How to Stop Thinking About the Past

Written by: Ankita Kathad – MA
(Clinical Psychology)

Last updated date : September 16, 2022

Table of Contents
Article title – Low self esteem
  1. Chapter 1
  2. Chapter 2
  3. Chapter 3
  4. Chapter 4
  5. Chapter 5
  6. Chapter 6
  7. Chapter 7
  8. Chapter 8

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It is normal to think about the past. However, do you have negative thoughts playing over and over in your head? Many times we wonder how to stop thinking about the past. We often want to end this loop of negative thoughts in our heads. This overthinking about the past is known as rumination. It has adverse effects on our productivity and mental well-being. In this article, we discuss how to stop thinking about the past and negative thoughts that come up over and over again.

What is rumination? Rumination is a process where thoughts about the past keep running in your mind over and over. These thoughts or memories are usually negative. This article discusses the reasons why we can’t stop thinking about the past. We also examine the impact of negative thoughts running over and over in our heads.

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Chapter 1:
Why Can’t We Stop Thinking About the Past?

There are many reasons why we cannot stop thinking about the past. We may feel ashamed about an event in the past. We can also keep thinking about the past if we want to undo something. There can be many reasons. Let us find out some of them.

Our minds function in a way that it can be challenging to quit dwelling on the past. Moreover, if certain memories, emotions, or cognitive patterns center on a single event in the past, they frequently group. Therefore if we felt sad after an event in the past, if we keep thinking about it, it makes us sad again.

In many cases, we are sorry for what happened in the past. We want to undo our mistakes. We keep thinking about the past to understand how things could turn differently. Additionally, we try to search for answers in the past.

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Chapter 2:
How Do Negative Thoughts of the Past Affect Us?

When we keep having negative thoughts over and over, it can trap us in a loop-like pattern. We cannot stop thinking about the past because we are stuck in that loop. Firstly it affects our mood because it has the potential to make us sad. Do you know how thoughts about the past can affect us? Here’s how they can affect our personal and professional spheres.

  1. Productivity: When we keep thinking about the past, it leaves us with little space to be present in the current moment. Additionally, our productivity is affected because we are always thinking about what happened in the past. This wastes a lot of time. Moreover, when we keep thinking negative thoughts over and over, it makes us sad. It is difficult to work in a sad mood.
  2. Impact on mental health: This loop of thoughts about the past can affect our mental health It can make us feel helpless. Further, it can worsen any mental health disorder, if present. Since we cannot undo what has happened in the past, it can make us feel powerless. This can frustrate us.
  3. Stop us from taking risks: We think that a certain bad thing happened in the past therefore it will happen again in the future. This overthinking stops us from trying new things. It makes us fearful. For example, if we fumbled on stage in the past, we will stop giving stage performances altogether. This can lower our self-esteem in the future.

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Chapter 3:
How to Stop Thinking About the Past

Many times, thoughts about the past can help us from making a possible mistake in the future. It helps us understand what we should avoid. However, there is a difference between productive thinking about the past and worrying about it continuously. When we constructively think of the past, we are introspecting. Introspection is good. However, when a person is ruminating, it is usually negative. It can have many effects as discussed earlier. It is therefore important to attempt to stop thinking about the past

If you already experience depression or anxiety, this negative thought cycle can worsen your symptoms and hurt your mental health. Rumination is when we keep dwelling on the bad without trying to find a solution or a path ahead. Rumination is a behavior, not a disease of the mind. But it’s a typical sign of anxiety and mood disorders. However, it does not need to be long-term. To control it, you can learn how. Here are some ways in which we can stop thinking about the past.

Re-write the past on a piece of paper

Try to pen down your thoughts and feelings. This way you can de-clutter all the thoughts you have been having. Maintain a journal where you can note down all the troubling thoughts and feelings. This will help you understand that what can be done right now rather than dwelling on your past problems. Moreover, a thought journal will also help you stop thinking about the past because you now know that certain events are not in your control. Further, you can even write a message to the person you may have hurt in the past.

Think of the possibilities

You might find that thinking about your priorities can help you stop suffering from painful ruminations. Try to be deliberate and decide what you want in your life rather than dwelling on the things you don’t. This can be friendships, occupations, pastimes, or locations. When you notice yourself pondering, softly refocus on a picture of your cherished life.

Exercise

Exercise is a good way to be present in the here and now. When we exercise, our focus is on the present moment. Additionally, it helps us keep our mind and body fit. Exercise boosts dopamine and releases feel-good hormones called serotonin. They help in letting go of the negative thoughts.

Focus on the present

When you find yourself pressing backward, make an effort to shift into forwarding gear. You may even choose neutral. You might be able to reroute your negative thoughts by establishing your presence in the present moment. Therefore, if you find yourself thinking about the past, try to return to the present, even if it doesn’t come naturally at first.

Here is a small exercise you can do to focus on the present and stop thinking about the past.

  1. Understand that your self-worth should not be dependent on your past failures.
  2. Practice a self-care routine. Whenever you find yourself thinking about the past, stop and be kind to yourself.
  3. Show yourself unconditional love and support.
  4. Engage in a breathing exercise if you can’t stop thinking about the past. Additionally, practice mindfulness meditation daily to keep reminding yourself that failures are common to humans.
  5. Take breaks from work if you find yourself not being able to stop thinking about the past. You can take a short tea break and refocus during that time.
  6. Activities like body scans or simple stretches can be performed to bring back the focus to the present moment.
  7. Additionally, when you can stop thinking about the past, try some simple activities like coloring or indulging in a craft-related activity.

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Chapter 4:
Endnote

Rumination, a negative thought process in which we constantly consider and reflect on past actions, can worsen feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise and mindfulness meditation are effective methods to stop thinking about the past. Additionally, self-work can help us let go of the past and be mindfully present in the here-and-now moment. At Epsychonline, there are courses on self-esteem that can be useful for people who are struggling with low self-worth. A course named Low self-esteem can be beneficial to improve the ways a person evaluates. Additionally, some articles can help you understand how to stop ruminating about the past. Do check them out. 

Reviews 4.1

Learn evidence-based scientific ways to build self-esteem In this six

51 Lessons

12 hours

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

€9.00 €12.00

25% discount