A guide to coping with Unhelpful Thinking

Download this worksheet here:

Ten Tips For Unhelpful and Intrusive Thinking
Download PDF • 644KB

The Objective of this article is aimed at helping you on the path to effective problem-solving when processing unhelpful thoughts and give you tools to decrease these intrusive thoughts and their impact.

Let’s take a quick look at What we Know. If you find yourself dwelling on problems or challenges that distress you, perhaps you repeatedly think about events from your past, or you become preoccupied with something, and you cannot get it out of your mind.

Continuously thinking the same thoughts is often referred to as rumination. There are two types of this:

Helpful – involves “what” or “how” questions, is process-focused, and supports problem-solving. You might ask, “What are some ways I can resolve this problem?” or “What can I do to make this situation better?”

Unhelpful – involves “why” questions and is more evaluative because your questions attempt to make meaning of events or situations. Tend to focus on problems, its causes, and the consequences. You might ask, “Why do bad things always happen to me?” or “What if this situation never gets better?”

Rumination is a normal thing to do, we all do it, but if you do it excessively, it can become a problem because it does not usually lead to effective problem-solving and can even negatively affect your mental health.

In addition, unhelpful rumination can prolong or intensify depression, increase anxiety, support negative thinking, affect your ability to think clearly, and block your ability to process emotions.

Here are some common possible reasons for rumination.


  • believe that ruminating will allow you to gain insight into your life or problems.

  • have a history of emotional or physical trauma.

  • face ongoing, uncontrolled stress.

  • are a perfectionist.

  • excessively focus on relationships with others.

Once you are stuck in a thought cycle, it can be hard to get out of. If you notice yourself starting to ruminate in an unhelpful way, look at ways of stopping the thoughts as quickly as possible and learn ways to focus on solutions.

Here is a visual of what can happen when you get into an unhelpful rumination cycle.

So, what can you do to stop ruminating? Here are ten tips to use when the same thoughts repeat in your head.

1. Distract yourself.

When you start to ruminate, find a distraction to stop the thought cycle. Quickly choose something else to do, like:

2. Make a Plan.

Instead of repeatedly thinking about a problem, write down a plan to address it. Outline each step you need to take. Be specific and realistic. Doing this will disrupt your rumination and help you move forward.

3. Take Action.

Refer to your plan and move forward with each step until your mind is at ease.

4. Question your thoughts.

You might ruminate when you think you have made a big mistake. If you start ruminating, put your repetitive thoughts in perspective by asking yourself if the thoughts are accurate. Often you will realize your thoughts are not facts.

5. Adjust your goals.

Perfectionism and unrealistic goal setting can lead to rumination. If you set unrealistic goals, you may start to focus on why you have not achieved the goal. To avoid self-criticism, adjust your goals as needed.

6. Build your self-esteem.

Lack of self-esteem is associated with increased rumination. You can enhance your self-esteem by building on existing strengths or learning a new skill.

7. Meditate.

When you are emotionally calm, and your mind is clear, you are less likely to ruminate. If your thoughts are looping, seek out a quiet space, sit down, breathe deeply, and focus on your breath.

8. Understand your triggers.

Each time you ruminate, note the situation, including where you are, time of day, who you are with, and what you have been doing. Avoiding or managing triggers can reduce rumination.

9. Seek help.