Constant brooding: Stop thoughts circling like this

Constant brooding: Stop thoughts circling like this

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Constant brooding - thoughts that paralyze life

Whoever ponders, thinks without coming to a solution, more precisely: The peculiar circling of thoughts in the void is the reason for not coming to a solution. The brooding pushes real and simple solutions aside or declares them impossible. The brooding thought winds in negative spirals.

Diffuse darkness

Brooder can paint the past as well as the future in dark colors. Unresolved conflicts, decisions that have not been made and assumptions that are regarded as truth are just as typical of brooding as vague “questions” whose “answers” ​​are lost in dark scenarios.

Whoever is caught in brooding will come to "conclusions" such as: "It doesn't matter what I do", "and if that doesn't work", "I can never achieve what I want to achieve", " look around, the train is racing towards the abyss ”or“ if I was looking for my life, I would first look in the trash can ”.

At the center of the brooding are questions that cannot be answered in the real world - especially about the meaning of life. Grübler usually answers this “question” by saying that “everything is senseless”.

Romance and world pain

Brooding comes from “digging” and was positively occupied in Germany. The Romantic artists glorified this “digging” in their thoughts, in the subconscious and opposed it to the “superficiality” of modern life. This brooding was considered so typically German in the 19th century that the term weltschmerz and kindergarten entered English because there was no adequate word for it in English.

The German "Weltschmerz", however, outlines the problem of constant brooding. It describes a general suffering in the world, but without the revolutionary impetus to change this unsatisfactory world. Instead, typical of world pain is the feeling that you cannot change the "bad world".

Ideas such as “people are cruel”, “why do we even live when we have to die” or “people dig their own graves” take the place of the struggle against the oppressive conditions. Goethe's “The Sorrows of Young Werther” became a bestseller and triggered a wave of suicides.

There are historical reasons for this attitude: in France the revolution overthrew the monarchy and pushed the Catholic clergy off its pedestal. Many citizens in Germany were also enthusiastic about the French Revolution, but they were only onlookers.

The bourgeois revolution in Germany, however, choked the feudal rulers in blood in 1848. The German bourgeoisie turned to "inwardness" and defined itself through education, because it remained closed to the switching points of power. The "German mind" contained a dash of melancholy, because living under the Prussian hook was not what the liberal bourgeoisie wanted.

Chronic brooding has become a guideline among German intellectuals since the late 18th century. The dreams of romanticism, a longing for redemption, which seemed impossible in this world, were saturated with melancholy and cultural pessimism.

"Depth of thought" combined with passivity was considered a virtue. In this history of bourgeois mentality, we easily recognize elements of dysfunctional brooding, which clinical psychology regards as a symptom of mental disorders.

When does brooding become pathological?

Brooding and worrying are not considered pathological per se by psychologists. First of all, it is an attempt to solve a problem. Thinking about a problem in all aspects is even necessary to solve complex problems. Those who are concerned about the future can act on this basis and prevent dangers. Thinking about conflicts can lead to avoiding the mistakes in the future that have led to unpleasant events in the past.

Constant brooding differs from this sensible thinking and thinking ahead in the crucial point: it does not lead to results and does not lead to actions that could solve the problem. On the contrary: brooding temporarily dampens the intensity of negative feelings. Instead of living through the feeling of inferiority, fear or even insecurity, for example, the brooder puts it on a general level.

The problem of not being able to get through to other people, of being afraid of one's own professional future, or of feeling ugly, stupid or fat, becomes for the brooders "the people who cannot communicate", the society that is in disaster leads or the "worthlessness of man towards the universe".

A high price

Brooding works here as an emotional buffer: it cushions strong negative emotions. However, these continue to proliferate subliminally. If we consider mental disorders as only partially successful attempts by the brain to find solutions to problems, then the meaning of the brooding can also be explained.

Brooding should protect against the breakthrough of strong and at the same time unpleasant emotions, just as a traumatized person splits off the stressful experiences. So instead of experiencing emotional pain to its full extent, thereby becoming aware of the specific cause and starting again after this emotional descent, the stressful feelings of the brooder are weaker - but they become chronic.

