The sun rises, but I don’t. My body remains still, but my thoughts run on a treadmill of anxiety. Is the pain in my pinky toe leprosy? What if I forget to file my taxes and go to jail? Could that sound outside the window come from a spy drone? Our active introvert minds can be a lot to handle.
The kind of thinking I describe here is rumination, a fancy name for worry. It focuses on our circumstances—what happened in the past, what’s going on now, or what might occur in the future. It’s also circular, so we go round and round with a problem but never get to a solution.
How can you tell if you’re ruminating? Think of a concern in your life and then answer true or false to the following statements.
__ My thoughts about this event or topic are negative.
__ I repeat the same thoughts about this event or topic over and over without resolution.
__ When I think about this, I feel guilt, shame, or condemnation.
__ When I think about the role of others, I feel hopelessness, bitterness, or despair.
__ When I think about this event or topic, I feel overwhelmed rather than empowered.
__ The longer I think about this event or topic, the worse I feel.
If you chose true for most of the statements, then you’re likely experiencing rumination. Emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, or regret are healthy parts of the human experience. Only when we get stuck in those emotions and thoughts do we impact our mental and physical health.
The city where I live placed a traffic circle close to my house. For weeks I tried to avoid it. But I finally tired of taking backroads and determined to master this new phenomenon. I discovered if you don’t know how to exit it, a traffic circle becomes your personal merry-go-round, much to the dismay of other drivers. The good news is, there are ways you can exit rumination—and you can learn them just as I eventually learned to navigate that pesky traffic circle.
Four Ways to Exit Rumination
Tell God and/or someone else. Rumination happens in isolation. Letting someone else into our mind loop can break the cycle.
Distract yourself. We can learn from the extroverts in our lives. They’re often masters at getting their minds off unpleasant things by engaging in fun or meaningful activities.
Think of three other explanations. We tend to forget our perceptions are only one explanation for events. When we force ourselves to come up with alternate stories, we weaken rumination.
Take one small step. When we ruminate, we’re unable to move forward. To get out of analysis paralysis, think of one small step, bonus points if it’s doable in five minutes or less.
Introverts are more vulnerable to rumination because of our highly active minds. So many of the strengths introvert have, like our capacity for reflection, deep understanding of others, and creative imaginations, come from the same active brains that also cause us to ruminate. When you find yourself stuck in rumination, don’t be hard on yourself. Instead remind yourself that this tendency needs to be managed but is also tied to some extraordinary parts of who you are.
As author and introvert advocate Jenn Granneman said, “Introverts, you have powerful minds. “Overthinking,” when used the right way, can be one of your greatest assets.”
This post was adapted from The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to Be You. It includes strategies to deal with common introvert struggles like negative thinking as well as nine specific introvert strengths our world needs more than ever before.