It may not be as well-known as some ‘higher profile’ mental health issues like depression, anger and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but rumination is no less common or problematic.

What is Rumination?

We all face issues and problems on a daily basis. We make mistakes. We criticize ourselves. People do or say things that cause us concern. Or we wonder why we’re feeling depressed or anxious. Thinking about and reflecting on any of these are coping mechanisms we use to try to resolve the issue.

But when the thoughts turn more negative and repeat over and over again, without producing a resolution, that is rumination.

Habitual rumination can affect your mental health, your day-to-day functioning and/or your personal interactions and relationships.

Depression and grief often cause us to self-isolate

Suggestions for Managing Rumination

The cycle of negative thoughts can be difficult to break. They can be caused by or exacerbate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

It is important to try to quickly identify ruminative thinking to minimize its potential consequences and make it easier to manage.

The next time you realize that you’re obsessively repeating the same negative thoughts, some of the following tips can help you break the cycle.

  • Find a Distraction – If you notice that you’re stuck in a ruminative cycle, finding a distraction to refocus your mind can be helpful. Of course, the particular distraction will be different for everyone, but think of something you enjoy doing or that triggers happier thoughts. For example, if you are a fitness buff, a good workout at the gym might do the trick. Listening to the music you enjoy most, something that inspires you or triggers a positive emotion, can help. Even just calling a close friend or relative can take your mind away from rumination.
  • Make a Plan & Put it Into Action – If you are ruminating on a mistake at work or because you said something to a friend you regret, instead of letting the rumination progress, write down a detailed plan of the steps you can take to resolve the issue, and everything you can do to avoid it in the future. Then, slowly and deliberately, try to follow each step.
  • Try to Put Your Thoughts Into Perspective – Have you ever ruminated about offending a friend and found out later that the issue wasn’t as bad as you thought, or wasn’t even an issue at all? And how many times have you made a mistake at work without losing your job? Rumination can make us dwell on potential negative outcomes that rarely or never happen in reality.
  • Think About Your Life Goals – We all want to be our best, maybe even perfect. We want to be an ever-loving and understanding life partner; the friend who is always supportive; the ideal employee. But those goals can be difficult or impossible to reach or maintain. When we inevitably slip up, it can trigger rumination. Think about and try to make your goals more realistic. Instead of trying to be best friend a person could ever have, commit to learning from the mistakes that you make.
  • Get Help – Managing rumination can be difficult. You might try one or more ways to deal with it and still be caught in the cycle of negative thoughts. Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional psychological counsellor to help stop the cycle.

If you feel you need help to manage rumination, please contact us here at BRCook Psychological Services and schedule an appointment.

Bruce R. Cook

I have been a practicing mental health professional for the past 26 years and I have worked in various public and private practice settings throughout the GTA and Ontario. The populations that I work with are adults 18-64 and I have extensive experience working with both individuals on various presenting problems, and also as a couples’ therapist.

I am a certified solution-focused therapist, and I integrate a number of theoretical orientations into my practice including cognitive-behavioural, humanistic, psychodynamic, reality focused therapy. In essence, my experience and style have been dynamically moved into an eclectic approach that best seems to fit the client and their personal needs.
Bruce R. Cook