Do you find yourself thinking repeatedly about unpleasant experiences? If so, you are ruminating. Unfortunately, rumination does not lead to a better understanding of the situation — and it does not solve the troubling problem.
1. Rumination is associated with depression. Research shows that people who ruminate are more likely to develop depression compared to those who don’t. In one survey of 1,300 adults, ruminators were found to develop major depression four times as often as non-ruminators.
2. It is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a study of residents who experienced the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, those who self-identified as ruminators later showed more symptoms of PTSD and also depression.
3. It drives friends and others away. Research has found that although ruminators reach out for help more than non-ruminators, they receive less of it, and people often respond to them with frustration.
4. You are likely to hold on to grudges for much longer than necessary since you tend to dwell repeatedly on what has happened in the past. This can affect your ability to move forward from negative events even if things have changed for the better.
5. The negative outlook of ruminators hurts their problem-solving ability. They struggle to find good solutions to hypothetical problems and even when they come up with solutions, their uncertainty and low confidence stop them from taking any action that will help them to move forward.
1. Get distracted. Become aware of when you start to ruminate and take the active step of finding ways to distract yourself. This can involve doing chores, talking to friends, watching a movie, or even sleeping.
2. Make a plan of action. Begin by taking small steps toward solving the problem you think about repeatedly. This will stop the rumination in its tracks.
3. Question the validity of your thinking and interpretations. When you recognize a lack of accuracy in what you are thinking, you are more likely to stop ruminating.
4. Let go of unattainable perfectionistic goals in life and focus on what is more attainable. This will reduce the rumination on the whys, hows, and shoulds.
5. Develop additional sources of self-esteem. If you feel good about yourself only in one or two areas, such as your work or children, you’re at risk of losing self-esteem if you stop working or your children move away. Explore more areas that are likely to bring you a sense of satisfaction and affect your self-worth positively. This will also lead to less rumination, which puts you in a much better mood.
Suma Chand, MPhil, PhD, is a clinical psychologist specializing in cognitive-behavior therapy. She is an associate professor in the Department of Neurology & Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Saint Louis University.