Joanna Gaden

From one overthinker to another…

Ever find yourself skipping three steps ahead when the slightest opportunity presents itself, creating unlikely scenarios in your head, and jumping to conclusions?  If so, hello fellow overthinker!


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Instead of productively thinking about how to approach a situation, rumination involves thinking the same cycle of thoughts over and over again.  Rumination may give you a false sense of control over a situation with the ostensible rationale that worrying about something will change the outcome.  I’m sure you’ve already discovered that rumination is the absolute worst, so I won’t bog you down with all the dirty details about why ruminating can be inhibiting to a positive outlook on your life.  

But I will say this: rumination of past and present experiences can be linked to and exacerbate depression and anxiety, because those who excessively ruminate are focused on the negative aspects of problems without thinking logically or optimistically about possible solutions.  For me, a repeated cycle of negative or worrying thoughts inhibits my ability to approach a situation pragmatically.  These thoughts often manifest in my perfectionism, blocking my creative process from burgeoning for fear that nothing will be ‘good enough.’  

Wherever your rumination lies, try these simple steps to combat excessive worry and free your brain from negativity:

1) Journal without judgment

If you find that your thoughts cycle without a window for escape in sight, write that s*** down.  Scribble down whatever thoughts pop into your brain, picturing your worries flowing through the pen to the page.  Write about your day, what you ate for breakfast, what you dreamt about, the energy in your environment—write until you can’t write no more.  Write until you feel the constant buzzing of your thoughts settle.  It doesn’t really matter what topic you choose to write about; just empty emerging thoughts onto the page and the magic of journaling will greet you.  

Don’t be afraid to make errors!  If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ll want your handwriting to be pretty and your grammar to be on point, but getting hung up on these details will slow the flow of your writing.  Be silly, make jokes to yourself, swear, doodle—whatever it takes.  Likely, the only person who will read the idiocracy in your journal will be future you (and thank god for that).  I’ve written in the same journal (previously deemed ‘Dear Diary’) since 2009… and what a trip it has been reading the pencil-smudged angst of past crushes and problems.  My journal has proven to be a nonjudgmental outlet that has helped me overcome whatever struggles life throws my way; through middle school heartbreak and high school drama, the good old journal method hasn’t failed me yet.  

2) Go on a walk.

This one seems obvious, but what I’m talking about here is walking with intention.  Physically remove yourself from your thoughts by moving your body; in doing so, you’ll likely be swayed to think about something else.  Unplug from the company of your phone and your headphones.  Pay attention to the sights and smells around you.  Look up at the sky and let the sun hit your face.  Notice how beautifully the blueness of the sky contrasts with the rusty orange on the tops of buildings.  Feel how your feet and legs are supporting your body, each muscle contracting to propel you forward.  Eavesdrop on the ladies gossiping loudly behind you.  And if your ruminating thoughts keep popping up, notice them too.  Thus leading us to:

3) Practice a little mindfulness   

Let me debunk a common myth real quick: you don’t have to sit down and meditate to practice mindfulness.  If something is bothering you and you can’t seem to shake your thoughts, notice them.  Put your hands on your heart and feel the associated emotions wash through your body.  Close your eyes and sit with these thoughts and feelings for a moment.  Then, let them pass, picturing them as boats floating down the river or cars passing you by.  Don’t dwell on them or try to change them; simply notice your thoughts without any judgement.  Take a few deep breaths and move on.  There are a ton of great guided mindfulness meditation resources out there (including the Headspace app and Youtube videos) if you need a little motivation to get started.

4) Write poetry

Ok, I know this sounds a little idealistic and lilty, but bear with me here.  Poetry has been known to release emotional build up and free your mind.  As with journaling, don’t be afraid to sound silly.  Approach the page without judgement.  Just write whatever analogies and words come to mind.  And if you’re experiencing writer’s block or self criticism, write about that, too.  Describe the person or situation that’s bothering you.  Describe your emotional state.  Even describe the sky or the ocean-- whatever gets your creative juices flowing.  If it helps to write with rhyme or rhythm, go for it.  If you find yourself writing in free verse, that’s great too!  Take your ruminating thoughts and turn them into art (no lie, one of my poems is actually entitled ‘The Art of Rumination’).

5) Cook or bake something

My family used to know when I was stressed because they would come home to fresh baked banana bread or cookies.  Something about neatly measuring the flour, cracking the eggs, melting the butter, and mixing together all the ingredients calmed my soul.  And, at the end of the process, my taste buds lit up with warm gooey cookies and all was right with the world.  I would include the caveat that it’s not healthy to combat your worries with eating, but let’s face it, sometimes ya just need a little yumminess.


Rumination may give you a false sense of control over a situation with the ostensible rationale that worrying about something will change the outcome.


 6) Talk it out

Take Freud’s psychoanalysis claim to fame to heart and gab away.  When I can’t seem to break free from the same freaking thought pattern on my own, I rant to my sister.  We both know that we tend to overthink, but are surprisingly good at helping each other solve problems.  Usually, talking to another person (especially someone you trust) will help you see your worries from a different perspective.  Ask for advice and work together to find a rational solution.  Just like with writing, it helps to imagine your thoughts leaving your brain and floating away through your lips.

7) Don’t ruminate on rumination

Another one that sounds obvious, but trust me, it’s a thing.  Sometimes the act of worrying spirals into a whole big mess of self criticism, blame, and bullying.  Recognize that worrying is normal and be kind to yourself.  Don’t let your inner critic be the voice of reason.  As Tara Mohr taught me in her book ‘Playing Big,’ tell your inner critic 'Thanks, but I’ve got this one covered.'  It also helps to think about what you would say to a friend who was struggling with rumination.  You probably wouldn’t tell them they were stupid or crazy or irrational; treat yourself with love the same way you would support a friend.  Wrap your arms around your body and give yourself a big hug.

 And, of course, if you find that none of these methods or other methods work for you and you’re concerned about your mental health, see a professional.  There’s no shame in seeking a little help, even if it’s just to chat with an expert about your ruminating thoughts.  If you’re on a college campus, it’s likely that your college or university has psychological resources and/or counselors available to you for free.  If not, search psychologists in your area and contact the ones who appeal to your needs.  Take care of yourself and remember this:

'...if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.' - the brilliant Roald Dahl

Joanna Gaden is a recent college graduate from the University of Michigan who moved from her small town in the Detroit metro area to pursue big city living in Manhattan, NY.  Her interests include psychology, jewelry making, cats, barista-ing, and exploring the world one bite at a time.

Comments (5)

  1. Joanna Gaden

Thanks Angelina! My interest in psychology kicked in and I decided to write a little bit about it (Thanks to help from my mother, who's an expert!)

  1. Angelina Eimannsberger    Joanna Gaden

dont make yourself small this is a really good piece!

  1. Angelina Eimannsberger

This is really great Joanna! Thanks for sharing (love)


how do I get the heart emoji ?!

  1. Joanna Gaden    Angelina Eimannsberger

Oh no! Maybe it doesn't work in comments sections?

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