Do you have conversations with others in your head? Good news! Almost everyone does!
And besides that, most people talk to themselves too. Although that can be problematic if you don’t know how to stop talking to yourself.
It’s normal to examine a previous conversation or consider a future one. In fact, in some cases, it would be almost expected.
For example, you have a conversation with your boss that didn’t go as planned. It would be normal to reexamine the conversation, consider what you could have done differently, and then move on with your day.
On the other hand, you might have a conversation with others in your mind to anticipate that conversation in real life. For example, let’s say there is an important conversation you need to have with your romantic partner. Then, you may practice and rehearse while imagining their responses to determine the best way to approach the situation.
However, like most things, there is a line where a healthy, normal behavior becomes an unhealthy, harmful behavior. Some people wind up looping back to the beginning instead of finishing their mental conversation. In that case, it can tip into an unhealthy thought process called “rumination.”
What is rumination and how does it relate to having conversations in your head?
The word rumination describes a looping pattern of thoughts that may be difficult to control and hard to prevent. Rumination can also be by choice, although choosing to ruminate may kick start the process of making those thoughts difficult to control and intrusive.
You may also know rumination as “spiraling” because your thoughts go round and round without resolution.
That may happen when you think about those conversations with others because you may try to consider every possible angle and detail and look for any clues that might lead to a different outcome. And then, once you’ve wrung out that towel, you may find yourself back in those thoughts and trying to do it again.
Rumination is often a symptom of anxiety. It is a self-soothing technique that a person may subconsciously engage in to try to figure out all the potential angles so that they will be prepared for the future. That may be needing to repeat a conversation in the past or practice a difficult conversation in the future. Rumination is one way your mind might be trying to protect you from further harm and discomfort.
The major issue with rumination is that once you’re in the spiral, it can be difficult to get out of it. You may find that you lose hours or days or cannot sleep at night because of these spiraling thoughts.
Even worse, it may not even be helpful.
People often think that they will find the solution if they focus more energy and thoughts on a problem. But, unfortunately, that’s not always the case with a difficult problem. In fact, focusing hard on the problem may make it more difficult to solve because we don’t think as clearly when we are frustrated and angry.
There is a common piece of advice in circles that deal with complicated issues. If you’re frustrated and angry at a thing, set it aside, and return to it later. A lot of times, you’ll find the answer when you come back to it later. Usually, something small and stupid that you overlooked because you were angry and frustrated.
And that’s what ruminating on conversations with others can do. Not only that, but when you look for problems, you’ll often find them. For example, maybe you thought the other person was a bit snarky because of their tone of voice. Were they? Or is that just how you’re interpreting it? Does it match the context of the situation? Does it match the context of the conversation? What does this person typically say when they are snarky? What is their body language and tone of voice like? And on and on and on.
You can take an educated guess, but you can’t ever really know. So acting based on an assumption can make things much more difficult for you.
How To Stop Over-thinking About Conversations In Your Head
As previously mentioned, thinking about conversations in your head is normal and okay. But if you are ruminating, you should talk to a mental health professional to be screened for any additional issues like anxiety.
However, in the meantime, there are some self-management techniques and skills you may try employing to derail those thoughts.
Ruminating thoughts are your brain spiraling. Meditation can help because the goal is to clear your mind to a clean, peaceful slate by quieting your emotions. Meditation may be the solution if you are stuck in a spiral of reexamining your thoughts or conversations with others.
Many apps, videos, and gurus out there want to sell you products to help you meditate. You don’t need any of that stuff. All you need is box breathing.
Box breathing is composed of four simple steps – inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and then repeat. Focus your attention on your breath as much as possible and repeat until your mind quiets.
2. Distract yourself.
Distraction is an effective way to defuse runaway thoughts and emotions.
Find something else for your focus and thoughts for a little while. Try watching something funny, reading a book, watching a video, or listening to a podcast. It doesn’t matter what the activity is so long as it requires thought and attention. That way, it can help pull your thoughts out of that loop.
Talking to a friend or family member may also be a good idea if you need a distraction.
3. Talk to the person whose conversation you’re ruminating on.
This suggestion may not always be possible. Maybe you had a bad conversation with your boss. You could be thinking about a breakup conversation with your partner.
But, if you can, you may find that talking about it with the person you conversed with may help. Sometimes questions hang in the air, and the only person who can answer them is the person you were talking to. Of course, don’t try this if the person has established boundaries or the circumstances require you to not talk to them further.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Becoming stuck in a thought loop isn’t typically a pleasant experience. Many people who do find themselves angry and frustrated with their brains because of the involuntary nature of these circular thoughts.
You must remember that you cannot hate yourself into being a better person. Instead, it would help if you were kind to yourself. Yes, it’s frustrating and infuriating, but you want to avoid being self-critical. So instead of using that negativity against yourself, try to change those words with positive affirmations and kindness.
Going over conversations with others in your mind is a normal thing that most people do once in a while. It becomes a problem when it’s happening at unwanted times, for extended periods, or otherwise causing you some distress. This kind of thing is often a self-soothing and coping mechanism for anxiety. So, if you find it unmanageable, you should seek professional help.