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What is Rumination and How Do You Manage It?

what is rumination

What is rumination?

We all ruminate at times for different reasons; however, if we let it become a habit we could, at best, disturb our peace of mind or at worst, compromise our mental health.

Rumination is obsessive negative thinking. It is the repetitive going over a situation in your mind to the point where it can lead to depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.

In psychology, we can define rumination as an "individual's obsessive focus on a source of stress rather than concentrating on finding a solution or being able to shift mental focus to another topic."

The above definition also distinguishes between rumination (unproductive) and taking a problem-solving approach (proactive) to a challenging situation.

When we choose to problem-solve instead of ruminating we reflect upon what went wrong, how we could have avoided it, and how we can learn from the experience; then we let it go.

Conversely, when we ruminate, we rarely seek to garner new insights; instead, we focus upon the negative feelings in an experience. We accentuate and bemoan everything that goes wrong rather than seeking to gain perspective.

Why do we ruminate?

We have an unresolved issue or unsolvable problem - Instead of letting go or accepting the situation, we obsess about it hoping it will change.

Are prone to anxiety - Anxiety and stress can keep us on a cycle of rumination instead of putting us in a problem-solving mode.

We lack cognitive control and flexibility - Those of us who lack cognitive control tend to passively dwell on negative emotions instead of taking on a proactive, more flexible mindset.

We worry about relationships – According to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema Ph.D., a psychologist and professor at Yale University: "interpersonal relationships are great fuel for rumination..... you can never really know what people think of you or whether they will be faithful and true." Since we can’t always know what people think, obsessing about how they may 'really' feel about us lends itself to ruminating.

How to Manage Rumination:

Cultivate positive thinking and engage in positive activities. When you engage in positive thoughts and activities you minimize the potential for obsessive thinking. To do so - read uplifting literature, exercise regularly, meditate, take up a hobby, or volunteer your services to those less fortunate.

Learn to problem-solve. Rather than ruminate, train yourself to think more clearly to find practical solutions for the issues that keep your mind running in a vicious circle.

See: How to Think Clearly and Problem Solve

Practice self-acceptance. Rather than berate yourself when things go wrong, learn from, rather than dwell on the experience. Go over what went wrong and then resolve to improve the next time.

If you focus continuoulsy on having made a mistake (which we all do), you will not only damage your self-worth, you will not arrive at a viable solution to the issue.

See: Love Yourself or The Art of Self-Acceptance

View mistakes as learning opportunities. Those who are inclined to ruminate also have perfectionist tendencies. The prospect of making a mistake feels like failure. Instead of seeing yourself as failing, view your mistakes as learning opportunities.

David Burns, Ph.D. and author of Feeling Good, maintains: "the quickest way to find success is to fail over and over again."

Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player ever, amazingly revealed: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Learn to let go.There are many circumstances we cannot change or control. Learning to let go of those we cannot change will spare us much unnecessary anguish. For those things we can change, setting up an action plan or list of small goals and then making the changes can be both practical and gratifying.

Take up journaling. Since journaling requires the use of the rational left side of the brain it is a great way to occupy, or busy, your mind putting it in a creative, productive mode.

When you think productively you improve self-awareness, boost your mood, increase problem-solving, and generally enhance your well-being. With such mental activity, there is little room to ruminate.

See: 8 Life Changing Benefits of Journaling

Overall, it is important to recognize that consistent rumination can be detrimental to your health. Since it activates the brain's stress response circuitry, it releases the harmful stress hormone cortisol.

Similarly, research in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that people who ruminate experience increases in blood pressure and heart rate, which over time can contribute to high blood pressure.

The good news is that if you are proactive and apply the above tips and other useful strategies, it can help stop your cycle of rumination before it gets out of control.

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