06 Sep. 2020

What is rumination?

There are moments when we can’t stop thinking about something. We revisit a painful memory, can’t get rid of a certain situation from our minds. We ponder why something happened, analyze different scenarios. We search for answers, trying to understand why something so difficult happened to us. Or, we intensely contemplate how bad we feel, how everything seems meaningless, and we complain about our lives.

Rumination is the focus on repetitive, distressing thoughts and memories. It comes from the Latin word “ruminare,” meaning “to chew over.” It’s a cognitive strategy where our mind tries to understand what happened, answer various questions, find solutions, and reduce tension associated with the problem. The problem is that rumination doesn’t lead to problem-solving – we can’t change the past, and we won’t find answers to many questions (such as “Why did this happen to me?” or “Why did he/she do that?”). Rumination is not the same as reflection, which allows us to draw important conclusions. It is a process that traps us in our thoughts and leads to frustration, mood reduction, and helplessness.

Rumination is a common symptom of depression. It intensifies negative thoughts and reduces motivation for activity. For some, it’s an almost automatic process, learned and reinforced by repetition. Fortunately, it is a strategy that can be changed.

Working on rumination requires working on acceptance. Acceptance of uncertainty, as we won’t find answers to many questions and can’t understand everything that happens. Acceptance of reality, which is what it is – it doesn’t mean we have to like it. Also, acceptance of our thoughts as events in the mind that we don’t have to “get into.”
If we want to interrupt rumination, it’s worth redirecting attention from our thoughts to the surrounding reality. Let’s try to gain distance from our thoughts. Mindfulness exercises can be helpful.

When we ruminate, it rarely translates into productive action. Let’s try to engage in valuable activities for ourselves that improve our quality of life or help us solve our difficulties.

Reading: Robert L. Leahy, “Beat the Blues Before They Beat You” (2014), Jagiellonian University Press.

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