Diffuse bad feeling, passivity and lack of drive are typical for constant brooding. The conscious experience of feelings of inferiority and fear of the future is often the engine to solve these stressful feelings through concrete action. For example, those affected create a to do list and confront themselves with exactly the situations that unsettle them. While a consciously experienced psychological crisis can provoke a decision, brooding leads to a twilight state of non-decision.

Brooding means indecisiveness, postponement, getting bogged down and a loathing of any kind of change. Even more: If the brooding becomes chronic, those affected feel it as part of their identity. First, they increasingly isolate themselves in social relationships. Whoever circles only in negative thoughts without doing anything to change a situation gets on the nerves of others, to put it bluntly.

Others who want to help him feel snubbed because he obviously does not want to change the unsatisfactory condition at all. In addition, such a person does not give positive input to others: No matter what ideas they have, he will dissolve all plans in one gray monotony.

At the same time, brooder gives people who tackle problems a bad feeling, no matter what the result of a project looks like. If an action fails, the brooding shrugs because he "knew it was pointless". If the others are successful, he continues to ponder the unspoken as well as the rhetorical question: "Does that bring you anything?"

Even if the brooders suffer from the unpleasant mood of their uneventful life, they feel subconsciously or semi-consciously as winners. Not to act also means not to make mistakes. It remains unclear whether an actual solution would have led to success, and the brooding draws supposed strength from this ambiguity.

The brooding protects him from failure. In his imagination he can see himself as a misunderstood genius who has not understood the world. However, tackling problems would probably lead to the painful realization of not being as talented as in a dream. The price is high: the brooder closes off life and becomes an “undead” who cannot live but cannot die either.

The thought carousel

Almost everyone knows brooding in certain situations, especially when there are no concrete answers to questions that bother us or when we cannot influence developments.

An example: Someone works in a job for which he is real or supposedly overqualified. The boss makes a remark to an employee, which indicates that he has planned a more demanding job for the person concerned. The person concerned is now racking his brains over whether the boss was serious about what kind of job this could be, whether he dared to undertake a more demanding job, etc.

He ponders whether he should speak to the boss directly about it or rather keep the ball flat; he ponders whether the employee misunderstood something or even lied. At night, the person concerned cannot fall asleep because the thoughts rotate in a circle and he cannot get out of this carousel of thoughts. Because he can only give himself his “own answers”, which always amount to the ignorance of the result.

Negative ideas are creeping into the mindset: have I insulted the boss? Does he really want to give me notice? Insomnia makes the thought loops appear more and more excruciating. It is difficult for those affected to distract themselves. He goes for a walk, meets with friends, watches one DVD after the other, but his thoughts always revolve around one point.

Our "brooding" about disasters has evolved. Learning from the past to avoid dangers is as useful as it is vital. But if a person, for whatever reason, feels chronically insecure or has deep-seated fears, this catastrophic thinking becomes independent and paralyzes.

A dispute with the partner now triggers brooding over whether the relationship is secure and always revolves around this point. The less important the dispute was to the partner, the more annoying this brooding is, and the more the unsettled person ponders.

Or the boss asks when the work is done. Now brooding begins: is he dissatisfied with my work? Was the question really a warning? What can I do better? Haven't I made enough of an effort? The longer the brooding continues, the more uncertainty grows.

Brooding paralyzes

“Healthy” people get on their nerves brooding, their own as well as that of others. No wonder: we think to get results. An unsatisfactory result is still better than none. Anyone who is generally stable mentally will find pondering annoying. For example, he or she would like to put their feet up after work, go to the Christmas market or watch the latest Walt Disney film with the children. Instead, a thought bores into the brain like a worm and prevents the enjoyment of life.

In social relationships, brooding is just as troublesome. If a youngster moves into the world without knowing what to expect there, he may have a conflict if his parents warn him of specific dangers. Such conflicts often escalate, but do not paralyze those affected if they are clear. For example, the mother says: “I don't want you to go to the disco with Lukas. Lukas drives drunk and has already caused two accidents, “then the youngster may rebel but knows what it is about.

