Do you ever find yourself replaying a situation over and over in your head? Questioning what went wrong and the consequences?
This is rumination.
Rumination usually occurs when there is an inconsistency between the goals you want to reach and what you have actually achieved. It will continue until you come closer to your goals or you disengage from them. This form of thinking will negatively impact your emotions, feelings, and problem-solving abilities. Studies have also linked rumination to loss of memory, dissociation, depression, anxiety, and aggression.
Everyone ruminates a bit, including me, but research has found that people who have gone through trauma or have a depressive mood do this excessively.
What not to do
Suppress your thoughts
You might think that distracting yourself might get rid of negative thoughts, but this will cause you to ruminate more often and more intensely. You’re probably thinking that distraction is the opposite of rumination, right?
Suppressing thoughts is cognitively demanding, so when you are in a stressful situation that also requires a lot of brainpower, the repressed thoughts come flooding back into your mind like a tsunami wave.
What to do
Mindfulness involves paying full attention to the present moment, which will give you greater insight into your deepest thoughts and feelings. Some of these thoughts may be quite distressing and painful, but the more you practice mindfulness, the less sensitive you are to negative thoughts, and as a result, you ruminate less.
Research has found that mindfulness training may reduce rumination in patients with mood disorders. Mindfulness encourages you to view your thoughts and feelings as temporary experiences that pass through you without allowing them to define you. Treat your internal and external experiences with curiosity as if it was your first time encountering them.
Mindfulness exercises you could practice may include:
- Raising Exercise
- The Self-Compassion Pause
- The 3-Minute Breathing Space
- Five Senses Exercise
- Mindful Walking Down The Street Technique
For a breakdown of these and additional exercises, check out this article, 22 Mindfulness Exercises, Techniques & Activities For Adults
When practicing these activities, please don’t be disheartened if you become distracted by your thoughts – this is natural. When you notice these thoughts, try to bring yourself back to the present moment in a non-judgemental way.
Expressive writing helps you to pay attention to the distress without the layer of self-judgment evident in ruminating. Negative thoughts and emotions can be processed in a healthier way. Studies have found this reduces rumination, particularly amongst highly suppressing individuals.
When you write about events that are causing distress in your life at the moment, you could touch on:
- How it relates to past trauma
- How it’s linked to the future
- Relationships with others
- Who you have been, who you are now, and who you want to be
- General issues you’re experiencing
- Particular issues you’ve encountered
- Benefits of traumatic experiences
Why not try spending a small bit of your time each day on these activities?
If you found this blog post interesting and would like to read more about the topics, I’d recommend reading the books below:
- Mindfulness: curiosity and acceptance. Javier García Campayo (2015)
- The Mindfulness Book. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (2012)
- Opening Up by Writing It Down, Third Edition: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain. James W. Pennebaker & Joshua M. Smyth
It’s easy to fall into negative patterns of thinking. Expressive writing and mindfulness will help you to process these negative thoughts in a healthy way.
There are plenty of opportunities to practice these tasks by paying full attention to everyday activities such as eating, washing the dishes, or writing about your thoughts or feelings when you have a spare moment during the day. You may also find it useful to set goals each day to work towards.
Open the door to a brighter future.
About the Author: Tara Roper is a psychology student about to undertake an online Master’s degree in Organisation Psychology. I’m living in Barcelona and working remotely for an Irish financial company. My goal is to move into a career that is oriented towards improving people’s mental health.
- Watkins, Ed, & Teasdale, John D. (2001). Rumination and Overgeneral Memory in Depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 110(2), 353-357
- Watkins, Edward R, & Roberts, Henrietta. (2020). Reflecting on rumination: Consequences, causes, mechanisms and treatment of rumination. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 127, 103573. Edward R. Watkins
- Smyth, Joshua, & Helm, Rebecca. (2003). Focused expressive writing as self-help for stress and trauma. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59(2), 227-235.
- Gortner, Eva-Maria, Rude, Stephanie S, & Pennebaker, James W. (2006). Benefits of Expressive Writing in Lowering Rumination and Depressive Symptoms. Behavior Therapy, 37(3), 292-303.
- Vannikov-Lugassi, Miriam, & Soffer-Dudek, Nirit. (2018). Rumination and dissociation: The mediating role of poor sleep quality and presleep cognitions. Psychology of Consciousness (Washington, D.C.), 5(2), 185-211.
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