Rumination

5 strategies to identify and manage rumination

August 28, 2019

What is rumination?

Rumination is where you find yourself repeatedly going over the same thought or problem without any resolution or completion. Sounds familiar, right? Rumination is found in both depression and anxiety, but with different ‘themes’. Often when we are depressed, our rumination may be more around feeling worthless or not good enough, which then can lead to difficulty solving problems, and an increase in anxiety. Catch-22.

Our memory is context specific. This means we remember things that are related to each other, and related to our current situation. If we are in a low mood, the brain connects this to situations or times we have felt this way before. Our brain also struggles to think flexibly when anxious or depressed, which makes it difficult to problem solve and think of different perspectives.

There are many reasons why people ruminate. These reasons include having a history of trauma, believing that ruminating is helpful to solve issues, being exposed to ongoing stress or issues out of the person’s control, as well as having certain personality traits such as high perfectionism. In fact, people often believe ruminating is helpful!

Have you ever felt that going over and over something might help you gain insight, or solve an issue? Sometimes reflection on past issues can help, but rumination is where this becomes unhelpful. It usually won’t offer new insights, will often focus on a narrow focus instead of the bigger picture, and can exacerbate our negative emotions.

5 Strategies to identify and manage rumination

All is not lost, there are some strategies that can help reduce and manage rumination.

  1. Identify the fear or stressor:
    Identify specifically what you are worried about. Ask yourself what are you really worried will happen, and try to gain some clarity on what you are expecting. Then identify what is the worst-case scenario in this situation, and determine whether you could handle this. This might sound counter-productive, but in reality, we are very resilient, and often handle worst-case scenarios better than we think we might!
  2. Action stations:
    Identify each step that you need to take to tackle the stressor. Write it down if needed, and be specific and realistic! Then take these steps one at a time, and work through until you feel the problem is resolved or you are less anxious about the problem.
  3. Mindfulness:
    When using mindfulness to help manage rumination, you need to first become aware of your ruminative thoughts and triggers. Mindfulness focuses on being in the present moment without judgment, so it is important to notice and acknowledge your thoughts without judging them. By approaching your rumination in this manner, you may find you are kinder and more accepting when you have these thoughts. And with practice, you can start to identify when you are ruminating and gently bring your mind back to the present moment.
  4. Schedule a worry break:
    Give yourself 20-30 minutes to just go! Worry and ruminate, write down the concerns and stressors, your possible ideas and solutions, your annoyances and what you feel stuck on. Talk it out if needed, but let it all come out. When you find yourself ruminating at other times during the day, notice and acknowledge, but remind yourself you will have time to think and worry about this later.
  5. Make a decision:
    We often ruminate about things that feel out of our control. Sometimes the best thing we can do is make a decision in these moments – even a small one to move in any direction. You don’t have to make the best decision, but just a decision that is good for that moment. You can change your mind later, but making a decision and taking small steps of action in that moment can provide you with a sense of control, and can break up a ruminative pattern of thinking.

If you are finding that rumination is starting to have negative impacts on your life, you may find it beneficial to talk to a psychologist at Attuned for more strategies and support around this. Contact us here to arrange an appointment.

Stephanie Zylstra.

Clinical Psychologist.


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