“Am I doing the right thing? Should I have responded differently? There are many questions that we ask ourselves all the time. Unfortunately, not all of them lead to positive results. In this article, we’ll explain why obsessive repetition of the same thought can be dangerous and how to stop ruminating.
Every person has come across a recurring thought that relates to an unpleasant event in the past, a failure or a phrase heard that caused pain and discomfort. Going through various experiences in your head is a natural reaction, but at a certain point, this process can lead to rumination rather than to an objective analysis of what happened and to solving the existing problem.
Rumination is a variety of negative mental reaction to what is happening. For example, when a person is in a state of stress, he focuses on a “sore spot” or on a negative emotion. Instead of starting to find a solution to the problem, he plunges into it, limiting the circle of his thoughts.
Mental obsession manifests itself differently in different people. This can be influenced by childhood traumas (bullying at school, resentment, violence) or an approach to education: if from an early age a child was not taught to manage positive emotions in critical situations, direct them competently and strengthen them to overcome the crisis, at a conscious age it will be difficult for them to do so.
It’s not just about management, emotions are an integral part of everyone’s life, a healthy manifestation of feelings that cannot be constantly kept inside. If you treat emotions not as a natural and healthy reaction, but as a problem that you cannot control, the consequences will be appropriate.
Of course, the psychological type of a person and his character also influences the internal reaction. People who tend to be over-perfectionist, hyper-responsible, pessimistic, and neurotic are more likely to be ruminated. Constant stress factors are also an important aspect.
After encountering a problem emotion, there are two ways to solve it: a reaction or thinking about it. “Why did this happen? Was this my fault? What if this is not an accident, but a pattern? – thinking about the problem, searching for its place in the past, present, and future lead to rumination and constant repetition of thoughts. In order to achieve a result, the train of thought should be kept under control, which worsens the situation. Essentially, rumination evokes negative emotions and inactive ways to deal with it.
Trying to figure out what happened may take a short time, but for some, it can take several hours or even days. Basically, the “vicious circle” involves the following steps:
- Problem / event / experience that causes negative emotions;
- Emotions that you treat as another problem;
- An attempt to solve the problem by reflection;
Thinking does not lead to a result and causes negative emotions, for example, a feeling of guilt for not being able to cope with a problem (which brings the person back to the starting point).
The main difference between rumination and a healthy flow of thoughts is that the former does not lead to new ways of thinking, does not help to look at the current situation from the other side, and most importantly, it does not lead to a result.
What can rumination lead to?
Rumination is not a medical conclusion, but this process is closely related to depression and increased anxiety. Obsession is considered their “symptom” and can aggravate the situation and make you more susceptible to negative manifestations.
Among the people, who repeatedly encountered negative events in life, but reacted to them without falling into rumination, the level of depression and anxiety is significantly lower than among those who replayed and analyzed what happened again and again.
Constant guilt and self-flagellation are also possible consequences. Although having analyzed the situation with a specialist, you will understand that not everything depends on you, and the feeling of guilt, in this case, is based on nothing.
Rumination also leads to final stagnation, because thinking about the problem is only an illusion of the way out. You plunge into a helpless state, from which it is increasingly difficult to get out.
How to deal with rumination?
There are a few simple ways to avoid being influenced by obsessive ruminations:
- Distract yourself. Go in for sports (physical activity has a positive effect not only on health but also on human brain activity), complete a new work task, meet a friend;
- Stop controlling what is out of your control. At first glance, this practice may seem complicated, especially if you are used to keeping everything under control. But once again ask yourself: “Can I personally change anything?”
- Consider a worst-case scenario that didn’t actually happen. This will show you that the situation is not so critical, and the mistake made is an opportunity to learn from experience;
- Think back to your recent accomplishments. Raising self-esteem and objective praise in appropriate situations affects your reaction to ongoing changes favorably (even if they are negative);
- Go the other way round. Despite the possible obsession, make an effort and look at the problem from a different angle. A fresh look can change your attitude and prevent rumination.