Awareness as the Antidote to Rumination

If you find yourself obsessing over past events, stewing in resentments, replaying conversations over and over again, and beating yourself up for minor setbacks, you are likely struggling with rumination. 

Rumination is the mental act of repetitively reviewing a thought or a specific problem without coming to any resolution. It can also be thought of as dwelling excessively on your problems or insecurities. Rumination is common to both anxiety and depression. Research suggests that rumination or excessively dwelling on negative events is a predictor of depression and anxiety as well as the level of stress people experience. Therefore, taking steps to mitigate rumination can have a significant positive impact on mental health.   

There are two aspects of rumination that can be examined to better understand why it can be so problematic. First, rumination often goes unnoticed as we go about our day worrying or ruminating on a negative event that occurred or second guessing ourselves after a recent social interaction. Second, rumination often fuels a cycle of negative emotions and feelings of insecurity or inadequacy that only serve to further reinforce and perpetuate more rumination. Together, we can see how rumination can perpetuate itself and function unconsciously to wreak havoc on our mood and increase our stress. 

The good news is that we are well equipped to begin changing our relationship to rumination.    

Awareness is an incredibly important and powerful part of our mental functioning and it can be cultivated through mindfulness to help us see and respond differently to the negative thought patterns that typically form the core of rumination. As we work to incorporate more mindfulness into our daily experience, we can begin to step outside of the rumination cycle.  (see previous posts on practicing mindfulness)

It is sometimes helpful to think about rumination as a form of background noise or a talk radio station. As with our mental life in general, this radio station is playing constantly, whether we like it or not. Therefore, a great first step to improving your relationship to rumination involves become more aware of the radio station playing in your head. You can practice turning up the volume on this station and observing what is being said. 

Bring your awareness to the thoughts in your head. Are you ruminating or dwelling on something specific? If so, acknowledge the event or situation and check-in with how you are feeling. Notice how your ongoing thoughts about this event are impacting your mood. If there is something that can be done, write it down and make a plan. If not, then your mental efforts to solve the problem will only cause more distress.  

If your experience of rumination feels overwhelming, you can try shifting your attention to more positive thoughts or distracting yourself. You might try talking to a close friend or family member, listening to uplifting music, taking a walk, watching a movie, or thinking about positive experiences in your past. In either case, you are using the power of your awareness to notice and acknowledge rumination so that you can relate to it in a more helpful way.  

Rather than judgement, approach this task of noticing your thoughts with curiosity and compassion, reminding yourself that most people struggle with rumination to some extent. Recognize that you cannot typically change the past or control your future. However, you can choose your attitude and feel empowered to act in the present to help promote a greater sense of satisfaction in your life. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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