CBT Techniques for Rumination & Overthinking

CBT Techniques for Rumination & Overthinking

Do you ever find yourself in a downward spiral where one negative thought leads to an overall negative outlook? Onebright London and UK CBT therapists share their CBT-inspired techniques to help you prevent rumination. 

Imagine you had a conversation with someone, and afterwards, you start overthinking every word, gesture, or reaction. Your thoughts may spiral as you analyse and dissect every aspect of the interaction, questioning if you said something wrong, if they misunderstood you, or if they were judging you. 

Any situation has the potential to lead to rumination. Left untreated, ruminating can rob us of time, energy, relationships and joyful moments. Additionally, it is an unproductive habit that rarely leads to practical solutions or a sense of closure. 

This ‘overthinking’ or ‘stewing’ on a particular thought is commonly called Rumination by mental health professionals.

What is rumination?

Rumination refers to a pattern of repetitive and intrusive thoughts that focus on negative or distressing experiences, emotions, or problems. It involves dwelling on past events, going over and over them, and excessively analysing or worrying about them. Rumination thoughts tend to fall into familiar themes such as personal shortcomings, regrets, failures, or perceived threats.

It can be a maladaptive coping mechanism that increases stress, anxiety, and depression. Rumination is commonly associated with various mental health conditions, including major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

How common is rumination?

There is a common misconception that rumination is a rare condition.

Rumination is extremely common. Everyone experiences ruminating thoughts, both positive and negative. Analysing events in our lives is a useful skill which helps us to learn from the past and do things differently going forward, but getting stuck in either extreme, positive or negative thinking, can be detrimental to our overall mental wellbeing. 

Is chronic ruminating linked to trauma?

Yes, rumination can have links to trauma. However, not everyone who experiences trauma will engage in rumination. When an individual experiences a traumatic event, they may repeatedly replay it in their head, thinking about its causes, consequences and implications.

This can lead to engaging in self-blame, which further perpetuates the cycle of thoughts centred around the implications of the event for the individual’s identity, safety or future. 

Rumination in the context of trauma can be particularly harmful because it can prolong and intensify the distress associated with the traumatic experience. It can prevent individuals from effectively processing and integrating trauma, leading to developing or exacerbating trauma-related mental conditions. 


How can I manage my overthinking?

Follow these CBT-inspired techniques to examine and promote more balanced and realistic thinking patterns: 

Challenge Negative Thoughts:

Ask yourself: “Is there evidence for this thought?” Often, our minds magnify negative aspects while overlooking the positives. Replace negative self-talk with realistic and balanced thoughts to maintain perspective. 

Engage in problem-solving strategies:

CBT equips individuals with effective problem-solving techniques. One way to do this is by using the 5-step problem-solving method:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Generate alternative solutions
  3. Evaluate the pros and cons
  4. Choose the best solution
  5. Implement and evaluate 


This problem-solving technique helps individuals approach problems structured and systematically, enhancing the ability to generate effective solutions and reduce rumination. 

Engage in Self-Compassion:

Develop self-compassion as a powerful tool to counteract the negative impact of a single moment. Treat yourself with kindness, understanding that everyone makes mistakes and has challenging experiences: practice self-care, nurturing activities, and self-soothing techniques to cultivate a compassionate mindset.

Embrace Mindfulness techniques:

Mindfulness is an essential CBT technique to anchor yourself in the present moment. When an adverse event occurs, acknowledge your feelings without judgment and observe them curiously. 


Occasional introspection and reflection are typical and can be helpful for personal growth. However, when rumination becomes chronic and interferes with daily functioning and well-being, it may be beneficial to seek support from a Onebright mental health professional. With persistence and dedication, you can foster resilience, maintain emotional balance, and cultivate a positive mindset to manage rumination more effectively.

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