“The combination of rumination and negative mood is toxic. Research shows that people who ruminate while sad or distraught are likely to feel besieged, powerless, self-critical, pessimistic, and generally negatively biased.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky
Do you ever have one of those days when everything that could go wrong does?
Do you find yourself looking up to the heavens and crying out: “why me?”
That was my reality recently.
A number of things seemed to go against me. From the moment I awoke one problem after another seemed to manifest impacting the quality of my day.
As the day progressed the more and more I replayed each situation in my mind the worse the situation seemed to get.
I needed to free myself from the clutches of a ruminating mind but how?
The problem with a ruminating mind
No insights can ever be gained by over thinking. As in my case, it only makes things worse.
Many research studies have linked Ruminating with fueling depression.
Ruminative thinking is the tendency to repetitively and passively analyse your problems, concerns, or feelings of distress without taking action to make positive changes.
Rumination tends to exclusively focus on causes and consequences rather than solutions.
When we ruminate we:
• Passively dwell on difficulties which distress us
• Repeatedly think over and over again about events from our past
• Become so engrossed with an issue or problem we can’t get it out of our mind
I needed to adopt a few strategies that I typically suggest to my coaching clients.
Here are 3 ideas that worked effectively for me!
1.Try replacing the “Why” with “What”
“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Eugene Ionesco
When things go wrong do you repeatedly ask yourself:
- “Why did this happen to me?”
- “Why do those things always happen to me?”
- “Why couldn’t I have handled things better?”
- “Why do I always react this way?”
This generally is our typical response when things happen we can’t explain. Most of these types of questions came into my thinking as the day got worse and worse.
Questions, such as, “Why me?” become part of the problem.
They cause us to get stuck in the past and replay the situation over and over in our heads. Asking ‘WHY’ invites unproductive negative thinking patterns.
To increase useful reflection and decrease unproductive rumination, we should not ask “WHY”, but “WHAT”.
This idea is supported by research work by Tasha Eurich. She says asking “why” highlights our limitations. It gives us no real insights. “What” questions help us see potential, keep us inquisitive and inspires forward movement.
“WHAT” questions help us stay objective, and future focused.
For example, rather than questioning “Why do I feel so terrible?” it would be more beneficial to ask “What are the situations that make me feel terrible, and what do they have in common?”
This type of questioning allows us to explore for solutions and find meaningful insights around the problem.
Similarly, if you encounter a relationship conflict with a partner or friend, rather than reflecting and asking “Why did she/he say that about me?” you could explore, “What are the steps I need to take to avoid unnecessary confrontation in the future?”
This will help move to solutions rather than ruminating and focusing on the unproductive patterns of the past.
Making the switch from ‘WHY’ to ‘WHAT’ Changes the mentality from Victim to Growth.
2.Distraction, distraction, distraction
“Where focus goes, energy flows.”― Tony Robbins
This technique involves not giving your mind time to engage in harmful ruminating. You need to replace inactivity and rumination with meaningful activities.
Instead, occupy your mind with something that you will find interesting or motivating.
When you realize you’re starting to ruminate, find a distraction to break your spiralling thought process. Certain activities that engage your mind require concentration, and prevent you from spending energy thinking about your problem or worry.
- calling a friend
- doing chores around your house
- watching a movie
- reading a book
- walking around your neighbourhood
What’s important to improve your cognitive behavior is quickly moving your thinking mind away from the problem.
“Writing is medicine. It is an appropriate antidote to injury. It is an appropriate companion for any difficult change.” – Julia Cameron
Journaling is what I call ‘cheap therapy’.
It’s become a very important part of my day. Just taking 10 minutes each day to write about what’s on my mind has helped give me clarity and perspective.
The overall outcomes include:
- Mood boost;
- Increased sense of well-being;
- Reduced symptoms of emotional stress.
I use journaling to better understand the connections between my thoughts, feelings, and emotions that influenced my behaviours.
Journaling is an excellent method for anyone who wants to manage their stress.
Research studies have found ‘expressive writing’ to be beneficial for helping people combat emotional issues in their lives.
Keeping a journal can help you fully explore your emotional issues to better understand the problem. By expressing yourself on paper, you transfer most of the burden from within you to an entity outside of you. It has the same therapeutic effect as talking to a therapist.
Journaling frees you from the tension within. It empowers you to see those areas that are within your control. Once you better understand this you can start making changes and take the necessary steps toward stress management.
Journaling helps you by:
- Improving your cognitive functioning;
- Examining your thoughts and shifting your perspective;
- Reducing rumination and promoting action.
It makes us become more aware of our unhealthy patterns of thoughts and behaviours. It allows us to take control over our lives and puts things into perspective. It allows us to shift from a negative mindset to a more positive one, especially about ourselves.
A Take-Home Message
Ruminating and dwelling on bad experiences can cause us to feel unhappy, anxious, depressed and insecure.
When thoughts and mental images interfere with your daily life it’s important to do something positive about it.
We need to have a plan of attack to combat the possible consequences of a ruminating mind.
Hopefully the 3 ideas offered above can help you in the same way they helped me.
They are simple in concept but very powerful in practice.
If you need any help around negative thinking or a ruminating mind please reach out.
I am a qualified therapy counsellor trained in this area of expertise.