What is Rumination and How to Stop It

what is rumination and how to stop it

Rumination involves replaying negative events and hurtful comments from the past as well as rehashing fearful thoughts about what might happen in the future.

I’ve always associated the word “rumination” with cows. This isn’t going to be a science or biology lesson, so stick with me, okay?

Imagine a cow named Daisy. She eats grass, swallows it, regurgitates it, and swallows it again. Apparently, she’ll do it about fifty times over eight hours in a day. It’s necessary for her digestive health and milk production. 

I know what you’re thinking: What does rumination have to do with you and me?

How do you and I ruminate?

One online dictionary defines rumination as “repetitive thinking or dwelling on negative feelings and distress and their causes and consequences.” 

Based on this definition, rumination is an unhealthy practice for us. It involves replaying negative events and hurtful comments from the past as well as rehashing fearful thoughts about what might happen in the future.

Constant replay eventually digs ruts in our brain, and we become stuck.

We end up having internal, negative conversations about our specific concern. We bring it up repeatedly when talking with others. We think about it day and night, whenever our minds aren’t otherwise actively engaged.   

We might not see what’s happening, but others will. They recognize the results of rumination because they’re hard to hide.

Results of rumination

Continually dwelling on negative thoughts can lead to anxiety and depression, unrealistic fears, and loss of appetite and sleep. If left unchecked, it will affect our relationships. This is particularly true when we ruminate on something hurtful that someone did or said to us.

It’s possible that the person never intended to hurt us, but we perceived their words or actions inaccurately. Rather than speaking with her to clear up a possible misunderstanding, we internalize it and begin a cycle that causes friction and division. 

I’ve done this to others, and others have done the same to me. I suspect you can relate. Nothing positive comes from ruminating. So how can we stop it?

Put a stop to it

Mental health experts suggest journaling to process our thoughts. Put them on paper rather than rehash them in our minds. Seeing our concerns in black and white can help us put them in proper perspective.

Take walks in nature. Physical exercise benefits both body and mind, and immersing ourselves in the beauty of nature can be therapeutic.

Find a diversion. When we catch ourselves rehashing those thoughts, call a friend and ask how she’s doing. Dive into a good book. Write out a Bible memory verse. Turn on praise and worship music and sing along. Email a greeting card to someone needing encouragement.

Retrain your brain. We can dig new ruts in our brain by changing the way we think. When those negative thoughts start to replay, choose to mediate on God’s thoughts instead.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Thankfully, we don’t have to try to do this in our own strength. God’s Holy Spirit indwells us, and He empowers us to do what’s right.

May I pray for you?

“God, You know our tendency to dwell on the negatives past, present, and future. We invite You to change us in that regard. Make us aware when we regurgitate those thoughts that aren’t helpful, and help us replace them with thoughts that honor You instead. We trust You and thank You in advance for victory. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Know you are loved,


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    1. You’re welcome, Susie! We all ruminate at some time or other — we just need to ruminate on beneficial things 🙂

      Know you are loved,

      1. TRUTHFULLY said: Overly ruminating on past,(own wrong choices, &others misjudgments , etc) puts one ~ in ”a Rut”. [ Perhaps, for some, such (hurtful) parental trait” – causes one, unconsciously seek for
        “affirmation “]. Trying “jounalling” could be helpful.

        1. Hi Emma:
          You’re absolutely right — over-ruminating on our past mistakes and hurts can definitely put us in a rut. Journaling is a great idea. Put those thoughts down on paper and then seek ways to move beyond the root issue for ruminating on those thoughts in the first place. Thanks for making that suggestion.

          Know you are loved,

  1. Wow! This is just what I needed to hear! I’ve never heard this term used in this way but oh how true! Negative meditation…be gone!

    1. Hi Becky! Thanks for leaving your thoughts here. You’re right — negative meditation ….be gone! Let all our thoughts be pleasing to the Lord.

      Know you are loved,

  2. Hi Grace, my name is Diana. I’ve been loving Mornings With Jesus for 5 years, now, and you’re a huge inspiration to me. I just now found your blog, and just wanted to thank you for your heartfelt and meditative writings, always.

    1. Hi Diana! I’m so glad you enjoy Mornings with Jesus. I LOVE writing for it. Doing so has really helped me know and understand Jesus in a deeper way, for which I am grateful.

      Welcome to my blog — I hope you subscribed so we can stay in touch. Have a wonderful day.

      Know you are loved,

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Grace, I have been ruminating over something for years, trying to put it behind me but failing miserably. You have given me hope, a different perspective. One thing I’m going to do immediately is to memorize Philippians 4:8! Something I should have done years ago! Thank you again! Please don’t ever stop writing for “Mornings With Jesus”! Love it and love you!
    Blessings, Patty

    1. Hi Patty:

      Thanks so much for posting your thoughts here. Wow — I just love how the Holy Spirit works in our lives: He prompts me to write something that, in turn, is exactly what someone else needs to read. God is so kind to us. Thanks, too, for your encouraging words about continuing to write esp, for MWJ. I absolutely love writing those Jesus-focused devos. I’m so glad you enjoy them.

      Know you are loved,

  4. Thanks Grace for this timely post. I especially like the lyrics of the song. My prayer and goal is for a sound mind.

    1. Hi Ruth!

      Thanks for stopping by here. I’m glad the song blessed you as it did me. Yes, a sound mind–what a precious gift from our Heavenly Father.

      Know you are loved,

  5. I am so glad for your reminder! We are supposed to examine our thoughts and take the errant ones captive to Christ. It is holy work redeeming our thoughts. Out of our thoughts come our beliefs!

    1. You said it well when you said that capturing our errant thoughts is holy work. It IS work, but thankfully the Holy Spirit helps us. You’re right, too, about our beliefs coming from our thoughts. And those beliefs determine our actions which influence our outcome/destiny.
      Blessings to you, Patricia. Know you are loved.

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