(originally published September 29, 2017, updated April 16, 2021)
If you landed here, and have not yet read Part 1-Here Is the First Step You Can Take to Stop Your ADHD Rumination, I encourage you to read that first. As an understanding of what may be contributing to your tendency to ruminate will inform which of the strategies below you decide to try.
Then come back to this article, and take your time exploring the tips below. Remember, these are only suggestions. So, try the ones that spark your interest and you think may help. And don’t forget to give yourself enough time to experiment. That is, don’t give up if it doesn’t work the way you want right away.
Journaling Can Help You Manange Your Rumination
Once you’re ready to unpack your thoughts, you’ll want to decide the best way to do this.
Journaling is one way to temper the cacophony of thoughts in your head because, as Dr. Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal, notes “by writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings.” And this may help you decrease the time you spend “overthinking hypotheticals” – ruminating.
Also, you know your ADHD brain can be a “messy” place. 😉 Engaging in a journaling process can also help you clarify your thoughts and feelings. As, by writing your ideas down, you can organize them and make better sense of them. Ultimately then, getting in touch with how you’re feeling. This clarity may lead to less rumination, as well.
Last, you may often try to solve problems using your left-brain analytic capabilities. Using your right brain can help you be more creative and intuitive in problem-solving. And writing engages your right brain. So, if the source of your rumination is a problem you’ve decided you want to solve, journaling can help you do this in a more creative and intuitive way. And, yes, lead to less rumination.
Process Aloud with a Trusted Person
You may find, like many adults with ADHD, you are an external processor. While journaling is one way to externalize your thoughts, you might do your best thinking when you can talk aloud. As a way to manage your rumination, processing aloud with someone else can help because in the process:
- you can get out of your head.
- strengthen your connection with others.
- receive valuable feedback, if that is what you want.
- feel heard and validated.
And as a result, you may find you replay the same tapes less and less – ruminate less. Yet, I know, if you’ve been told you talk too much, you may balk at this suggestion. The key is to make sure you are selective in who you choose to talk to. That is, make sure the person — partner, friend, colleague, therapist — feels safe.
Decide Whether You Want to Solve the Problem
Whatever process you are using to unpack your thoughts, if the source of your rumination is a problem, you’ll want to figure out whether it is a problem you can or want to try to solve. Dr. Hallowell’s adapted version of the serenity prayer is a good reminder of this:
G-d grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The insight to prioritize wisely what I want to change;
The patience to resist trying to control everything I could, had I the energy and time;
The courage and skill to change the things I have chosen to change;
And the wisdom to know the differences among all these.
– Dr. Edward Hallowell
It might be you decide you have to lean into acceptance, instead of solving the problem. If that is the case, you’ll want to acknowledge the reasons you’re choosing to accept what is, and in time, hopefully, your rumination will dissipate. At least that’s the hope. A tall order, for sure!
When You Want to Stop Ruminating and Solve a Problem
If you do decide it is a problem you want to solve, the best way to do this is to use a solution-focused approach. So, you can stop just replaying the story over and over again. And do something to change the situation.
Take the example of Herb. He thought his colleague, Dorothy, was doing shoddy work and not pulling her weight. Every day he would go into work, frustrated by the situation. He spent a lot of time ruminating about how angry he was at Dorothy. Time he really couldn’t afford to waste because he had so much else to do.
When he decided it was time to be proactive and address the situation, he tried a solution-focused approach. To do this he started by answering the questions below to help him clarify how he wanted to change the situation with Dorothy.
1.What do I want instead of the problem? That is, what do I want to achieve?
I want a fair workload.
2.Write out what the solution will look like. Include as much detail as possible.
Dorothy and I will agree on a fair distribution of tasks. We will meet each week to check in with each other to ensure we are both following through on our commitments. We will agree to renegotiate if down the road either of us feels that the workload is not fair.
3.What is it about having this solution that is important to me?
Like I said before I want the workload to be fair. And I want to be able to spend more time doing things outside of work.
4.How will things be different when I arrive at this solution? On a scale of 1-10, what will 10 look like when I have what I want?
I can stop worrying about this, for sure. And I’ll feel better while I’m at work and be more productive. When it is a 10, we’ll all be pulling our weight, following through on our commitments, and renegotiating when necessary.
5.What are the steps I need to take to accomplish this?
I’ll come up with a suggested breakdown of our tasks. Then I’ll email Dorothy to ask to meet. I’ll email her my suggestions before the meeting, so she has time to think about them. We’ll meet, and go from there…
Working toward a solution definitely takes time and effort. But so does worrying, right? So why not put your worry to work instead, right?
Use a Task Manager to See Your Tasks
Another endless loop that may be playing in your head is your list of to-dos. It may sound something like:
- “I can’t forget…”
- “Oh, right, Terry asked me to…”
- “I need to…”
And these thoughts keep playing in your head like a popcorn maker, right? But, when you stop trying to remember your task and use a task manager instead, you can stop this loop. Because, whatever type of task manager you decide to use, you will be confident you will not forget your tasks.
Use a Calendar to Visualize Your Time
Not having a clear sense of how you are going to use your time can also lead to rumination, as you might wonder:
- “When am I going to do…?”
- “When is that meeting, party, Dr.’s appointment, etc.?”
- “When do I need to have XYZ done?”
If you try to keep this information in your head, these questions will keep popping up. But capturing and mapping out your time on a calendar can help to short-circuit this loop. Because when you are confident you can access this information in one place, you’ll stop trying to rely on your wonky memory.
In addition, if you decide to learn how to use your calendar to schedule work time, you can minimize the overthinking associated with wondering, “How will I get this all done!?” not only will you ruminate less, but as you feel more in control of your time, you’ll have less stress, too.
Making Time for Upfront Thinking Will Decrease Time Spent Ruminating
So, you may be wondering, “When am I going to find time to use the above suggestions, whether related to your calendar, task manager, or problem-solving?!” The answer is to do more upfront thinking.
And one time you can do this is during your Weekly Review. If you decide to adopt this habit, you’ll be in a better place to remember your priorities, intentions, and best practices. You’ll also feel more grounded and in control, resulting in, yes, less time and energy spent ruminating. In part, because you know you will have time each week to think deeply.
How Are You Going to Stop ADHD Overthinking?
What thoughts are running around your head right now? Whether one of the suggestions above or something else, what can you do today to get out of your head?