Rumination is the Enemy

Enemy #1 when dealing with anxiety or depression in my mind (and experience) is Rumination. Rumination is the repetitive thinking and loops that our minds get stuck on, 99% of the time it is a negative thought or story we made up that we just can’t seem to shake.

Let me paint my rock bottom rumination picture for you... Last month I was living with my parents and one day I was left alone at their house for less than an hour. It only took me 15 minutes to go from blindly watching TV on the couch to "I am going to die". I was pacing the house, hyperventilating, and staring out the window like a dog waiting for its owner to come home. At one point I remember my loop of thoughts getting so bad that I just layed on the floor in the hallway and bawled my eyes out. I. Was. A. Slave. To. My. Mind. (and it sucked). I was on a cycle of "anxiety is going to kill me" "I am a worthless bitch who deserves this" "you can't do anything about this" "the rest of your life is going to be miserable" and my personal favorite "you did this to yourself".

When we get stuck on these thoughts we are training our brain that this is what normal thinking is like. While the brain doesn’t necessarily like it, it just goes along with it anyway. The brain is like that one friend you have who is down to do just about anything they is told (like hey I know it's 1 am but we are going out). The problem with this is each story line we have in rumination and each painful memory that it brings up is stored away. The brain remembers them even if you don't.

Our memory is a slave to our mood. When we ruminate we unlock a box of anxiety and depression that holds every other rumination and painful feeling we have had. We get access to it and our brain doesn’t want to close it. Studies have shown that after 10 minutes of thinking the same thought the law of diminishing returns kicks in and any repetitive thought is no longer helpful. So my rock bottom made sure that box stayed open and those thoughts stayed accessible to me for the next miserable few weeks.

One way I was taught to think of it is like a test. Remember when you were told that if you don’t understand a question or a problem move on and come back to it or else you will never finish the rest of the test. Rumination is getting stuck on problem #1 and screwing us over to even have a shot at passing the test (or life however you want to think about it).

So what do you do?

I find myself most prone to rumination when I am 1) alone and 2) doing nothing or have no plans to do anything. While I am just sitting and watching TV or doing the dishes or even walking Stella these thoughts and loops can come up for me – often in the form of “I will never get better” “This is miserable so I am miserable” or “I am not good enough and therefore I feel like crap”.

CLEARLY, none of these are helpful so I think of it in two ways – the first is like a pop-up ad. These thoughts are the little shits that pop up when I am trying to watch my illegally recorded TV shows on the internet or that little box that wants me to put my email in before I can shop on a website. In real life, you don’t sit there reading the “sign up here!” line over and over. No, you click X and move on with your dang life!

If that doesn’t work the second method, I found helpful is to change my thinking in the smallest way. When I am having a thought I can’t shake or don’t like I say to myself “I am having the thought that ______” so instead of thinking “I am such a bad person” I say “I am having the thought that I am such a bad person”. It makes it less concrete and easy to acknowledge and then X out of quicker.

I know this was a lot but this really have been one of THE most helpful tips and tricks I have learned. The more I practice this the more my anxiety drops and I am able to handle day to day situations and life! Even people without anxiety or depression can benefit from eliminating rumination in their life! But if you can take one thing from this post let it be this: just because you have a thought doesn't mean it is true, if fact if it is negative I can almost promise you it isn't. Don't be a slave to these lies like I was - it will get better!