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Rumination and Obssesional Thinking

Did you ever find yourself in a social situation that was uncomfortable and, afterwards, spent a lot of time thinking about everything you said and how dumb you must have sounded? What characterizes this kind of thinking is that it is repetitive, keeps people up all night and feels depressing. This is what is called "ruminating." This is a form of obsessive compulsive thinking. As a result, ruminating is an attempt to regain a sense of control over anxiety producing situations. Unfortunately, the strategy does not work. Instead, the ruminator remains mired in stress, worry and discouragement. More than anything, the ruminator is focused on himself. Inspecting every nuance of what he said and how others responded, he becomes utterly hopeless and despairing of anything that appears to be rejection from other people. 

Studies show that women are more likely to be ruminators as compared to men. The explanation is that women, raised to be socially pleasing and nurturing, are more conscious of how they affect others than men. However, this is less a gender issue than may appear on the surface because vast numbers of men also suffer from rumination and obsessive compulsive thinking. Rumination conjures up negative thoughts. It becomes a vicious cycle in which a person ends up feeling depressed and anxious. At the very same time it is depression and anxiety that probably cause rumination in the first place. This sets up the helpless-hopeless cycle in which the individual feels helpless to stop the repetitive thoughts and, therefore, utterly hopeless. 

What is especially characteristic of this thing is that ruminators end up frustrating and alienating friends and relatives who reach a point where they can no longer tolerate the unending process. In other words, the ruminator may ask for support but no amount is ever enough. The loss of support from friends and relatives becomes further evidence to this person that they are undesirable. 

There are negative consequences of ruminating. Depression is both the cause of and result of rumination. That is why it's important to interrupt the rumination cycle. Also, there is evidence that ruminators are more likely to use alcohol. Most probably this is true because alcohol abuse is an attempt at self-medication. As is always the case, alcohol creates more problems that it solves. The bottom line is that a lot of energy goes into the rumination process with little result that anything good comes out of it. Rumination does not solve problems but adds to feeling more stress than before. 

There are ways to break out of this terrible cycle. However, trying to force one's self to stop thinking is doomed to failure. The more we try to stop thinking of something negative the more we will think about it. Just ask anyone who has tossed and turned all night rethinking and reliving a problem. Instead, it's important to distract one's self from the thoughts. One way to do that is to meditate. Meditation, especially mindful meditation, is focused on turning away from thoughts and onto breathing. The idea is to not attach to any thoughts while meditating but to feel the air coming in and out of one's nostrils. Another form of distraction is to go on a fantasy journey, also known as a visualization. This involves imagining being in a favorite and ideal place where one becomes thorougly immersed. In that immersion, the mind is allowed to descend into the total experience through the five senses. In a way, it's a kind of self-hypnosis but in an entirely pleasant way. The reader might find this book helpful: Plume, "Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts." Help is available. 

Contact Dr. Schwartz at [email protected] or by phone at: 720-470-2028. Skype sessions are also available.

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