Rumination

I am really tired tonight, folks, and my writing may reflect that. I thought that I would briefly mention rumination before retiring to bed for the night.

Rumination is the term for a concept with which most people are familiar. It just gives definition to a phenomenon that some people experience without even realizing that they are engaging in a negative health behavior.

Rumination (in the stress literature) is a passive focus on the symptoms and causes of one’s own distress. It’s when you keep going over things in your mind again, and again, and again.

According to some researchers (Nolen-Hoeksema and Jackson, 2001), people are more likely to ruminate if they believe…

1) that they should focus on their emotions rather than taking action on their environment

2) that negative emotions and their causes are uncontrollable

3) that they are responsible for the emotional tone of their relationships

An example:

So, this is the kind of thing where if you walk away from a conversation thinking maybe you offended someone, you would re-hash it again and again in your mind. Rather than doing anything about it, you just feel sick and worried that you really did something dumb. You beat yourself up. You focus on all that negative emotion associated with whatever is concerning you. The negative emotion grows and grows the more that you focus on it. Bad cycle.

Fatalistic thinking produces a sense of powerlessness, and that can lead to rumination. Rumination is also called negative emotional coping.

How do you combat this kind of thing? You need to find a healthy way of coping. Here are some healthy coping mechanisms:

Active problem solving is ideal. If there is a way to proactively make things better or deal with a situation, then try that.

Also, translating your stress into words is healthy. Talk about it, write about it, just put it into words. It has been shown to reduce stress and help people find meaning in the midst of their anxiety. Talking about it with a friend has the added bonus of using social support, also a stress-reducer.

Exercise is also good for relieving tension and stress.

Don’t forget about the relaxation techniques and also finding FLOW.

Sometimes you need a therapeutic cry. Crying about what’s wrong can help relieve the excess emotion and allow you to bring your stress levels back down to a manageable level.

Actually, if you are a religious person, here is what your faith should provide for you (according to Meisenhelder, 2002):

Comfort: your faith should provide a quest for meaning and allow you to seek answers to difficult questions in the framework of a religious belief system.

Collaboration: people should feel that their relationship with God is a real way to manage stress. By recruiting the Divine for help, you are no longer problem-solving alone.

Control: when control is not within your own grasp, it helps to look to a supreme power that does have control.

Connectedness: Religion should offer community.

But beware. Just because you are religious or a person of faith does not automatically mean that stress will be easier for you to manage. In fact, there are two types of religious coping, Positive and Negative. Positive includes the above mentioned techniques. Negative coping is more complicated and involves being angry at God. An unhealthy relationship with the concept of God can be detrimental to one’s health. Meisenhelder maintains that it is actually worse for a person’s health to have a negative view of God than to not believe in God at all.

SO, that is a quick overview of what rumination is and a few ways to avoid letting your negative emotions become consuming to the point of debilitation.

Lipe, H.P. (1980). The function of weeping in the adult. Nursing Forum. 19(1):26-44.

Meisenhelder, J.B. (2002). Terrorism, Post-traumatic Stress and Religious Coping. Issues in Mental Health Nursing. 23:771-782.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. and Jackson, B. (2001). Mediators of the gender difference in rumination. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 25:37-47.

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