As the year comes to an end, we may find ourselves reflecting on the past 12 months and whether we achieved the lofty goals we set for ourselves at the start of the year. For many of us, even though we have the best intentions, enthusiasm and passion to achieve our goals, life sometimes gets in the way… and at the end of the year, we often find ourselves reflecting and focussing on the things we didn’t achieve, or the negative things that occurred throughout the year.
Ruminating on past mistakes, worries or self-doubts can be extremely taxing on your wellbeing. But it is possible to break these thought patterns, which can then help you unlock a true sense of relaxation and cultivate happiness.
Below is our guide to help you release any uncertainties or negative thoughts about the year that has passed. You can then begin January with a clean mental and emotional slate.
Understanding rumination and its purpose
Continuously dwelling on the same negative thoughts is called rumination, and can easily snowball into a significant burden on your mental wellbeing by intensifying symptoms of depression or preventing you from properly processing emotions.
This is something we all experience from time to time to varying degrees. In fact, rumination is an evolutionary protective mechanism; the cycle of self-judgment is a part of our conditioned minds, programmed to keep us safe and alert in times of crisis and high pressure. However, this does not necessarily serve such a productive purpose in our modern lives.
Ongoing rumination can be attributed to a number of causes, such as:
- Facing ongoing stressors that cannot be controlled
- Low self-esteem
- Facing a fear or phobia
- A recent traumatic event
- An upcoming stressful event
Although this can become a vicious cycle that may seem difficult to escape, you may find the following tips helpful with time and practice.
5 ways to break patterns of rumination
Find a distraction
When you feel that negative train of thought begin to weave its way into your psyche, one of the worst things you can do is give in and allow it to take control. Instead, be aware of when these thoughts rise and find a way to distract yourself as soon as possible. Call a friend or family member, do some household chores, watch a television show or read a book – anything to absorb your attention in something else.
Spend time in nature
The benefits of exercise for mental health are no secret. In 2018, a study showed that rumination decreased amongst test subjects after just one session! For the most powerful benefits, combine exercise with time spent in nature. A 2014 study found that those who walked for 90 minutes in nature experienced significantly lower signs of rumination compared to those who walked in suburban areas.
Challenge your thinking
Thoughts that diminish your self worth are not a true reflection of your essence. YOU are not your thoughts!
You may think that you know yourself best, but in reality, your self-perception is influenced by your own bias and therefore should not be treated as fact. When you catch yourself thinking self-deprecating thoughts or punishing yourself over past events, find evidence that proves the contrary. Consciously remind yourself of times when you’ve felt proud or accomplished, and try to take a mental step back from the situation to gain a more balanced perspective.
Often our psychological reality can be out of touch with our physical reality and what we consume on our devices may be reinforcing any negative schema that is weighing on your conscience. For instance, only seeing the celebrations of others’ accomplishments on social media or constant notifications about your calendar being booked up with commitments can provoke anxiety and take you away from the present. Ensure that you spend time each day away from screens in order to truly ground and centre yourself to what is real and what is happening in that very moment.
Evaluate and adjust your goals
Rumination can be a byproduct of perfectionism and setting unrealistic goals and expectations. If you’re dwelling on the fact that you haven’t achieved what you set out to do this year, take some time to consider why this might be the case. You may find that setting smaller goals will help you achieve a sense of accomplishment and reduce the risk of rumination.
As you begin to reflect on 2021, be mindful of your thought patterns and how your emotional reactions affect your attitude. Taking action as soon as possible is the best way to break the cycle of rumination. Build yourself a support network, be proactive to address your thinking, and consciously ground your thinking in the NOW, through an objective and balanced lens. Being mindful of this now will help you enter 2022 with a clear mind and unclouded focus on you and your goals for the year.
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