What is rumination and why is it unhelpful?

What is rumination and why is it unhelpful? Brighter Life Therapy

We all think about the past from time-to-time. It can aid us as we reflect on past situations, learn from them and grow. For many, rumination only occurs over a short period of time, and ceases once a conclusion is met. In this way, it is closely linked with problem-solving, as any associated discomforts resolve when the problem has. However, others can become stuck in ruminating and struggle to come to a conclusion. In this way, it can become problematic.

What is rumination?

Ruminating is a circular thinking pattern. It is a situation where an individual persistently dwells on something distressing from the past, and struggles to move past it. Although assumed to be a type of problem-solving, instead the individual struggles to think straight, and instead they can become preoccupied. It can be described as problem-solving but in over-drive and without the comfort of resolution. Thought patterns such as ‘If only…’ are common with rumination, with feelings of shame and regret acting as the dominant emotions.

Why is it problematic?

When it comes to excessive rumination, it can be a tricky habit to break. As with any habit, the more we do it, the harder it is to stop. However, it can lead to further issues, including those regarding our mental health:

  • It doesn’t actually help. Ruminating can lead to feelings of sadness. If we become upset enough, we avoid actual problem-solving and instead spend hours analysing.
  • Unhelpful coping behaviours. Negative emotions can surface from rumination, and we may adopt poor coping behaviours in response. This may include under or comfort eating, drinking alcohol, or drug-taking.
  • Anxiety and worries. Being concerned about past situations can make us feel inadequate, leading us to feel anxious about the future.
  • Depression and our mood. Rumination is a significant part of the cycle of depression, as it frequently brings forward feelings of sadness and sometimes hopelessness. It is also a common symptom of depression.

How do we stop rumination?

Although it is a difficult habit to break, it of course is not impossible. Here are a couple of techniques to try out.

  • Rumination cues action. This technique is split into two parts. The first is to acknowledge when you are ruminating as it is happening. Sometimes emotion can act as a cue, such as when feeling sad or possibly hopeless as they are common pointers of rumination. Once rumination is acknowledged, it needs to be replaced with something, which is step two. The trick is to pick an activity that allows you to be present in the moment. This could include something that engages the senses like sounds or smell, or just an activity you enjoy. This will help break the habit of ruminating.
  • Helpful thoughts and reminders. As you are ruminating, remind yourself you do not need to think about this now and can try again when you are feeling stronger. Try to remind yourself that ruminating isn’t helpful and that you cannot change the past. Although you cannot control your thoughts, you can direct your attention to other, more enjoyable things. However this is of course easier said than done, and may take practice.
  • Focus on the how‘ and not the ‘why‘. Ruminating thoughts are usually characterised by ‘why‘ questions, which can be unhelpful and not illuminating. Instead try to focus on the ‘how‘ e.g. ‘how can I move on from this?’ ‘How can I improve the situation for next time?’ etc. This promotes a healthier form of problem solving, rather than overanalysing and getting stuck on certain thoughts.

Can Brighter Life Therapy Help?

Ruminating can lead to, and be a sign of, many mental health difficulties. In this case, sometimes the techniques described above might not be enough.

If you believe you require professional help, feel free to contact us. We provide fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108, or by emailing info@brighterlifetherapy.co.uk.

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