm   

    Wow. Extremely helpful and spot on

  • Dr GaryCA December 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm   

    Thank you! I am glad this was helpful to you. Let's stay in touch!

  • StressedAndScared
    StressedAndScared December 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm   

    This has kind of helped me, thanks! I've been depressed for about six months now but I've had depression before. I have chronic stress aswell which gives me horrible pains in my stomach, I constantly panic and obsess about every little thing and I feel like I can trust no one because everyone I've told about this has told someone else who has mocked me for it, saying im an attention seeker. I self harm because I sometimes feel its the only thing I can control in my life, im really frightened of how much worse this could get and I don't know what to do! I don't feel I can tell anyone so im posting here to see what others are saying, sorry.

  • amazingamy
    amazingamy June 22, 2013 at 11:51 am   

    I know how u feel, I feel the same way I need a friend to talk to right now…

  • Dr GaryCA December 11, 2012 at 8:43 pm   

    Hi StressedandScared,

    What you are experiencing is treatable. I really encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional. You might start by talking to your doctor about your stomach pains, and let him/her know about the depression and chronic stress. Don't go through this alone.

    Stay in touch!


  • StressedAndScared
    StressedAndScared December 12, 2012 at 6:39 am   

    Thankyou and this site is really helpful, thanks so much!

  • Dr GaryCA December 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm   

    You are welcome. I am glad you are here!

  • totalf##kup
    totalf##kup December 11, 2012 at 8:49 am   

    When I so this it's normally at night, I decided to put on a language learning CD to take my mind off it, if I am gonna be stuck in a cycle of rumination, I figured I might as well learn something. I now speak several languages (badly) and normally do eventually sleep once I concentrate on it. Hope this helps someone else. :)

  • shar626
    shar626 March 3, 2013 at 7:12 am   

    you made me smile thankyou and its also a great idea too :)

  • tiva
    tiva January 6, 2013 at 12:16 am   

    It sounds like a good idea… might come inbhandy… thanks!

  • Dr GaryCA December 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm   


    This is a really great idea. An excellent way to distract yourself.



  • egood
    egood December 11, 2012 at 1:47 am   

    I find that most of the ruminating I do is thinking about memories when I was still living with my parents. I was an unhappy child and took a lot of that frustration out on my parents, especially my dad. Some of the time I feel that I ruined their experience of their only kids childhood. I am sad a lot of the time because I want to take it all back. I wish I had a better relationship with my dad

  • Dr GaryCA December 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm   

    Hi egood,

    It sounds like you have a lot of guilty feelings about your childhood. Have you ever talked to a therapist about this? It might help you to have some perspective. I would encourage you to keep in mind that, as you said, you were an unhappy child, and you were behaving as an unhappy child. Sometimes when we look back at our childhood with adult eyes we forget that, as children, we had few emotional resources to draw upon. In other words, we did the best we could at that time in our life.

    Stay in touch!


  • jenlyns64
    jenlyns64 November 18, 2012 at 10:50 pm   

    I tend to ruminate daily. I wish I could stop but just when I think things are going to be ok some other horrible thing happens that sends me right back into ruminating. I conciously know that it isnt me and that it is other people but that doesnt seem to help much… Great post though, if I can get through my current horrible situation ok with my son being ok, safe and happy maybe I could get a chance to stop ruminating. But this current pressure is too heavy for me at present.

  • Dr GaryCA December 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm   

    Hey jen, sorry I didn't see this sooner. I hope you get though whatever it is you are going through, and that you find some of these ideas helpful at that point. Stay in touch with us and let us know how you're doing. Gary

  • lecurran
    lecurran November 18, 2012 at 8:12 am   

    I do this all the time. It feels like torture, like the cogs are always turning and turning and turning in my brain. I wish I could stop, I want to stop. Thank you for a good post. Louise x

  • Dr GaryCA November 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm   

    You're welcome. Thanks for checking in. You might want to try some of these ideas. It takes time to change thought patterns, one step at a time. Are you getting some counseling?

  • jenlyns64
    jenlyns64 November 18, 2012 at 10:43 pm   

    Ruminating is something I do a lot too.

  • britnah
    britnah November 17, 2012 at 7:14 pm   

    I always find myself in the same situation. I always am picking up a blade to cut but then I put it down later on ill be picking it up.

  • Dr GaryCA November 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm   

    I hope that you are reaching out for some help with this, britnah! Don't go through this alone!

  • jenlyns64
    jenlyns64 November 18, 2012 at 10:51 pm   

    yes Britnah, I hope you stop for good

  • britnah
    britnah November 18, 2012 at 11:01 pm   

    Nothing's going help me…

  • jenlyns64
    jenlyns64 November 19, 2012 at 10:48 am   

    There are things out there that can help. I dont know what but I do know God can do anything. Try prayer, it helps me

  • starieangel
    starieangel November 16, 2012 at 11:02 pm   

    wow, I've been trying to explain this to my therapist but havnt been able to get the idea across. they just tell me that it's normal to think abt stuff n it's actually gd that sometimes I actually prepares myself for upcoming task by keep having thoughts in my mind. it's v tiring to constantly 'talk' to urself though. it feels as though my mind is nvr at rest!

  • Dr GaryCA November 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm   

    Hi starieangel,

    I think there is a fine line between on one hand, thinking about things that happened, and letting yourself have your emotional reactions, remembering things to keep in mind as similar issues come in the future, and on the other hand, dweling on someting that is in the past and that you can't really do anything about. Again, a fine line.

    I have found that using relaxation techniques has helped me a lot.


  • Today is good
    Today is good November 18, 2012 at 6:39 am   

    One thing I have done to help myself is to accept that I suffer from OCD which is in conjunction with depression. I've searched the web and tried to educate myself on this condition. I'm speaking with a therapist and taking a mild anti depressant.
    I am posting this so if anyone else suffers from repetitive thinking that there are days it gets better and then certain days " triggers" set it off again. Hang in there. I just started on this site so I can get support and give support on the down days.

  • Dr GaryCA November 18, 2012 at 9:22 pm   

    Getting educated is a very good thing. Knowledge is power. It's great to have you here!

  • moodyblue
    moodyblue November 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm   

    Wow that's like you've just read my mind! I am going through this now. It has made me look at things differently now it's explained in black and white! I thought it was me and I was going mad! Thanks for this post, it's good food for thought :)

  • Dr GaryCA November 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm   

    Hi moodyblue,

    Great to hear from you. I am glad that this was helpful. Believe me, you are certainly not alone. I use these same technques with myself when I find myself stuck in a negative place. Thanks for your encouragement!


  • khaleesi32
    khaleesi32 November 16, 2012 at 1:07 am   

    I worry a lot about anything and everything. Lately I always seem to expect the worst and I have no peace of mind. I feel that I have developed some self-destructive tendencies. I am anxious all the time. It's not a good feeding.

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