Series V of VII
The Rumination Situation
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
Rumination happens when you spend time thinking negatively about your issues, self-reflect negatively, focus on feelings associated with negative situations in your life, or think about how you might have done things differently. Rumination often involves other thoughts such as fear, worry, regret, guilt, and shame, which are not solution-oriented or forward-moving. Rumination stresses your brain and makes anxiety and depression worse, and it also keeps you from engaging in healthier thoughts, conversations, relationships, and activities that would avoid negative feelings. The sad thing is that stressed, anxious, tired, and depressed people find it harder than others to stop rumination and turn their thoughts into more positive ones, making this a vicious cycle.
When your mind has not, or cannot, fully resolve a difficult emotional experience then it is ruminating. Counseling, especially psychotherapy, reduces rumination by helping you come to terms with emotional experiences. By sharing your feelings with a therapist and releasing difficult emotions, your brain creates new neural connections that are less emotionally charged. This healing allows you to feel happier and have healthier thoughts.
Ruminating Has a Purpose
Rumination is sometimes hard to overcome because it involves thought processes that are trying to solve important issues in your life. Even if you want to stop, you might feel anxious about letting go of rumination because it means you will leave your problem unsolved and leave yourself vulnerable to the difficult situation. Feeling comfortable enough to let go of rumination and focus on other pleasant things will come with practice.
If counseling is not an option for you, there is another way to beat rumination
First, you need to recognize that rumination increases mental stress and depression and does not solve much. Second, think about the things you typically ruminate on and identify situations or times when you usually ruminate (like driving to work, sitting alone at home in the evenings, etc.). Catch yourself ruminating every time it happens, and find a distraction as soon as possible.
Here are a few ways you can break the rumination cycle:
- Phone a friend, listen to some music, play with your pet, or go shopping and engage in conversations with the shop’s staff or even with a stranger. If you can, share your feelings with a friend because it helps to get a different perspective on your problems and possible solutions.
- Do all the other exercises described in this series. Paint a picture or journal about your thoughts by writing continuously about them for 5 minutes straight without taking your pen off the paper. Free writing, in this manner, releases emotions and creates healthier neural pathways in your brain. By resetting neural pathways, your brain loses some of its tendency to ruminate on the same memories because you have changed the emotional context of the memories through the emotional discharge.
- Start saying positive affirmations all the time. Positive affirmations break the cycle of negative thought patterns and also help you to begin believing that you can feel okay. Once you begin believing in more positive possibilities, your mind becomes more motivated and you end up feeling better more often. Say things to yourself like: “I’m happy, lucky, strong and blessed;” “good things happen to me every day;” “life is getting better and better for me every day;” “I feel good inside;” “It’s okay to feel this way;” “I love you (to yourself in the mirror);” “You’re important (to yourself in the mirror);” “sometimes these things happen and it’s okay;” “it’s okay to forgive myself sometimes.” Even if you cannot believe or feel the essence of these sentences at the moment, continue saying them because by focusing on positive affirmations instead of negative ruminating thoughts, your brain actually feels less stressed and slowly begins to rewire itself toward better health.
- Do a quick set of sit-ups or push-ups; jog on the spot; clean the dishes; write down what you need to do for the week; go for a quick walk; or meditate on positive thoughts such as love, peace, and joy. I find exercise to be one of the best ways to break rumination, especially when I’m exercising with somebody else. Having company, even if you don’t talk to each other, helps you engage with someone else rather than being preoccupied and isolated with your own thoughts.
- I avoid eating alone as much as possible. Eating alone can be extremely depressing. If you have to be alone while eating, listen to music or practice being grateful for every little thing in your life, including every bite of food. Studies show being grateful consistently minimizes the progression of depression. When I was visiting India, a hotel actually had a goldfish swimming in a bowl on every table occupied by single people.
- Do anything that is not thinking negatively about your issues, even if it means painting, smiling at the clouds, talking to a tree, or laughing at yourself.
Completing Small Tasks
Too often in depression, we leave our life in shambles and allow unfinished activities to fester. A depressed person is not motivated to do much. The unfinished tasks linger in our minds and use up a lot of unconscious energy. We lose energy this way, and procrastination becomes both a habit and a struggle. The problem is, the more tasks you leave unfinished, the more overwhelming your life seems to be, discouraging you more from trying to accomplish anything and depressing you even further.
By accomplishing small tasks such as cleaning your bedroom, paying a bill, writing one email, or taking your dog for a walk, your mind actually feels a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and pleasure. Frequent experiences of accomplishment, pleasure, and satisfaction strengthen your sense of confidence and motivation, enabling you to do other tasks more easily. If you’re feeling stuck, just trust that you have to complete one small task, and no matter how unmotivated you feel about it, commit yourself to completing it. Remember, it could be as small as mailing a letter, cleaning your room, paying a bill, writing your goals for the week (a really good activity), or calling someone you love. Once you start feeling the satisfaction of small accomplishments and recognizing procrastination as the avoidance of risking change, you will feel motivated to do more for your life. Just start with one task at a time, right now!
Upcoming Next in this Series: Healing the Past
The next set of exercises help to release old and deep-rooted trauma so that you can free up your mind to become more present and enjoy life more fully. Try not to re-traumatize yourself when you think of some of your old memories – be gentle with yourself and seek professional help if some of these memories are too difficult to deal with on your own. Stay tuned.
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Dr. Ameet Aggarwal ND is a naturopathic doctor and psychotherapist (Gestalt, Family Constellations, EMDR) with years of experience treating physical issues, anxiety, stress, depression, abuse, relationship issues and also working with UNICEF, UN Staff and other large organizations. His online course on using the 5 pillars of health, (free videos on health.drameet.com), lecturing around the world and being voted top 5 speaker on 2 world summits has earned him the recognition of top 43 naturopaths to follow.