Is Rumination Chewing up your mental health?


By David Joel Miller

What is Rumination and why is rumination destroying your mental wellness?

Rumination

Rumination – Chewing your emotional cud
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Rumination, that habit of turning things over and over in your mind, has a lot of impact on your mental health. The more we learn about rumination the more seriously we find it is affecting people’s mental health.

Various authors have suggested alternative definitions for rumination as applied to mental health. Rumination means, to me, that something is bothering you and you keep turning that thing over and over in your mind. Reynolds (2014) describes rumination as a “maladaptive form of self-reflection.”

In rumination the focus is on yourself, judging yourself and how you reacted to the event, rather than in learning from those events. For the ruminator, if things went wrong this must mean that you are bad, people treated you badly or that this is the result of some personal weakness that will continue to hold you back.

Casey Truffo refers to this as “chewing on the thing that is eating you.” The result is that rather than finding a solution to your problem or moving forward, you stay stuck in your upset over these things.

Excess rumination has been linked to depression, anxiety, stress and other mental illnesses.

Thinking about the past and the future can be helpful. This review of life can aid us in recognizing errors and learning from experience. It can also be part of planning for the future. What goes wrong in ruminating is that the focus shifts from the facts, this is what did or may happen, to looking at the feelings. I could not stand it if this or that happened. Or you may be saying this is too painful to bear, is not fair and so on.

Rumination is about judging the rightness and wrongness of things. It involves beliefs that things will not be well and looking for who to blame. Most often this involves beliefs that the reason something bad happened is because you did something “wrong.” Ruminating about the future includes beliefs that you are powerless and helpless if things happen that you do not foresee and can’t control.

This pattern of ruminating on the past and certain negative possible futures seems to me to also be involved in maintaining and aggravating the adjustment and stress-related disorders. Intrusive thoughts become worse the more you focus on them. Looking for possible crises can result in being overwhelmed and living in a world full of crises.

There is a strong connection between ruminating and alcohol abuse. Ruminators are most likely to binge drink in response to their negative self-thoughts. Those who are frequent Ruminators are also more likely to have anger management problems.

Ruminating is also an aggravating factor in eating disorders and is hugely connected with non-suicidal self-injury. Rumination can damage relationships and is related to adult attachment style issues.

Dwelling on your negative thoughts, your reviewing of past failures keeps you stuck.

Rumination has been linked to negative automatic thoughts. Think negative thoughts often enough and those thoughts are practiced to the point of becoming automatic. Practice thinking that everything is wrong, awful and horrible, and will always be that way, and you have created a negative destiny.

Rumination is that annoying advertising jingle that keeps playing in your head. Think about those negative thoughts enough and they may be stuck in there forever.

Ruminating about the past cranks up the depression feelings.

The questions most often asked by ruminators are “Why?” and “What if?” Continuing to think about why did this happen, it should not have happened, it is horrible, awful, that this happened, results in ever-increasing feelings of sadness and depression.

Ruminating about the future is a major cause of Anxiety Disorders.

Repeated thoughts of what if? Rehearsing all the possible things that could go wrong, is a good way to anxious yourself up.

The belief that you “should” ruminate, that repeatedly turning over these past experiences or future possibilities are necessary, maintains the rumination and results in ever-increasing spirals of negative emotions. Your own belief that you need to figure this out keeps you stuck. Some things can’t be figured out or do not need to be analyzed. Dwelling on your negative thoughts, your reviewing of past failures keeps you trapped. Acceptance rather than rumination may be the best option.

Co-rumination.

Some ruminators bring others in on their rumination process. The term co-rumination has been coined to refer to times when a relationship between two people exists primarily so they can both ruminate together about each other’s problems. Spend all your time ruminating and others in your life either have to join in the negative thought game or find a way to escape the negativity. Ruminating may drive family and friends away. Those who are left will be as negative as you.

How this is like and how it is different from therapy will be a part of a future post on co-rumination.

Do you ruminate? Are you stuck on turning those thoughts of past mistakes over and over in your head? Now is the time to break the rumination cycle and start a new happy and mentally healthy life.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Avoid rumination for better mental health.

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15 thoughts on “Is Rumination Chewing up your mental health?

  1. I try to tell my students to use the approach of Scarlett from Gone with the Wind, “I’ll think of it tomorrow.” One must embrace that lifestyle of not dwelling on negative thinking, the cycle is so vicious. Great points and advice!

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    • There are several ways to stop doing this. Start with an easy one. When a child does something they shouldn’t adults yell “STOP THAT.” Do this mentally. Every Time you find yourself ruminating yell at yourself (mentally) to stop that! Stop thinking about that! and see if you can’t retrain that brain of yours. Let me know how you are progressing on this brain change.

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      • Thanks for your help. I stop myself and try to focus on the present moment instead. As we know old habits are hard to break, and it’s easy to slip back into the usual. I’ll keep trying

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  2. When I catch myself mentally ruminating on negative, what I do is “treasure map” it… I write down the negative things, crowding my thoughts and heart and get it out on paper. Then I take a fresh clean paper and prayerfully ask the Good Lord, “what is the opposite of the first list,” like a form of Listening Prayer. After I have written each thing (point by point) as the true-opposite-positive for me, I destroy the first list. It’s gone. And I have mined it for true gold, like a treasure map. Works every time.

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