But when this youngster has to endure a brooding mother at breakfast every Sunday who says: "I am worried about your future" but without naming what the worries are and not offering any alternatives, she not only paralyzes her own decisions, but also your child's decisions. Typical of this brooding of parents who cannot let go is a diffuse "something we did wrong" instead of saying "I think we made the mistakes in upbringing ...".

This is where the same dysfunctional protection of brooding comes into play: the parents dampen the painful experience that the children grow up and become detached. Instead of adjusting to the situation, they ponder an allegedly gloomy future for the child or an alleged past instead of having the child who goes his own way to plan concrete steps for the future. The result is: stagnation among everyone involved and a twilight state that suffocates meaningful life projects before they even begin.

Social isolation

Constant brooding leads to social isolation. Outsiders, friends and acquaintances soon no longer know how to start with such a person. It is typical for Grübler to answer specific questions with “maybe”, or also with “maybe sometime”, to limit a possible agreement with “not here and not now”, or “if… then” to design constructions if one "Yes" or "no" would be asked.

“Can be”, “I don't know” or “question everything” instead of answering precise criticism gives the brooding a questionable self-protection in social relationships. He or she does not say yes because he does not say no and can therefore switch to a general in every possible discussion.

In the long run, however, this cannot endure friendship, no love relationship and no job.

Ways out of the mind trap

Brooders are trapped in their own thoughts. But thoughts can be trained. The first lesson for Grübler is: Make yourself aware again and again that thoughts are only thoughts. Thoughts are not actions, otherwise murderers would be swarming with them. When we are in a difficult life situation, it is even good to think about what we can do instead of blindly escaping forward. Complex solutions take time.

However, healthy thinking is appropriate for a situation. The opposite of negative brooding is not "positive thinking". The ideology sold as "positive thinking" rather identifies psychological manipulation or brainwashing and is nothing more than denial of reality. Anyone who thinks that there are no more problems if he only thinks "right" behaves no differently than the brooder who thinks his negative loops of reality.

Realistic thinking is the order of the day. That means not changing the thoughts, but perceiving them. Awareness creates distance. From a distance, thoughts can be compared to reality. Meditation helps here: we let the thoughts go by and only observe them without evaluating them.

Brooding from habituation

The problem with brooding is that the brain remembers. How we react to a situation changes the neural pattern of dealing with information. In short: Whoever gets used to compensating for difficult situations by unsuccessful brooding, injects the brooding into the brain. Without alternative strategies, the nerve pathways now always start the frustrating brooding again when decisions have to be made.

This can affect every area of ​​life and cause all goals in life to fail: instead of speaking to a man I desire, I once got used to lying in bed and imagining how he was laughing at me. Once the brooding has started, the same loops now run for every relationship that could arise. If I meet a person who is attracting me, a pattern sets in that makes a relationship impossible. I am not speaking to this person, I am just brooding fantasies about him. This person cannot know that, because the only way to share my feelings with him is to speak to him.

Once we get used to brooding, we find it increasingly difficult to cope with situations. We perceive even objectively simple “hurdles” as stress and fear. The brooding promises to avoid this stress and fear. We are becoming unhappy.

The brain changes through activity

The brain changes through activity. So if the brooding seems to dampen negative emotions, it is only for the price that the bad basic feeling remains. The almond kernel, our headquarters for alarm and threat, remains on standby all the time. The brooder goes through the world with a filter that conveys negative information to him.

Constant brooding as a symptom of depression or anxiety disorder cannot be remedied without long-term therapy.

But if we ponder too much without suffering from a serious psychological disorder, we can activate our brain positively: success stories are also saved by the brain, and healthy optimism can also be trained.

Nature and movement

Exercise is very important. When we feel the body, the brain perceives positive signals. We then feel alive, and this feeling is lost through brooding firstly and secondly counteracts brooding. Many scientists know how movement prevents thought loops. If they brood over a problem for hours and days without coming to a conclusion, these researchers go to the gym or hike in the forest.

The good thing about this "anti-brooding movement" is that it works without "thought work". Brooders who find the brooding uncomfortable often try to fight the circles of thought through thoughts. But once they are caught in their bows, their mental “solutions” get into the same loop.

