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Conditions: Rumination

What is rumination?

Rumination is characterised by the repetition of the same thought in your head over and over.

For those who experience it, ruminating may be very frustrating and distressing. Ruminating is therefore a form of obsessive thinking about an idea, situation, or choice especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning. You may relentlessly beat yourself up by rehashing negative thoughts such as a missed opportunity, memories of an ex, or that time you misspoke. It’s bad enough to live through a negative experience once without sending yourself down an unvirtuous mental loop. Especially when it comes to dealing with issues like depression or anxiety, allowing yourself too much time to ruminate could keep you stuck in a mental rut and make it even harder to move forward.

Rumination sometimes leads to depression. People who experience higher levels of anxiety or depression may also engage in more ruminative behaviours. Rumination may become a vicious double-edged sword; the difference between a healthy amount of thinking about a topic, versus harmful rumination, is the end result. For example, if you find yourself thinking about a particular problem to come up with the best solution, you’re probably not ruminating. But if the thing on your mind has no solution, or may not be in your control, then you might want to ask yourself if you’re ruminating.

Rumination can be a problem because it rarely offers new insights or solutions on how to handle a situation. Instead, it emotionally hijacks us and intensifies our difficult and painful feelings, essentially making us feel like we are prisoners to our own thoughts. Many different mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may involve ruminating thoughts. However, in some cases, rumination may just occur in the wake of a specific stressful or traumatic event, such as a failed relationship or in the context of an upcoming event such as major performance. Rumination can also be linked to low self-esteem and perfectionism.

When to seek help?

  • Your ruminating thoughts are a daily occurrence that makes it difficult to focus, function, or feel happy

  • engaging in complex rituals is the only way to gain control over rumination

  • other difficulties or the symptoms of a diagnosed mental health condition worsen

  • ruminating thoughts include thoughts of suicide or self-harm

  • rumination leaves you feeling and believing that you are bad and you experience chronic shame or guilt.

Treatment recommendations

Different types of psychological therapy can help with rumination, choice of treatment would depend on the nature, causes and severity of your difficulties.

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