Imagine Health

Rumination: What it is and how to deal with it

Self-reflection has been shown to be good for your mental health, by learning from your mistakes and past experiences. However, there is a difference between healthy reflection and damaging rumination. Reflection becomes an issue when these thoughts turn negative and continue to replay repeatedly like a broken record. Dwelling and obsessing over situations and events such as past mistakes, losses or failures can cause you to feel worse about yourself and your life. This is also known as rumination i.e. overthinking negative emotions, thoughts and memories.

Rumination is a toxic process which can result in negative self-talk and self-blame such as “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t succeed” or “I will fail”. These thoughts can be very defeating and disparaging. It has long been accepted by health professionals that rumination and self-blame can be part of the problems that can lead to depression and anxiety. Trying to understand the deeper meaning of these thoughts can be beneficial. Nevertheless, if there are no follow-up actions to this understanding, you can feel trapped and may not feel able to create solutions or resolve problems.

How to deal with rumination

So, what can be done to stop ruminating? Or at least reduce it? Here are some tips that may help:

  • Identify the thought and write it down. Are there certain people, situations, or places that tend to lead you to ruminate? Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a great way to figure out and clarify what is causing you to ruminate.
  • Worst-case scenario. Ask yourself two questions:
  1. What is the worst thing that can happen?
  2. Can I handle that?

Most likely, the answer is yes. Human beings are very resilient. Remember, sometimes our biggest hardships can turn into our biggest growth experiences.

Quick Tips

  • Brainstorm and let go. Ask yourself “what can I change, if anything?” If you cannot change the situation, let it go. For the things you can change, think about what you can do to overcome a problem. Come up with at least one definite resolution or positive action you can take. Make a list of small goals and make the appropriate changes.
  • Schedule it. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes to ruminate. This allows for a time and place to think about all your worries and negative thoughts, while limiting it to an exact time.
  • Mindfulness. So much time is spent thinking about the past or worrying about the future, that we often forget about the present. The practice of mindfulness is a great way to reduce our stress and help with being more aware of our present selves so we can enjoy the important moments in life.
  • Change of Scenery. Exercise. Go for a walk. Take a dance class. Do yoga. Do anything that is a change of scenery. This can help disrupt our thoughts and give us new perspective.
  • Reaching out and seeking help. If you are ruminating too much and your thoughts are interfering with your daily life, or making you feel depressed, consider reaching out and seeking help. Therapy is a great way to help you identify and change your thinking patterns. Why not check out Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) if help is required.

Written by Alannagh Kelly, Assistant Psychologist