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Rumination: Beware of the Brooding

Updated on July 18, 2014
The Brooder
The Brooder | Source

What is Rumination?

When you go over a painful event or a worry the best outcome you can hope for is that you will learn from the experience or gain an insight that will help in your understanding of the situation thus allowing your mind to move on. Often the reality is that this process does not complete and instead it gets stuck on the same distressing scene that is replayed over and over, causing further upset and anxiety, never quite reaching the much needed emotional release. This is rumination.

How Often Do You Ruminate?

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When Does Reflection Degenerate Into The Dangerous Realms of Rumination?

To look back with a rational mind, reflect on the past and learn from mistakes can be a good thing. The potential harm comes when you are not able to move on mentally from negative, repetitive thoughts that seem to be stuck on permanent repeat in your mind.

The urge to ruminate is strangely addictive. You will often be aware that you are doing it and know that it is a fruitless expedition of negative self-reflection but you will carry on regardless, compelled to keep up the repetitive rumination.

Ever Turning Cogs of a Ruminating Mind.
Ever Turning Cogs of a Ruminating Mind. | Source

When you ruminate you create a cycle of reinforced pictures that become cemented into your mind. The images are then so clear and large that they are effortless to access repeatedly making their presence even stronger and at the same time making you feel progressively worse in an ever continuing, downward spiral of negativity. The version of event s that actually took place may even become a distorted movie of what actually took place as your perception of reality is only what your own mind absorbs and interprets from a given event.

Before you realise it you will find yourself irresistibly drawn into the vortex of ruminating, looping the negative vibe repeatedly. It is so easy to do and will catch you unawares even when you are trying to kick the habit


Mental health problems affect one person in every four during their lifetime.

World Health Organization

People See The Same Thing From Different Perspectives.
People See The Same Thing From Different Perspectives. | Source

What Are The Dangers of Excessive Rumination?

A study by the University of Liverpool showed that rumination is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety in the UK. That is a significant and powerful conclusion. On the one hand perhaps it is another worry to add to the list of ever mounting worries, that you can think yourself into a state of clinical depression but at the same time it could be an empowering realisation to be able to identify yourself as a ruminator and know that something can be done to change the (hopefully not so) inevitable course of destruction.

The study showed that the prominent causes of anxiety and depression are traumatic life events, family history, income and education, relationship status and social inclusion.

“But these didn’t merely ‘cause’ depression and anxiety. The most important way in which these things led to depression and anxiety was by leading a person to ruminate and blame themselves for the problem. This shows how psychological issues are part of the routes to the development of problems, not merely that people become ill and then show changes in their psychology.” (Peter Kinderman, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool)

Research has proven that rumination can be a predictor of stress, anxiety and depression in a person’s life. Conversely, people that do not ruminate or dwell on bad things that have happened in their lives or blame themselves have far lower levels of depression. It also suggests that the way a person responds psychologically to an event is more important than what actually happened.

Medicating The Mind?
Medicating The Mind? | Source


  • Rumination is defined as the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco B. E., Lyubomirsky, S.(2008). "Perspectives on Psychological Science"
  • To ruminate: to chew the cud over and over.

Dangers of Dwelling

The risks of unchecked rumination number many.

  • Unproductive: With your mind stuck on repeat there will be no room for any other thoughts. Have you ever been so caught up in a negative loop that you can barely get out of bed and get through the day let alone achieve anything productive?
  • Poor staying power/Procrastination: Ruminators have a tendency not to finish things they start or not to get around to starting something in the first place.
  • Stress/Anxiety/Depression: As detailed above incessant rumination can lead to a state of anxiety and be a major contributor towards depression.
  • Raised cortisol level: Ruminating can raise your cortisol level ( Why is this bad? Cortisol is released when your body experiences stress. It does this to give you a boost of energy and is useful for sport, or in fight or flight, high stress situations where you need an energy injection, such as if you need to run for the bus or swim from a shark for example. If you experience stress that is chronic then the cortisol keeps on coming, the body is exposed continually to high levels and this is where it takes its toll causing long-term health problems such as high blood sugar, high blood pressure, compromised immune system, supressed digestion and insomnia.
  • Excessive ruminators are also more likely to suffer from eating disorders, alcohol problems and obsessive compulsive disorders.

So it seems that you can in effect think yourself into an early grave.

Expert Anxiety Tip

Kick The Habit

  1. Face your problems. All the scenarios you create and dwell on are likely to have a worse effect on you than simply facing up to your problems.
  2. Stay in the moment when you feel yourself getting sucked into a cycle of rumination.
  3. Identify what you are afraid of. Embarrassment, failure? The fear itself will almost certainly be worse than the reality of the situation.
  4. Exercise. A martial art can be a great stress buster. You will need to stay focussed to avoid getting hit in the face!
  5. Yoga and meditation. Fantastic way to focus your mind on the now and relax your entire self.
  6. Therapy. If your problems aren't menial (or even if they are) get some help to solve them or find closure. Whether this is conventional therapy, hypnosis, self-hypnosis, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) to reprogram the mind, there are a plethora of options available. Get a therapist on recommendation if possible - although the techniques are helpful not all therapists are equal.
  7. Create new habits of positive cycles that reinforce confidence, self-belief and happy thoughts. A good starting point: The Mindful Path through Worry and Rumination: Letting Go of Anxious and Depressive Thoughts
  8. Kick the unconscious habit by trying to catch yourself before you are in sucked into the cycle.
  9. Do something silly to block it like stand in front of the mirror, jog up and down a few times saying “blah blah blah blah blah” really fast whilst pulling silly faces.
  10. Replace ‘feelings’ with ‘logic’. Move away from what ‘feels’ and take a more logical, results based approach to problems. More action, less speculation.

It wasn’t until recent years that I realised I was a very guilty culprit of rumination. I was absolutely terrible at analysing and overanalysing and going over and over any conversation or situation, however insignificant it may have been. What a complete and utter waste of time and my life! Minutes that will never be reclaimed! It may have been something as trivial as not saying the answer to something that I knew in class and chiding myself for it repeatedly (and that’s covers another topic altogether of not being afraid and having confidence). Here’s one example, I went to dinner at a friends and we were talking about cider, a particular brand came up and I said that I didn’t like it because it was too sweet. They said oh but that’s a really dry brand. Well, I didn’t like it but I guess I don’t know sweet from dry! Anyway, could I stop thinking about how stupid I must have looked and what everyone must have thought and how embarrassing it was? No. I went over and over it. The chat lasted seconds and we moved on, I wasn’t even that embarrassed about it at the time but I began to build it up in my mind and wonder if the other people were also thinking about it and how stupid I was for not knowing a sweet cider from a dry one!! Ridiculous! But that’s the irrationality of rumination. You become obsessed by something that might be trivial and then you turn it into a big deal. It might not be trivial, it could be a significant event that needs to be dealt with but ruminating about it isn’t healthy and doesn’t fix anything.

Do You Think Ruminating Has Negatively Affected Your Life?

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Your focus determines your reality. If you are stuck in a rut of negativity and pessimism then chances are that your life will continue to self-perpetuate along the same miserable lines as it always has done! Rather grim thought! Ruminating is a tough habit to break and continuing along the same vein may seem like the easy option but the potential repercussions are grave.


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