What is Rumination?
Rumination is not the contemplative or soul-searching kind of thinking whereby you seek to know yourself better with the final aim of improving yourself. It is not meditation to make you more mindful of yourself, others or your surroundings.
Rumination is the constant process of negative thinking about a distressing situation in your life which does not lead to a solution. Rumination is using your energy to think without making an impactful decision that will lead to a better situation for yourself.
Rumination is a normal thinking process for a human being. At some point in your life, you will ruminate over the stressful circumstances that you have been through. The toxicity of rumination exhibits itself when you make it a regular habit.
Rumination is a mental version of eating up your own vomit, and continuously so. The root word is “ruminant” which refers to animals which regurgitate their food.
In a similar way, you feed yourself stressful thoughts and “regurgitate” them slowly and habitually instead of focussing on good thoughts.
Examples of Rumination
The main focus of rumination is thoughts that cause you distress. You chew over these thoughts, agonize about your distressing circumstances until they become the only focus of your thoughts. Thinking about past events and worrying about the future without any action to elicit change that leads to growth or a healthy solution. Check out these three examples:
- You make a mistake in the morning and feel guilty about it during the whole day, and during the next week, the next month. On experiencing another shortfall again the cycle continues. It reaches an extent which affects your self-concept and your day to day life.
- You make a stupid decision which results in painful consequences to you or other people. Due to the embarrassment, shame or stigma associated with your behavior and all you think about is how much of a loser you are.
- When you talk to family and friends (or new friends) that specific problem that you focus your thoughts on is what you talk about. If you find it hard to concentrate because of excessive thinking about your distressing situations. The thoughts fully occupy your mind and interfere with other daily activities in your life.
Characteristics of People who Ruminate
Can you spot any of these characteristics in you? These are telltale signs that you have become or are becoming a ruminator.
- Dwelling on negative experiences that happened in the past
- Interpreting current circumstances in life negatively
- Thinking often of the negative situations that can occur in future
- Feeling helpless most of the time
- Poor problem-solving since the focus is on the thoughts
- Talking about specific problems in your life every time you are in a social situation
- Making irrational or reckless decisions e.g. binge eating, overdrinking alcohol, and drug abuse
Why is Rumination an Unhealthy Habit?
1. Rumination harms your mental health.
Rumination is a common characteristic among people who suffer from anxiety and depression. Therefore, it may lead to suicidal thinking. Rumination is a weed of the mind. Thinking briefly and moving on to finding a constructive solution is close to meditation. Practiced as a daily habit, rumination leads to excessive mental stress like being excessively self-critical, pessimistic, and hopeless. It fosters a depressed, pessimistic, and anxious mood.
2. Leads to poor problem-solving skills.
Rumination paralyzes your ability to solve problems effectively. It can render you a useless human being because you become good at getting preoccupied with negative thoughts. You will have no energy left to stand up and do something constructive. It makes you concentrate on the wrong things, hence, blocking your wisdom. Most people find comfort in rumination because it is easier to sit idly while thinking about your problems than to work at resolving the issue at hand.
3. Your social support system will pull away.
Family and friends might care about you and try to help when you first talk to them about your problems. Nonetheless, when you continue doing that over and over again such that they can even tell your story without you having to tell it. Because they have heard it severally, advised you about it and you still don’t seem able to let it go. They will slowly pull away because they get tired of your preoccupation with sad stories. And never hearing how you conquered something even for once.
How to Snap out of the Habit of Rumination.
1. Focus on practical solutions.
Focus on the concrete part of the situation. Analyze how you can solve the problem. Seek help from someone if you find it hard to come to a solution on your own and find yourself ruminating without solving anything. Instead of replaying situations in your mind, do more to solve your problem. Just thinking about a possible solution and formulating plans is not enough. You have to distract your thoughts consciously by doing something else. You need to do more than thinking. You need to act in a way that will help you to either solve or deal with your problem.
2. Engage in fulfilling activities that can feel your mind with positive thoughts.
What fun activity do you enjoy doing?
Rumination can make you lose interest in activities that you enjoy doing. Don’t allow rumination to take over your life like that. When you are caught up in obsessive overthinking, have the courage to identify that the habit needs to stop. Habitual rumination over things that you can‘t change does not solve your problem. So, rather do something that can help keep your mind away from the pestering thoughts for a while.
And later on, formulate and implement a plan of action to help you deal with the problem.
If you have a difficult time coming up with plans, going ahead with them and the thoughts seem to stick around all the time, you might fall into self-pity and can worsen your risk for depression.
The following ideas are based on my own interests and what I do to stop do ruminating all the time. I hope that these ideas will help you think of your own enjoyable ways of reducing rumination.
- Reading the Bible or a literary work
- Writing down my ruminations in poetry or prose form (transferring my thoughts on paper seems to help me in forgetting them.)
- Watching a movie, documentary, or an inspirational video
- Talking to a friend or elderly person about something else, rather than your problem
- Performing regular physical exercises
- Solving a puzzle – can help you to focus on the solution of the puzzle rather than fixating your thoughts in your problems e.g. crossword puzzle, sudoku, picture puzzles e.t.c.
- Playing an engaging in a game or sport that takes all my attention for a while
- Practising service through helping disadvantaged people within the community
3. Practice Self-Reflection
Instead of ruminating, try self-reflection. You have probably done these numerous times such as when you fell in love with that amazing person and start thinking of ways to be better so that they can be attracted to you. And then you actually implement those ways by always being well-groomed or trying to impress them with jokes or your money. We all experience such times in life when we look deeply into our inner self in order to become better.
On the contrary, rumination engulfs you in sadness without the aim of making things better for yourself. With self-reflection, you look at both sides of the equation. Recognize both your strengths and your weaknesses. Develop true self-awareness since you know who you are. Instead of asking yourself WHY someone upset you, you‘ll think WHAT they did that upset you. In short, rumination focusses on the abstract part of the problem without any desire to change. With self-reflection, there is the intent to change since the focus is no concrete parts of the problem.
Rumination is aimless thinking that accomplishes little aside from wrapping yourself in an assorted mix of sad and painful thoughts which lower your mood further. The key is not to let it be excessive, and where possible concerning things that you are truly beyond your power to change. Stop ruminating over them. Refuse to brood and wallow in destructive thoughts. It’s clear why it’s important to break the habit of rumination.
It’s a harmful habit which lets your thoughts to be your master.
Be the queen or king of your thoughts.
Life is for living. Keep living. Don’t give up.