Does this sound familiar to you? You keep thinking about the same problem over and over again. Your thoughts go round and round and are linked to negative feelings. Some are about experiences in the past, others are worried about the future. Brooding is not easy to stop and takes up a lot of your attention. You feel at the mercy of these thoughts.
Brooding in special stress or crisis situations is normal and not worrying if it is temporary and/or does not cause any suffering. Persistent brooding can also be a symptom of depression or anxiety. Psychologists distinguish between „worry-worrying“, worrying brooding and „rumination“, which can be the symptom of depression. Anxious brooding tends to be about the future, whereas depressive brooding is about the past. But not every brooding person is ill and needs therapeutic help. Even healthy people can be plagued by brooding attacks, and the transitions are often fluid.
What is the difference between thinking and brooding?
If you want to know whether you are just thinking about a problem or already brooding, observe your thoughts for 10 minutes and then ask yourself
Has thinking brought me closer to a solution?
Have I developed new thoughts, ideas?
What feelings did I have while thinking?
If the answer is no twice and you have also experienced unpleasant feelings such as sadness or fear, you can assume that it is brooding.
If the thoughts are mainly about the past, it is probably about depressive brooding. These can be repetitive thoughts about a sad childhood, a failed marriage, a failed exam or a career failure. These thoughts are destructive, pointing to one’s own failure or guilt, or confirming the brooding person in a victim role again and again.
The tendency to worry usually develops over years and is not initially perceived as a problem. The worries refer to a possible danger in the future or future own misconduct or failure. Worry and uncertainty can develop into personality traits or personality disorders. Catastrophic thoughts often arise from the smallest of causes. For example, if your own child is 10 minutes late leaving school, this can trigger a tirade of pictures of terrible misfortunes. The constant worrying is experienced by many of those affected as uncontrollable. The good news: you can break out of this carousel of worries, either with therapeutic support or alone.
Hacks for breaking out of the brooding trap
One of the most important tools for getting out of tormenting brooding comes from the art of mindfulness. Since during brooding one is either dealing with the past or the future, concentrating on the now is a first step.
First of all it is important that you are aware of the brooding. Allow yourself a time window of 10 minutes a day where you allow your thoughts to flow and observe. It is often helpful if you write down what is going through your mind. That way you can observe whether it is always the same thoughts or how they change. Also do the reality check: how likely is it that my fears will come true, that my child will be kidnapped, that I will be the victim of an earthquake etc.? Also ask about the truth of a thought. If you have depressive brooding and self-doubt, you can ask: is it really true that I am to blame for the situation? or: is it really true that I am the victim and the blame always lies with others, or do I have a part in it?
Outside this time window you are the boss of your thoughts and control them. As soon as the brooding starts, you say „stop“ inside and bring yourself into the here and now with the help of an exercise.
How do you get yourself into the here and now?
There are – depending on the situation – different methods of perception:
1. When you sit (on the bus, at the table, on the sofa) or stand, become aware of your feet While sitting, place both feet parallel on the floor, breathe in and out calmly and deeply. Now feel the contact of the soles of your feet with the floor. What does it feel like? Do you feel the arching of the sole of your feet? The contact to the shoe?
2. Bring your sense of sight into the present. Look around and count 10 things you see. For example: a red car, green tree, mother with child, green traffic light etc.
3. Bring your sense of hearing into the present If the situation allows it, close your eyes and list 5 things you hear. For example: car honking, tram passing by, child laughing, birds singing, etc.
4. Get your sense of smell into play, list 3 things you smell: car exhaust, the smell of freshly baked bread, deodorant from a passer-by, etc.
Gratitude is a Serotonin Booster
Ask yourself what you are grateful for. Not only does this focus on the positive, but the feeling of gratitude has been shown to increase seretonin levels in the brain. The increased production of this messenger substance in turn increases the feeling of happiness. You can do this simple exercise every night before you go to sleep. Some people use a gratitude diary for this. Just name 3 things that you are thankful for. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, even a friendly smile from your neighbour can trigger gratitude.
Helpful breathing exercises that can keep you from brooding and relaxing can be found here. hier.
A master of mindfulness teachings is Eckhart Tolle. You can find many videos with instructions on Youtube. Just listening to him has a meditative character and a calming effect. Here you can find a video „Leben im Jetzt“. You will find his book „The Power of Now“ here
John Kabat Zinn has developped a whole method to reduce thoughts and stress. See him talking about how to observe your thoughts in a video
Another interesting talk from John Kabat Zinn is 9 Attitudes