This circular thinking is repetitive, unproductive and may *feel* like a genuine attempt to solve a current problem.
Here’s an all too common scenario: you’re in bed at night ready for some much needed relaxation and sleep. You’ve turned the lights out but the second you do, you start to replay a conversation from earlier in the day. You get stuck on the intention behind what was said (“What did he mean when he said X? Was he really implying Y?”). You wish you had responded differently in the moment. (What I *should* have said was…). And before you know it, you’re thinking in circles replaying the moment over and over again.
Have you been here before?
Or maybe your mind isn’t stuck on a particular conversation or event from the day. Sometimes our minds can cling to details around future plans, milestones, something that’s causing stress, or general life satisfaction.
Maybe you’re a mom who is wanting to add to your family, for example. You already have a child and now your fertility journey for baby number two isn’t going as expected. You might notice yourself obsessing over possible pregnancy symptoms, worrying about the what ifs, stressing over IVF treatments, or going over plans again and again. This is called rumination.
If this is sounding familiar, you might have a problem with rumination. Ruminating is a mental pattern where you can get stuck on a thought that you’re unable to let go of. It’s circular thinking that is repetitive, unproductive and may feel like a genuine attempt to solve a current problem or address a situation. If you’ve felt as though you just can’t get something off your mind, or you’ve been accused of obsessing or overthinking, you’re likely someone who has a pattern of ruminating.
This is something that almost everyone experiences from time to time so if you’re recognizing yourself in this article so far, that’s not a bad thing. All mental habits, worries or anxieties can be treated. So it’s not just you and you can learn to break this habit.
What does rumination look like in motherhood?
Rumination is so common in motherhood. (That’s why you’re here, right?) Motherhood is generally quite a difficult time. Adjusting to increased responsibilities, dealing with anxiety that you couldn’t have seen coming, and mourning the loss of your past self all contribute to the stress. It seems reasonable that mentally, you just don’t have the capacity to think through things logically. Plus, you might notice yourself getting more stressed out about things that may not have bothered you before. There are also so many triggers that could cause thoughts to turn into a (seemingly) unstoppable series of ruminating thoughts.
The below list includes common examples about what rumination might look like in motherhood. Relate to any of these? You’re not alone.
- Fertility. Wanting to add another member to your family but you’re experiencing fertility issues and you can’t stop thinking about it.
- Family planning. You *thought* you’d want more kids but now you’re not so sure so you go through the options on repeat every day.
- Conversations. You replay conversations that already happened or you play out difficult talks in your mind that have yet to be had.
- What ifs. What if this? What if that? You create scenarios in your head, plan prevention or just generally stress on repeat about things that haven’t happened yet (and may never).
- Sleep. Ruminating about sleep (or lack thereof) can sound like replaying thoughts such as: “I’m going to be so tired tomorrow.” “I won’t be able to have the day I thought I’d have.” Or, “What’s the point of sleeping now? I’ll just have to get up again in X.”
- Career and returning to work. It’s so hard to be the mom you want to be and have the career you want to have. That’s why a lot of women find themselves trying to problem solve around this topic over and over again. (“Should I even go back to work?” “Becoming a mom has delayed my career.
Why rumination is counter productive
How many of these examples sound familiar or relatable? Some? A couple? All? Ruminating can feel like it’s just you thoroughly thinking through a problem in an effort to come up with the best solution. The intention there is a great one. The reality, however, is that you just spend your time and energy thinking in circles. This is unproductive, draining, and not a good use of your mental space. The difference between rumination and spending time thoroughly thinking through an issue is that rumination doesn’t make any progress—you’re just thinking about the same thing over and over again. Ask yourself: has there been any movement on this issue? If not, it’s probably time to set it aside and move on.
Easier said than done, right?
I hear you and I understand that. As mentioned here though, every thinking pattern or habit can be changed. Ruminating is really just a symptoms of anxiety given that it’s based in worrying or trying to solve uncertainty. I’ve devoted my entire career to helping women—moms in particular—solve the anxiety-related issues that pop up in life… and especially in motherhood. Rumination, what-if thinking, stressing about fertility, and sleeplessness all fit under that umbrella.
For support with all things anxiety, take a look at my bestselling course Mama Calm. Imagine a mind that feels calm, settled, and at peace rather than stressed out, chaotic, and unhappy.