Rumination is a dangerous habit that can have serious consequences for your mental health. It is the act of obsessively thinking about a problem or situation over and over again, often to the point where it becomes difficult to think about anything else. In this blog post, I will discuss what rumination is, the signs and symptoms of rumination, and what you can do to overcome it. We will also discuss the long-term outlook for people who struggle with rumination.
What is rumination?
When we were kids at school, we learned about ruminants like cows that regurgitate their food and chew on it again. This is because their stomachs don’t have the ability to break down all the nutrients in their food the first time around.
Similarly, when we ruminate, we are regurgitating our thoughts over and over again without ever giving ourselves the chance to digest them fully. We chew on our problems like a cow chews on its cud, over and over and over again.
In the world of psychology, as opposed to that of farm animals, rumination is defined as getting stuck in a never-ending repetitive thought cycle which consumes an incredible amount of mental energy and can have devastating consequences for our mental health.
Signs and symptoms of rumination
There are a few key signs and symptoms that can help you to identify whether you or someone you know is struggling with rumination. These include:
- Obsessively thinking about a problem or situation, where your thoughts feel like they are on a never-ending loop.
- Being unable to stop thinking about it. You might even find yourself wondering why on earth you cannot stop, desperately wanting to stop, but you cannot do so.
- Your thinking is rigid and inflexible. You might find yourself getting stuck in all-or-nothing thinking, for example.
- Your thoughts are negative and pessimistic. You will often focus on the worst possible outcome of a situation.
- Your rumination is affecting your mood. You feel more anxious, stressed, or depressed as a result of your rumination.
- Your thinking is affecting your behaviour. In some cases you might withdraw from social activities, for example, or struggle to concentrate at work or school.
- Your physical health is suffering. You might struggle to sleep, or you might notice that your appetite has changed.
If you notice any of these signs and symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it is important to seek help.
How can you overcome rumination?
If you find yourself struggling with rumination, there are a few things that you can do to try and overcome it.
Talk to someone about what you’re going through – this can be a friend, family member, or anyone else who you feel comfortable talking to. Just getting your thoughts out of your head and into the open can be a huge relief.
Talk to a mental health professional – if you feel like you need more support than your friends and family can provide, seek out a mental health professional. They will be able to help you to understand your rumination and work with you to find ways to overcome it.
Cognitive behavioural therapy – this is a type of therapy that can be particularly helpful for people struggling with rumination. It can help you to understand the thoughts and behaviours that contribute to your rumination and find new ways to deal with them.
Medication – in some cases, medication can be helpful for people struggling with rumination. If you are considering medication, it is important to speak to a mental health professional about whether it is the right option for you.
Identify your triggers – what are the things that tend to set off your rumination? Once you know what these are, you can try to avoid them or be prepared for them when they do happen. When the trigger hits, be prepared to catch the rumination cycle early in the process as possible, in order to avoid it becoming entrenched.
Distract yourself – when you find yourself ruminating, try to distract yourself with something else. This could be anything from reading a book to going for a walk to listening to music. The important thing is to find something that takes your mind off of the thoughts that are causing you distress.
Exercise – exercise has been shown to be an effective way of reducing rumination. It can help to increase levels of serotonin in the brain, which can help to improve mood.
Challenge your thoughts – when you find yourself ruminating, try to critically examine your thoughts. Are they really true? Do they help or hurt you? Are there other ways to look at the situation?
Focus on the present – rumination is all about dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Try to focus on the present moment and what you can do in this moment to make yourself feel better.
Practice mindfulness – mindfulness is a technique that can help you to focus on the present moment and let go of your thoughts. There are many different mindfulness exercises that you can try, so find one that works for you and practice it regularly. That said, while mindfulness can be very beneficial, it needs to be used with caution, especially when inexperienced, because sometimes it can be overwhelming.
If you struggle with rumination, it is important to seek help from a professional. Rumination can be a very difficult habit to break on your own, and it can lead to some serious consequences if it is not addressed.
If you are able to identify and overcome rumination, the long-term outlook is generally very good. With the right help and support, you can learn to manage your rumination and live a happy and healthy life.