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10 Good Questions to Break Free of Negative Ruminating Thoughts

Have you ever gotten stuck in a negative thought pattern? You know the one – where you’re overthinking things, visualizing the worst-case scenarios, or just circling in the same frustrated thoughts regarding a situation?

If the answer is yes, don’t worry. Everyone does. Sometimes, it’s inevitable to get stuck on things. It only means that as humans, we care deeply and we’re trying to figure out a way forward, except something blocks us along the way.

Here are 10 questions to dismantle those mental blockages and break free from the rumination.

Can I Control It?

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The first question to ask is this: “Is this a situation I can control?” Maybe it’s a new decision at work that you don’t resonate with, but realistically you can’t do much about it. Maybe it’s an off-hand remark by a friend that left you feeling unsupported.

In either case, why stress for days or weeks about it, when you can either:
A) do something about it, make a plan and follow it through, or
B) if you can’t control it, try to make peace with the situation and let it go.

Can I Do Fix It Right Now?

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Let’s say you can fix a situation, conversation, or issue that is bothering you. But what if it’s 11 PM and you’re already in bed, and there’s nothing you can do about it? Overthinking until 3 AM isn’t going to help anyone.

Try to be gentle with yourself and find peace in some practical guidelines that can act as healthy boundaries. A few examples: if it’s past 9 PM, it’s tomorrow’s concern. If it’s the weekend, tackle it on Monday because you deserve to enjoy a relaxing weekend off.

Is This Thought Constructive?

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Is this thought helping, or is it just the anxiety speaking? With this question, you can differentiate between disruptive or intrusive thoughts, and those that are actually helpful signals to indicate a boundary was broken or a situation that made you uncomfortable.

If the thought is constructive, you can loop back to the first question and ask yourself what you can control about the situation to see what you can change. If it’s just anxiety, at least now you have a pointer and can try out some relaxing mindfulness practices like meditation, journaling, or exercise.

Are My Basic Needs Met?

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can explain why a lot of times we are stuck in a negative thought loop simply because some basic need isn’t being met. Are your basic needs fulfilled and it’s a genuine worry you're experiencing, or are you simply operating on stress hormones because you forgot to eat anything all day?

Oftentimes, we can be so laser-focused on our daily tasks that we forget our bodies are not machines. A little self-care and good habits go a long way in our mental health.

Where Is This Coming From?

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Sometimes the root cause isn’t an external situation but a feeling in the body. Ask yourself, where do you feel it? Sometimes, trauma can get stuck in various parts of the body.

For instance, you might feel some anger in your chest or anxiety in the pit of your stomach. These are all clues from the body on what is happening. In such cases, it can help to get the body moving, such as yoga or pilates, or a satisfying weight-lifting session to activate the blood flow through the entire body. 

Have I Been Here Before?

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Another helpful question is asking whether this negative thought pattern is a repeating one. Have you been in this exact situation before? And if yes, what was the story and the cause behind it? How did you resolve it the previous time?

These questions can guide us toward a solution. And if not, they can still contribute to a better understanding of ourselves, our triggers, or our boundaries.

What Makes Me Care About This?

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This question can shift our negative perspective to a more positive and uplifting one. It reminds us of our deeply held values.

For instance, if your thoughts keep getting stuck in a loop over the parking at work not being used fairly, it means you care about justice and fairness, which are wonderful values to have. If you’re outraged by sky-rocketing rent prices, it means you care about your urban neighbors and the affordability of housing.

It’s normal to be affected by things we care about, and becoming aware of this reminds us of our empathy and humanity.

Is This My Concern, or Someone Else’s?

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Often, we can be preoccupied or even stressed by things that aren’t even ours to be concerned about. It’s normal to take over a friend, family, or loved one’s burdens in an attempt to lighten the load on their shoulders. Empathy is a wonderful thing, just be careful not to take on too much, and remember that ultimately you can’t carry everyone’s burden.

Do I Need Solutions or Venting?

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Different people have different love languages or needs depending on the situation. Sometimes, we don’t actually need a solution for a situation; we just want to offload to calm our nervous system and feel heard. Both are valid needs.

If you need to vent, the bright side is that there is something you can do about it at 2 AM when you can’t sleep! You can journal, write in your diary, or maybe even talk to a friend or loved one who can offer you the safe space you need.

How Can I Be Kinder to Myself?

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What if the most important thing right now isn’t fixing anything, but rather being kinder to yourself? To be more patient with yourself or forgiving?

Asking, “How can I be kinder to myself today?” can shift our focus to more self-compassion and thereby stop any cycles of self-criticism or guilt. Perfectionism is a tricky trait to navigate; sometimes, the best thing to do is simply step out of the vicious cycle and be kind to yourself. Get that tasty ice cream, start a new book, or wear your favorite perfume for the day. You deserve to feel good!

Help for Handling a Negative Inner Voice

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If you struggle with perfectionism, it's common to have a relentless critic in your head. Here at Overthought This, we're a team of recovering perfectionists. Here are some things we've found helpful.

Author: S.K. Lumen

Title: Writer

Expertise: women's personal development, mental health, self love

S.K. Lumen is a writer, artist and blogger who is passionate about helping women become their best selves. She writes about personal development, self-love, self-care, wellness & mental health.