By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
Thinking about our problems is, without doubt, part of an effective way of solving them. If we need to deal with one of our life issues, we think it through, review our options, and then choose a course of action to handle the problem. We can then take action to resolve the issue and this might include redefining it so that we don’t experience it as a problem any longer.
However, sometimes we get stuck at the thinking stage of the problem and go no farther. We get caught up in thought itself and never move into the problem-solving strategy of taking action. That is rumination or over thinking. Ruminating, letting thoughts swirl in our heads over and over again is driven by anxiety.
Rumination is more likely to occur when our thoughts are largely negative. Positive thinking encourages us to take effective action. Negative thoughts, on the other hand, discourage us from taking action. Usually, when we engage in negative thinking, we feel overwhelmed. We feel stuck. We can’t see our way out of our problems. And so, we think – and think. We ruminate.
Researchers have found that women are much more likely to ruminate than men. This reflects the two-to-one ratio of women who suffer from depression in comparison to men. Socialization practices in our society may be one of a number of possible reasons why women ruminate more often than men. In addition to depression, rumination is associated with anxiety, anger, and substance abuse.
Rumination is not the same as worry, although ruminators do worry. Worry involves “what if’s” – wondering about things that might happen. “What if I say the wrong thing at work?” “What if this date goes wrong?” Rumination, on the other hand, focuses more on things that have happened in the past; things you said or things that went wrong.
Rumination is an elusive experience. We get caught in the ruminative pattern without realizing it and then assume that this is the way things are supposed to be – thinking and thinking endlessly. We slip into the pattern automatically and feel that we have no control over it. The experience can feel agonizing, but may also seem familiar and comfortable. It does not solve the problems that we are anxious about, and in fact it ultimately increases our anxiety and may lead to depression.
Rumination may be most prominent during times of stress or when a crisis comes into your life. Here are a few ways to replace the ruminative pattern with a more positive approach.
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