If your thoughts about the past are a symptom of a mental health condition, a professional may be able to help. By addressing the underlying cause, you can find relief for all of your symptoms — including rumination.
“With a supportive therapist, you can work through not just problematic thoughts but any mental health condition in its entirety, as well as circumstances that may be contributing to it,” explains Peterson.
Addressing rumination directly can also help. These tips may support you in the process:
Try quieting your inner critic
“You are not bad, weak, or flawed for ruminating,” says Peterson. Focusing on the past and putting yourself down for ruminating might reinforce negative thinking and increase your distress.
You may not be able to change what happened in your past, but you can create new experiences from this second on.
Going over what you did or didn’t do right won’t change anything. You did what you could with the resources at hand.
Self-compassion will go a long way, and it can start by simply not putting yourself down.
Consider the possibilities
Thinking about the things that are important to you may help you step away from painful rumination.
Instead of focusing on the things you don’t want, try to identify what you do want in your life. This can be relationships, jobs, hobbies, or places to be.
“When you catch yourself ruminating, gently shift your attention to an image of your valued life,” suggests Peterson.
Changing directions may help
When you find yourself hitting reverse, try to switch gears and move forward. You may even set it at neutral.
Peterson explains that grounding yourself in the here and now may allow you to redirect your thoughts. So, even if it doesn’t come naturally at first, try to come back to the present whenever you find yourself thinking about the past.
For example, look in front of you and try to find every possible detail of the first object you set eyes on. You can look at shapes, textures, colors, shades, and positions.