Rumination

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Here's How Rumination Increases Your Stress Levels

Have you ever been stressed all day because you can’t stop thinking of  something unfair that happened that morning? Or the previous week? This human tendency to obsess, trying to work things out in one's mind, is common. When these thoughts turn more negative and brooding, that's known as rumination.

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A Little About Rumination

Rumination is comprised of two separate variables -- reflection and brooding. The reflection part of rumination can actually be somewhat helpful -- reflecting on a problem can lead you to a solution. Also, reflecting on certain events can help you process strong emotions associated with the issue. However, rumination in general, and brooding in particular, are associated with less proactive behavior and more of a negative mood. Co-rumination, where you rehash a situation with friends until you’ve talked it to death, also brings more stress to both parties. In short, if you find yourself constantly replaying something in your mind and dwelling on the injustice of it all, thinking about what you should have said or done, without taking any corresponding action, you’re likely making yourself feel more stressed. And you are also likely experiencing some of the negative effects of rumination.

 

The Toll of Rumination

Rumination can be oddly irresistible, and can steal an hour of your attention before you even realize that you’re obsessing again. In addition to dividing your attention, however, rumination has several negative effects.

 

*           Stress

Several bestselling books on mindfulness are currently being touted as excellent stress-relief resources: The Power of Now, A New Earth, and Wherever You Go, There You Are, for example. One of the major reasons that these books relieve stress so well is that they provide examples of how to drastically cut down on rumination, which leads to a stressed state of mind.

 

*           Negative Frame of Mind

Not surprisingly, rumination is said to have a negative affect, or produce more depressed,    unhappy mood. Not only is this unpleasant in itself, but from what we know about optimism and pessimism, this brings a whole new set of consequences.

 

*           Less Proactive Behavior

While people may get into a ruminating frame of mind with the intention of working through the problem and finding a solution, research has shown that excessive rumination is associated with less proactive behavior, higher disengagement from problems, and an even more negative state of mind as a result. That means that rumination can contribute to a downward spiral of negativity.

 

*           Self Sabotage

Research has linked rumination with negative coping behaviors, like binge eating. Self-sabotaging types of coping behavior can create more stress, perpetuating a negative and destructive cycle.

 

*           Hypertension

A link has also been found between rumination and hypertension. Rumination may prolong the stress response, which increases the negative impact of stress on the heart. Because of the health risks involved in hypertension, it’s particularly important to combat rumination and find healthy strategies for dealing with stress and staying centered.

 

Sometimes stressful situations can seem to stick with us. Most of us find ourselves ruminating or holding onto negative feelings we have about stressors or conflicts in our lives at one time or another. Unfortunately, this tendency can prolong the stress that we experience.

 

Here are some proven strategies for letting go of rumination, letting go of anger, and holding onto peace.

 

*           Expressive Writing

Some people write an angry letter that they later burn. Others write about their feelings and brainstorm solutions. A few even write books or short stories that express their feelings and combat rumination. Regardless of the form it takes, many people have found journaling and expressive writing helpful in letting go of stress and negative emotions.

 

*           Meditation

It seems that everyone from Oprah to Sting is touting the benefits of meditation and mindfulness for stress relief, and for good reason. A key ingredient of meditation is a focus on the present. When you actively focus on the present moment and gently prevent your mind from fixating on past events or future fears, it’s much easier to let go of negative emotions surrounding these things.

 

*           Change Your Thoughts

The basis of cognitive therapy is that the way you think about an event can shape the emotional response that you have in a given situation. For example, if you perceive a situation to be a ‘threat,’ you will have a different emotional (and therefore physical) response than if you viewed the same situation as a ‘challenge.’ Looking at a situation from a new lens, rather than just dwelling on the negative can help with anger management and lowering one’s stress response. Once you understand how your thoughts color your experiences, you can use this information to reduce stress with a process known as cognitive restructuring.

 

*           Change Your Behavior

You can also change your feelings by changing your behavior -- taking the “fake it ’til you make it” approach. You can do this in a few different ways. Perhaps the simplest is to make conscious choices to add some new stress management activities to your life: Get regular exercise, practice meditation a few times a week, or have a hobby that helps you relieve stress. Another effective strategy is to change your behavior when you find yourself dwelling on the negative: Actively get involved in doing something that will take your mind off of what’s stressing you.

 

2008 by Elizabeth Scott, M.S. (url: http://stress.about.com/od/psychologicalconditions/a/rumination.htm). 

Used with permission of About, Inc. which can be found online at www.about.com.  All rights reserved. 

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