But when we swim, run, or climb, we keep our brains busy. It now needs its synapses to coordinate the body. The brooding disappears, at first briefly, and with regular training in the long run.

Nature is an excellent force against brooding. In nature we are constantly exposed to sensory stimuli that our brains process: the scent of a flower as well as the hum of the bees, the song of a blackbird male or a squirrel on the way. The brain absorbs this life and processes information that, that's the good thing, is completely independent of our own thoughts.


Pathological brooders have usually forgotten how to consciously perceive the moment. The sensual environment disappears in a fog of gray thoughts.
Those who respect every situation have no time to ponder. Mindfulness can include everything: you can concentrate on the flickering of the tealight on the table, look the baker in the eye, you can precisely determine the smell and taste of your lunch. You can listen to music or watch the movements of your fingers.

Mindfulness includes your own thoughts. Simple questions help. If something goes through our heads, we ask ourselves: is that true? Is it true that my boss doesn't like me or are there other reasons for his behavior. Could it be that I'm in a bad mood for completely different reasons?

If we find a situation negative or it is really negative, we can ask ourselves: What can we do with it? Has the boss set us part-time and we can't change that at the moment? Then, instead of pondering, we can use this time to do the administrative work, because we have long wanted to do it. Are you waiting for the university's answer about whether you can get a place in a university and, for whatever, have you set aside 1,000 euros? Then you can spend the weeks of waiting with a European trip instead of brooding. Even if you get a rejection, you have an experience of a lifetime.

Analysis helps: Suppose a situation is really difficult and you can't think of a solution. Then brooding doesn't help. A negative result is also a result. What cannot be changed should not cause us stress.

Social relationships

Brooding means social isolation. The thought loops only take place in your own mind and can be broken through the exchange with other people - simply because communication per se means the unexpected. For those who ponder, the fruitless result of their thoughts is certain.

Every other person automatically brings different thoughts and thus loosens the knot, because no one thinks like us. Relationships also help change your behavior. When we get in touch with others, we only solve our own network of thoughts through the connection.


In psychology, constant brooding is considered a symptom of various mental disorders. Negative thought loops accompany clinical depression and are often a first warning signal that a depressive episode is in the offing. Even people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder repeatedly get into stressful thought loops that lead them back to the trauma.

Problem-solving training has proven successful in brooding - regardless of the basic illness. Relaxation procedures relieve the brain and activate nerve pathways outside the mind.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy starts with perception. Here sufferers learn to perceive their thoughts as thoughts that can be changed.

Acceptance therapies go beyond this and are intended to make patients accept themselves with all their weaknesses and stop running away from themselves by brooding.

In practice, cognitive restructuring will help. Here, those affected implement changed thoughts and build meaningful patterns in the brain to deal with crises. Psychodrama, Gestalt therapy, therapeutic painting or writing help to focus, map and loosen the thought loops and thus to detach them from the patient. In the next step, those affected can then change the "brain cinema" in pictures and text and rewrite the script of their lives. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Michael Petersen: Psychological Problems - Bioresonance Approaches, XinXii Verlag, 2015
  • Mathias Berger: Mental Illness: Clinic and Therapy, Urban & Fischer Verlag / Elsevier GmbH, 6th edition, 2018
  • DGPPN, BÄK, KBV, AWMF (ed.) For the guideline group Unipolar Depression, S3 Guideline / National Care Guideline Unipolar Depression - long version, 2nd edition, version 5, 2015, DOI: 10.6101 / AZQ / 000364, (accessed 09.09.2019 ), Guideline
  • Bandelow, Borwin et al .: German S3 guideline for treatment of anxiety disorders, (accessed 09.09.2019), DGPPN
  • DeGPT (German-speaking Society for Psychotraumatology): Post-traumatic stress disorder (accessed: 09.09.2019), DEGPT
  • Lois Choi-Kain: Overview of Personality Disorders, MSD Manual, (accessed 09.09.2019), MSD

ICD codes for this disease: F42.0ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: Releasing Negative Thoughts Spoken Affirmations for a peaceful, calm positive mind (June 2022).


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