“I just keep going over and over it in my mind.” Over-thinking and How to Learn to Let Go.

Ruminating, over-thinking, obsessing. Whatever you want to call it I’m sure most of us are familiar with it. Yet research shows engaging in this kind of thinking can have a negative impact on our minds and bodies. So how do we stop?

Once we become convinced of something, it’s difficult to change our minds. But we have to break the negative cycles we can get caught up in. Rumination, or ‘over-thinking’, is one of the most common yet unhealthiest activities which can easily become a habit. ‘Chewing over’ that moment when you had a fight with someone, replaying that scene over and over again when you wish you had said (or not said) something, can have detrimental effects on our emotional and physical well-being. It increases the risk of depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and even cardiovascular disease.

Rumination can be interpreted, essentially, as an attempt to gain control over a situation in order to change the outcome. However, as most of us realise, no matter how many times we go over it in our head, the outcome isn’t going to change. Perhaps we have placed more importance on that particular conversation or relationship (or whatever your chosen focus may be), causing a fear of having done something wrong. A desperate need to fix the situation then arises and subsequently, we start to go over all the things that could have been said or done differently. It’s an easy cycle to get caught up in and at times can be overwhelming.

That said, it is possible to break the habit and here are some things we can do to work towards that change:

Don’t believe in it

Our emotions may feel like an uncontrollable force of nature at times, yet we can influence them and even learn to control them. It’s a skill we can build, not a fixed capacity. The first step towards this is believing you can control them and telling yourself this whenever you feel the opposite is true. Accept that over-thinking won’t give you insight. Challenge the thoughts that come into your head by asking questions such as, “what would someone else think about this?”, or “how likely is this really?”.

Recognise when you are ruminating

Do your thoughts keep coming back to the same event in the past? Are you experiencing unpleasant emotions along with this? Are you trying to find a deeper meaning to what happened? Are you focusing on a disastrous impact that you feel is sure to come from this situation? If you answer yes to these questions you can begin to be aware that you are over-thinking in that moment, instead of just getting caught up in it. In other words, noticing that you are over-thinking and being mindful of it will help distance you from the painful emotions that arise.


Even a two-minute distraction is enough to break to urge to ruminate in that moment. Each time you have a worrying or upsetting thought, force yourself to concentrate on something else. Whether it’s the number of cars passing by, or how many people are wearing trainers on the bus, doing exercise, or knitting, choose something which focuses you on the present moment and brings you back to the here-and-now.

All of these things may be hard to do at first, and it’s easy to fall into the habit of beating ourselves up when it comes to ruminating. We may find ourselves saying, “why am I thinking about this over and over again?!”. And, although this may be an important question to address, it’s equally important to look at the way we address it; harsh words will only weaken our self-esteem further and cause us to become further entrenched in the cycle. Taking the time to tend to our wounds and practising this kind of emotional hygiene can help us towards building more meaningful connections with those around us, as well as building resilience in the face of distress. If you’re struggling to do this alone, a counsellor or therapist can help you along your way and can be an invaluable tool in creating change.