Rumination is a little bit like looking at a Newtons Cradle. It gives you something to do but it isn’t getting you anywhere.
Are you someone who often gets stuck in a thought cycle where you repetitively think about the same thing over and over again? Do you tend to dwell on past mistakes? And even if you wanted to, you wouldn’t know how to stop doing so?
In psychology we often talk about getting stuck in a thought loop, and these loops can really be about everything and anything, as long as they are significant to you.
Typical Themes of Ruminations
What is commonly reported as the most usual rumination themes are:
- Adverse life events in the past such as abuse or bullying
- Family history
- Relationship status
It can also be about things in our present life and are then often linked to social inclusion. Typical scenarios can be situations at work where we worry we may have come across in a worse light than intended. It can be about our inevitable death. It can be about the ill health of an elderly relative. Or the state of the earth. It can revolve around our children and how our parenting affects them in the long-run. Or the relationship to our partner. Or the state of your sex life.
The Negative Effects of Rumination
Rumination is severely debilitating, extremely distressing and unfortunately a fairly common symptom of both anxiety and depression. It is the most common predictor of mental health problems (Watkins, 2018) and not only does rumination predict its onset, but it also maintains it.
Why our Minds Keep Ruminating
How come our minds work this way then? If it isn’t doing any good to us – then why does our mind keep doing it? My fellow colleagues in the research field have found that there are mainly three causes for rumination
- You hold the belief that rumination will help you to reach a solution.
- You are faced with stressors of which you cannot control.
- You experienced emotional or physical trauma.
“If only I think about this situation a little bit more, I may reach a solution, because if I don’t, I am responsible and then definitely to blame” – said the typical ruminator
How to Stop Ruminating
One of the most effective treatment methods of rumination is psychotherapy, and seemingly Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy (CBT). The particular type of therapeutic method depends slightly on what caused this thinking style to begin with.
When the Rumination is Caused by Traumatic Life Events
If the rumination is caused by a traumatic memory then the treatment should focus on processing the trauma. This is particularly important as your mind will be stuck in a near constant state of threat. This is how humans react to abnormally frightening situations. In the land of psychology, we often say
Now, it is very common to be very opposed treatment as it typically involves talking about the trauma. However, to not talk about it would be a little bit like going to the Dr with a broken arm. Then when getting there hiding your broken arm and not allowing her to examine and mend it. Please be reassured that there is very robust research literature that shows that CBT is extremely successful in treating PTSD and nearly everyone experiences symptom reduction from a set of sessions.
When the Rumination is Caused by a Positive Belief – Thinking it is a Helpful Strategy to Solving Problems
To hold the belief that rumination is your friend is very common. It is also important that you begin examining the benefits and disadvantages of the habit. When you are ready to let go and found that the cons outweigh the pros it may be time to seek out a therapist specialising in anxiety. Numerous studies have shown CBT to be the most beneficial method of treatment.
A well trained CBT practitioner should be versed in how to use cognitive restructuring together with habituation and exposure to lead you into a more constructive, less painful way of living.
Emely Ostberg, MSc (Counsl. Psych.)I am an accredited Psychological Therapist working out of my office in the City of London, on Bell Yard, just off Fleet Street. I specialise in anxiety disorders, adjustment issues and high shame prone individuals.
Consultant Psychotherapist in Private Practice.