Taking the Heat out of Rumination

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional

Pessimistic thinking styles are typically accompanied by bouts of rumination. It’s a toxic mix that can distort thinking, increase worry and anxiety and ultimately spiral a person into depression. If you recognize worry and rumination as features of your own character and you want to alleviate the situation, I’d like to suggest a couple of exercises for you to try. The more you practice the easier you’ll find the exercise and hopefully the more you will benefit from it.

Pulling something positive out of a negative situation isn’t easy. It’s especially difficult if you’ve developed a pattern of thinking that automatically seems inclined towards the negative. An exercise known as reframing is a simple way to guide your thought processes to more positive alternatives. You may feel it’s a little contrived, but if you give yourself time to try, you could feel benefits. So, let’s say you’ve geared up for a meal with a friend and they cancel due to illness. Your negative self may well see this as a personal rejection and your ruminations could go off in all sorts of directions about their motives and the reasons you feel rejected. Reframing puts things into perspective and aims to stop the bitterness you might normally feel in such situations taking over. You could settle yourself by considering the very real possibility they are telling the truth. There is always another time to go out and you could use the time to call someone else, or watch a movie, or settle down with that book you’ve been intending to read. Two important steps are achieved. First, you’ve identified negative thinking for what it is and secondly you’ve set about replacing ruminations with alternative actions.

Other Things to Try:

  • Designate a fixed worry time. Here you allow yourself a small fixed period of time to do your ruminating – say 15 or 20 minutes. For this to work you may need to have an activity lined up that will occupy your thinking in an entirely different direction when time is up. This could be some hobby, an immersive game or book, shopping, or exercise or meditation.

  • Writing can be an effective therapy. You simply grab a sheet and write down what you are thinking and the associated fears and concerns. Many people find that writing provides a kind of release. It’s a way of getting negativity out of you and the physical act of writing has a calming effect. Unless you want to keep the sheets as some kind of record to monitor your pattern of thinking, simply tear them up and throw them away afterwards.

  • Stay away from triggers that set off your negative thinking. Triggers can be people, places, or situations.

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