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How to Stop Obsessing, Ruminating, and Overthinking


You’re lying in bed, trying to fall asleep—and suddenly, that thing that happened is replaying in your mind. Again. Next thing you know, it’s the wee hours of the morning and you’re still dwelling on the past. If you’re struggling to stop obsessing over something that happened, whether it was yesterday or 30 years ago, don’t worry: you’re not alone. Ruminating to the point of obsession is something that many people struggle with at some point, and we have lots of helpful tips to help you kick the habit. Check them out below!


Give yourself permission to obsess.

  1. Almost everyone struggles with dwelling on past events. One of the best first steps you can take to stop obsessing over the past is, paradoxically, to release any shame you feel about obsessing.[1]
    • Not only will practicing self-compassion help you feel more at peace, it will prevent your anxiety from snowballing further.[2]
    • Self-compassion is particularly important if the event you are dwelling on is a mistake you made. Feeling guilt over your actions is distressing on its own: you don’t need to punish yourself further with the added anxiety of self-criticism over reliving the experience.
    • If the event you are dwelling on is a recent difficulty, such as a breakup or the death of a loved one, acknowledge that a little bit of obsession is very normal, and that your obsessive thoughts will likely fade soon on their own.
    • It’s often easier to judge a situation when we have distance. As an exercise, pretend you are speaking to a friend who is dwelling on the same event. What would you say to them?[3]

Ground yourself in reality.

  1. Focus on the sensory details of the here and now. When you ground yourself in the present, you will redirect your negative thoughts about the past.[4]
    Stop Obsessing over Something That Happened Step 2.jpg
    • The 5-4-3-2-1 method is a useful technique for grounding yourself: identify 5 things from your immediate environment that you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.[5]
    • Try to internalize the distinction between thoughts and facts. Question the obsessive scripts running through your mind by asking yourself if they’re objectively and definitely true.[6]

Distract yourself.

  1. Engaging in other activities will help you take your mind off things. By throwing yourself into an activity you can get totally lost in, you will be too busy to spend time dwelling on what happened in the past. Make sure the activity is one that absorbs all of your attention and engages you in a “flow”; distractions that don’t require you to be an active participant, like watching television, likely won’t be effective.[7]
    Stop Obsessing over Something That Happened Step 3.jpg
    • Great activities to take your mind off your obsession include volunteering, joining a club, or learning a new skill. Not only will these activities distract you, they will increase your self-esteem.
    • Finding a healthy distraction, like listening to a podcast or FaceTiming a friend, may help alleviate your obsessive thoughts since it forces your mind to think of other things as well.[8]
    • Keep in mind that distraction is a temporary solution: if the event you are obsessing over is serious, avoiding the situation can make things worse over time.

Schedule time to obsess.

  1. Designated rumination time will keep your obsession contained. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes and journal about your obsession or anxiety. Once the timer runs out, set aside your obsessive thoughts until the same time the next day. Intentionally limiting your rumination time will prevent your obsessive thoughts from overtaking your entire day.
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    • Plan your rumination period after you are finished working for the day, but not so close to bedtime that your obsessive thoughts end up keeping you awake.[9]
    • When your obsession or a worry related to your obsession creeps up outside of your rumination time, simply write the thought down in your journal to be addressed during your rumination time.[10]

Identify what you can and cannot control.

  1. If you can improve your situation, take action. You may not be able to change what happened, but there may be steps you can take to improve the situation. Can you fix what happened? If not, try to accept the uncertainty.[11]
    Stop Obsessing over Something That Happened Step 5.jpg
    • Maybe what happened was a mistake you made. Can you apologize to the offended party and forgive yourself?
    • Maybe what happened was a mistake someone else made. Can you seek closure from the offender and work toward forgiving them?
    • There is a difference between “ruminating” and “problem-solving.”[12] If you can’t improve your situation, acknowledge that your obsessive thoughts are not helpful.

Put the event in perspective.

  1. What happened might feel like the end of the world, but it isn’t. When you put the situation in perspective, you will realize that although you are suffering pain or anxiety in the moment, life will go on.[13]
    Stop Obsessing over Something That Happened Step 6.jpg
    • To stop obsessing over a mistake you made, practice “self-indifference”: acknowledge the shame or embarrassment you are feeling, and then shrug it off. Everyone messes up sometimes.[14]
    • As an exercise, humor your anxieties: what is the worst thing that could happen as a result of the event that occurred? Understanding how you would react to the worst-case scenario will help you stop obsessing.[15]

Learn from the event.

  1. “Everything happens for a reason” is a cliche…for a reason. Asking yourself what you can learn from what happened may not diminish your pain, but it may help you to move on from the memory.[16]
    Stop Obsessing over Something That Happened Step 7.jpg
    • Practice reframing your negative thinking to make it positive: try to see the bad thing that happened as a chance to implement your values to make the situation better, or practice gratitude for the resources you have to help you through the situation.[17]


  1. Daily meditation can help keep you tethered to the present. Devote 5 or 10 minutes every day to sitting in a quiet, peaceful spot and focusing on your breath.[18] By meditating regularly, you can achieve the mental discipline to shut down your obsessive remembering.[19]
    Stop Obsessing over Something That Happened Step 8.jpg
    • Make sure to meditate in an environment free of distractions (like your phone or television), and wear comfortable clothes.
    • Try repeating positive affirmations while you meditate such as “I am calm,” “I am focused,” and “I am at peace.”[20]
    • When your obsessive thoughts intrude on your meditation time, acknowledge them, and let them go.[21] Identifying your obsessions, rather than denying them, will help to reduce their power.


  1. Moving your body is a great way to overcome obsessive thinking. When you exercise, you release endorphins, which will help you destress, and it also serves as a helpful distraction from your thoughts.
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    • Try combining meditation and exercise by taking up a yoga or tai chi class. Yoga and tai chi’s focus on your breath and your body’s movements make these activities effective grounding techniques.[22]

Create a stress management plan.

  1. Identify your triggers. Certain situations may set off your obsessive thinking. Be proactive: if you know you are prone to obsessive thinking, or if there is one event you can’t shake, take advantage of a time when you are not dwelling and identify situations that might lead you to obsess over the event. This will help you overcome your obsessive thinking before it becomes a problem.[23]
    Stop Obsessing over Something That Happened Step 10.jpg
    • For example, if you are struggling with a breakup, a certain song might remind you of your ex. To avoid obsessing over the breakup, try avoiding the song for a while.
    • Be specific: make a list (mental or physical) of things that might trigger your obsessive thinking in the future.
    • Also keep track of things that may bring you relief when you are obsessing. Maybe a certain tea is particularly calming, or jogging helps to distract you.

Talk to a therapist.

  1. It can be hard to overcome an obsession on your own—and that’s OK. Speaking with a therapist about your anxieties may help you to overcome them.[24]
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    • A therapist will not only help you let go of your obsession; they will dig deep into your obsessive thoughts to get to the root of your anxieties.[25]
    • If you are unable to access therapy in-person or if you prefer doing therapy from home, virtual sessions from BetterHelp may be a valuable option.


  6. [v161900_b01]. 18 August 2021.
  8. [v161900_b01]. 18 August 2021.

Source: Wiki How