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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29 Responses to Rumination

  1. jason says:

    I didn’t know about the academic definition of rumination, which has negative connotations – I only knew about the more common meaning, as in deep meditation or contemplation. Very interesting. I have to say, I think I naturally do not do this. I’m normally very good at stopping those looping thoughts through action of some kind, or engagement in something else, etc. This is one place where Darby and I are very very different, as I can really move on and she needs more time.

    • Lindsay says:

      Yes, I think you are naturally an active-coping kind of person. I think you are really good at problem solving and thinking analytically. Remember the logic team in Bar Harbor on the DiNatale family vacation? Hahaha.

      • Darby says:

        The logic team in Bar Harbor on the DiNatale family vacation? There’s a constant loop in my head about how upset I am that I didn’t make the team. I still don’t understand why I didn’t, I don’t want to talk about it, there’s nothing I can do about it, and I’m really mad at God for making it that way.

  2. Sare says: good. exercise always helps me to relieve tension and stress and def. talking with a safe friend helps so much too. I don’t really cry a lot, but i recently had a really good cry and it was amazing how much better i felt really is so important to not bottle up feelings and to let them out in a heathy way. and i think your writing is so great..whether you are tired or not!!! i couln’t tell at all!!! you have so much insight and i love reading about it!!! thank you for sharing your thoughts, i love what you write!!!

    • Lindsay says:

      Exercise is such a good stress reliever. It really helps, especially if you get the endorphins pumping! Friendship is also such a gift. Knowing that you have safe friends who truly care is so comforting. I’m so glad that you like the stuff I am writing! I found it really helpful for understanding how to respond to stress. I’m so glad you are finding it useful too. Thanks, Sare!

  3. Collin says:

    This year or so I’ve really had to try consciously process stress in the ways that you listed above.

    I always thought that I was naturally good at managing stress, and I still think that my natural tendencies are fairly healthy, but this past year and a half has come with greater amounts of stress than I have ever dealt with before. As a result I have had to be very intentional in my coping. Your stress class couldn’t have come at a better time in my life.

    • jason says:

      Yes, that’s definitely true for me. The past 2 years have made me understand what this is. It’s not fun.

    • Lindsay says:

      Yeah. You and I have been close for the past 13 years, and I don’t think I saw you get stressed out until the recent past. It was really strange to see you stressed out because it seemed so ill-fitting for you. You are doing really well with managing things, though. I’m proud of you for handling things in a healthy way, even when it would’ve been easier to not try so hard at staying healthy. Thanks for not becoming a bitter person, too, in all that stress.

      • Lindsay says:

        I thought that reply was going to go more obviously under Collin’s comment. That was to Collin. But, Jase, we go way back too. And yeah, never saw you stressed out until the recent past too, actually! And yeah–actually–I could pretty much re-write that comment to you, too!

  4. jessica says:

    oh shoot. turns out I ruminate a lot. Almost as much as Jase allegedly skims, I’d imagine. But I think that I also do the positive stress-relievers, too…I guess I am working on balancing them both. THanks for this–it’s really really helpful and enlightening.

    • Lindsay says:

      Hahaha. Nice reference to the skipper.

      Even if you do some negative emotional coping, you also work so hard to be as healthy as possible. One thing that I haven’t researched (but I think would be interesting to study) is how different forms of art have helped people work through stress. I mentioned writing in this post, but you also do many other creative things; I wonder about the other forms of art and their effect on stress. I’m sure there is a lot of literature out there on that.

      • jessica says:

        yeah, that’d be really cool to research. honestly, dancing is so good on so many levels because it is both artistic and physical, so there are endorphins involved as well as a creative outlet.

  5. mom says:

    very good stuff…dad calls my rumination “being on the wheel”…thinking about something over and over and usually the situation is not one i can solve…so connectedness really helps me…a place to say out loud my issue and have people speak their wisdom and comfort into it…and your blog helps too

    • jason says:

      Darby and I call it, “lot of in’s, lot of out’s, lot of stuff going on in the old duders head.” courtesy of the big lebowski.

    • Lindsay says:

      Ah, the wheel. Yes. I know when you are on the wheel. And the wheel plus coffee is one dynamic combo! It is really good for you to have an outlet. You like to discuss things, but you also do really listen to outside advice, which is good. I think it’s healthy that you allow people to speak wisdom and comfort into your life. Not everyone can do that when they are upset.

  6. Darby says:

    The dude abides.

  7. Darby says:

    In all sincerity, I may be the worst ruminator ever. When I’m REALLY upset about something, I can’t even write about it or talk about it or get out and move or take action about it– I feel so overwhelmed that it paralyzes me. Recently it has started to take a physical toll on my body, and I get a horrible pain in a muscle that runs from the middle of my back, up under my right shoulder blade, up my neck and ends in an unbearable tension migraine on the right side of my head. If you’d like to use me as a case study of why NOT to ruminate, you may.

    Recently, I’ve started to ride my bike and meditate, using relaxation techniques I’ve been reading in a book called Your Anxious Child. (I’m also trying to teach Lyric how to calm herself down. Since they don’t make chewable children’s xanax. Totally kidding.) But I have to do those things proactively, because once I start ruminating, it’s too late to take action. I feel so powerless at that point that I can not think clearly enough to decide what to do. Great way to be, I know.

    I’d like to work on this and become so healthy that I am the Anti-Ruminator. You’re on that path, Linds. I’d like to join you.

  8. jessica says:

    I’d like to humbly walk on that path, as well.
    And welcome, darb–to this lovely spot known as Lindsay’s blog, aka “livin’

    okay, okay, so it’s really called 🙂

  9. jason says:

    By the way, this blog title made me think of this:

    But how in the world do they not use the word ruminate in this song!??

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