Rumination is a cognitive process that has been closely linked to an increased risk for the onset of psychopathology and to the maintenance of emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. Rumination is characterized by the process of repetitive thinking that is often experienced as uncontrollable and not necessarily by a specific content of thought. Rumination, however, frequently takes the form of depressive rumination, which refers to repetitive, negative thinking, generally about past events or current stressors.

What Are Rumination And Worry?

Disorders That Are Associated with Rumination and Worry

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • depression
  • social anxiety
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • pain
  • eating disorders
  • insomnia
  • psychosis

Helpful Questions for Assessing Rumination and Worry

  • How often do you find yourself ruminating or dwelling on your problems?
  • When do you tend to do most of your worrying or ruminating?
  • What are the consequences of ruminating and worrying for you? How does it make you feel?
  • Are there any particular feelings that are warning signs that you might worry?
  • What tends to stop your ruminating?

Treatment Approaches That Target Rumination and Worry

A variety of treatment approaches have been identified that target rumination and worry.

These include:

approaching uncomfortable thoughts and feelings rather than avoiding them;

imaginable exposure to a ‘worry script’ or ‘worry story’;

Problem-solving training;

processing information at a more concrete and less abstract level;

identifying and challenging positive and negative metacognitive beliefs that may contribute to repetitive thinking.

Instead of overcoming depression, ruminative thinking leads people to:

Feel even more sad, anxious, angry, and depressed

Think more negatively and pessimistically about themselves, their problems, and their futures

Use fewer effective problem-solving strategies

Feel less motivation to act

Have a reduced ability to concentrate

Experience even more stress and more problems

Ruminative thinking not only complicates the process of getting depression help, but can lead to other problem behaviors such as binge eating, binge drinking, and self-injury.

There will be times when you have to seriously consider problems in your life and how to solve them. The difference between ruminative thinking and normal worrying is that ruminating makes you feel less able to solve the problem, thereby adding to depression, while worry should prompt you toward problem solving.

Five Reasons to Give It Up

1.    Rumination is associated with depression. Research shows that people who ruminate are more likely to develop depression compared to those who don’t.

2.    It is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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.

Eight Ways to Break the Rumination Cycle

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 perfectionist goals in life and focus on what is more attainable. This will reduce the rumination on the whys, how, and should.  

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.  

6. Identify triggers. Figure out which places, times, situations, or people are most likely to cause a bout of rumination, and find ways to avoid those triggers or manage them better. Mornings and evenings are the times when ruminative thinking is most likely.

7. Meditate. Mindfulness techniques can help you get some distance from the thoughts that trouble you, while at the same time reducing stress.

8. Get therapy. Seek cognitive therapy techniques to help you question your thoughts and find alternative ways of viewing your situation.

When you sense your thoughts are moving toward ruminating over your moods and problems, take steps to stop this downward spiral. Overcoming depression could depend on your ability to interrupt this ruminative thought process as soon as it begins.

One of the most difficult things to remember is to remember to remember.