Spend hours thinking about situations in great detail? Or about a certain person or thing? Rumination is an unhelpful thinking pattern we can get stuck in.
The meaning of rumination
Rumination in a sentence, to go by the Cambridge English dictionary, is “the act of thinking carefully and for a long period about something”.
But the definition of rumination in psychology is more complex (and also the subject of a vast body of research, as it’s part of so many mental health concerns).
Rumination in psychology
Psychology sees rumination as connected tonegative thinking. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, an American professor of psychology at Yale University and established researcher of rumination, saw it as–
the process of thinking about our feelings and problems, “repetitively and passively focusing on the distress, as well as its possible causes and consequences.”
Other psychologists see it as a possible trait (a way of thinking we are prone to genetically), as well as an attention issue, where we lack the ability to disengage our attention from our self-obsessed thoughts.
And ruminating might actually be contributing to making you sick by affecting your cortisol levels and blood pressure. A study on anger in children and adolescents found that those with a tendency to repeatedly think or talk about an angering event seemed to report more health issues.
How to get ruminating thinking under control
1.Learn to hear and recognise your thoughts in the first place.
Often we are so used to the ‘radio show’ humming in the background we don’t really realise the content and need to learn to ‘tune in’ and be honest with ourselves. Tools that help here are mindfulness and journalling.
2. Replace the ‘why’ with ‘how’ or ‘what’.
Why questions lead to endless evaluation but little action. When we use ‘how’ questions, we tend to find ways forward. So ‘why did I do that’ becomes ‘how can I do things differently next time?’.
Ruminating is often based on the idea that there is a ‘right and wrong’, or one way to do things, or that each small thing you do is connected to a big thing (if I don’t lose this weight I’ll never have a relationship).
What if I am wrong about this?
Are there are answers I can’t see?
If let go of control and stayed open what could happen?
4. Replace overthinking with wellbeing activities.
Sometimes we get stuck ruminating as we simply don’t really know how to set goals and achieve them. So we need to learn a model that works, like ‘SMART’ goal setting. Suddenly we feel empowered, and we know how to find action steps forward.
Careening towards depression or anxiety?
Rumination out of control? Think you might be addicted to negative thinking? Or have the signs of anxiety or depression?