Do you often find yourself thinking excessively about events or conversations long after they have happened?
Do you start to pick on the little details? Do you think about other things you should have said, or what you should not have said? That is rumination. And you are not alone.
Rumination involves excessively thinking about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience.
Rumination may be a response to anxiety to over-plan and control it. By analyzing life events by constantly replaying them, you can perhaps make sure that next time you’re totally prepared and won’t feel anxious. Sadly, it’s futile. Rumination never stops worry; it rewards it. Worry is a habit that won’t be solved by time-consuming problem-solving.
Rumination can arise in the form of replaying conversations. For example, a person runs into his teacher outside of class and briefly engages in small talk before moving on. After this, for the next few days, he cannot stop thinking about this conversation and parsing apart all the details and possible connotations of what he said or the teacher’s expressions.
In another example, you may have been harsh in responding to your friend’s unusual request to borrow your dress. You may keep replaying this in your mind - was I too abrupt? Did I hurt her feelings? Will she ever talk to me? Will I have to apologise?
It might seem after so many hours that your brain still keeps echoing past conversations even after you’re done listening. This ‘anxiety autopilot’ might mean that even if it isn’t the full conversation, bits of it interrupt your mind from time to time.
This can be disruptive to your day or make you slower at completing tasks because you are so distracted. And it is exhausting and mentally taxing to have this stream of thought constantly running in the background, and popping in uninvited from time to time, only to cause worry or cringe-moments.
What about a solution? One solution involves reframing your mind to snap out of the “anxiety-autopilot’ state, and into an alternative ‘optimism-autopilot’ state. This does not mean not thinking about the events or conversations at all after they happen – rather it means finding all the positive spins on it, before putting it to rest.
My teacher is not going to think I am stupid just because of that one conversation. Because he is intelligent enough to know better. Or: I have the option of calling my friend to check in on her. Next time we talk, I will let her know all is okay between us.
Another solution that you might find useful involves recognizing and reminding yourself of the following facts when you realize you are starting to ruminate:
We can’t control how other people view us.
People really are more concerned with themselves than the things other people say and do.
Other people can and will judge us, and it ultimately doesn’t matter. You are not defined by the adoration of others. You are much more than that. “You are what you love, not what loves you.” (Charlie Kaufman)
You never know what’s going to happen in the future, and you’ve been improvising just fine your whole life.
Write these strategies down in a notebook and revisit it when you find yourself ruminating. Explore how self-talk and self care practices can help you restrain your tendency to ruminate.