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  • Writer's pictureCandy Widdifield

Overcoming Rumination

Updated: 5 days ago

Rumination, or getting stuck on certain thoughts, can be an aspect of limbic system impairment for many. Being able to recognize this pattern and then apply the tools to get out of it is necessary in order to stop reinforcing the brain pathways we are trying to change.

As with all things in brain retraining, we cannot change what we are not aware of, so the first step is to do some self reflection and see if there are specific areas where you get caught up in thinking about certain things, where the mind becomes a bit obsessed and it is difficult to shift your attention away. By noticing it we are stepping into the observer. From there, we can label it for what it is, in a neutral way (e.g. "Oh look, my brain is ruminating again"). Through the observation and labeling process you are already creating some space or distance between the higher functioning parts of your brain and the rumination. This enables us to take action a little bit more easily than when we are fully caught up with the obsessive thoughts themselves.

From here, I like to use Dr. Christine Padesky's 3 questions for rumination. Ask yourself the following:

1) Is this the right time to think about this?

If not, do something else. Actively engage in another activity (or do a round of practice). If it is the middle of the night, try Yoga Nidra, progressive muscle relaxation, or a sleep meditation.

2) Am I avoiding anything?

If you are using these thoughts to avoid something else, once you acknowledge this, engage in the activity you are avoiding. It will decrease the use of rumination as a stalling tactic.

3) How long have I been thinking about this?

Give yourself a time limit of 2-3 minutes, then move on to another activity. Over time decrease the time limit.

According to Dr. Padesky, ten minutes of doing something with a strong focus is enough to stop the rumination and get the brain engaged in something else. This reminds me of Dr Jeffrey Schwartz' work with obsessive compulsive disorder. Dr. Schwartz talks about the caudate nucleus being a "sticky gearshift" in these types of conditions, which is why it is hard to switch gears and think about/do other things. If it is helpful, you can visualize a gearshift in your brain switching gears as you move from rumination onto focusing on other things. You can also you use your intention and possibly an affirmation for your gearshift to work smoothly and easily.

If what you are ruminating on is something that needs attention, then go into active problem solving mode rather than just musing about the situation. At the end of active problem solving do something a little more physical, like go for a walk or do the dishes, while tuning into sensory experiences so that your mind doesn't just revert back to rumination. To tune into sensory experiences, focus first on one thing you see. Take in all the details, the colour, the texture, shape, etc. Go through this process slowly with fully focused attention to the best of your ability. Then move on to one thing you hear and repeat the process. Really take in the sound, be curious about it and what you notice about it that you may not have noticed before. Continue to repeat this process with all of the senses. If you have a dysregulated nervous system, you may feel impatient with this process or feel some resistance to doing it. It is a good mindfulness exercise to improve nervous system regulation as well. It is worth practicing slowing down, even just for a moment or two with each sense, to start to train your nervous system into a calmer way of being. With repetition, you will become better at using this practice to focus your brain as well as regulate your system.

Best wishes on your retraining!

Caelum's Insights (A Functional Neurology Perspective):

There tends to be a lot of talk about the nervous system and most of it is around parasympathetic and sympathetic. There is a lot more to consider when thinking about the nervous system. Those are just a few divisions of it. The two overarching main branches of the nervous system are the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is the brain and spinal cord and its main job is motor output and sensory integration (which occurs in the brain). The peripheral nervous system is responsible for receiving sensory information and sending it to the spinal cord to be sent to the brain for interpretation. Sensory information is everything from light to the feeling of touch. Everything that occurs in our body is due to interpretation of and response to sensory information. The brain takes in all of this information and integrates it in different areas. Reflexes then kick in for things like taking a breath, digesting food, or increasing/decreasing heart rate. Our brain's interpretation of the information provided allows it to decide how to affect our autonomics like heart rate, breathing rate, pupil dilation, etc. Our sympathetic nervous system is triggered when the brain interprets the information as dangerous. 

If you have any questions you would like answered in this blog or to be added to my coaching waitlist, please email me at


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