RUMINATION: Chewing on the Past.
RUMINATION: Chewing on the Past.
“Only cows ruminate Gary”.
I was told this at a recent training course, and it got me thinking about writing this blog post. SO, you may ask, what has rumination, addiction recovery and cows got in common? Quite a lot!
Rumination is the process by which the cow regurgitates previously consumed feed and chews it a second time. The re-chewed feed is then swallowed a second time. Cows usually spend more time chewing during rumination than they do when they eat.
In my early recovery I frequently ‘chewed’ over past events, past hurts and negative situations caused through my addiction in the insane hope that’ chewing’ it over would change things. I relayed and replayed and replayed stuff over in my head to the point that effected my mood and behaviour. I spent more time ruminating than reflecting.
It is natural to reflect on painful experiences or worries. By going over such scenes in our minds, we hope to reach new insights or understandings that will reduce our distress and allow us to move on.
Ruminating however, is considered a maladaptive form of self-reflection because it offers few new insights and it only intensifies the emotional and psychological distress we already feel. I could go from being in a great mood in the morning, then for whatever reason, a memory would enter my head and the day would be spent in a cloud disgust, negative self-talk and anger. Before I knew it, my mood was ruined, and my emotions felt rawer than ever.
Constant states of rumination pose significant risks to our mental and physical health:
- Rumination can increase our likelihood of becoming depressed, prolonging the duration of depressive episodes when we do have them.
- Rumination causes negative thinking patterns. Spending so much time focusing on negative and distressing events can affect our general perceptions and we view other aspects of our lives negatively.
- Rumination affects our ability to problem-solve.
- Ruminating increases our psychological and physiological responses to stress to such a degree that it can put us as at greater risk for cardiovascular disease.
The urge to ruminate can strike at any moment, taking over our thoughts when we are driving to work, when we’re in the shower (this seemed to be a real trigger for me), when we’re making dinner, or when we’re trying to get our work done.
In order to salvage my day and my mental state I had to learn to catch myself ruminating as quickly as I could and find ways to distract myself so that I could occupy my mind with something other than the ruminations.
I found the following helpful when trying to break the cycle of rumination.
Take Notice when it happens.
The first thing was to notice when I ruminated. Although rumination often seems spontaneous, something usually sets off your train of thought. It could be watching the news, hearing a song or even a smell. Pay attention to these patterns and have so kind of plan ready for when these cues happen.
Ruminating eats up a lot of your attention, I found it really difficult to focus on other things. However, on the flip side, if you are focused on something else, you can’t ruminate at the same time. Anything that requires a bit of concentration can be a good distraction–reading, playing a video game, watching a movie, or drawing. I of course found exercise a good distraction because it engaged my attention and also improved my mood.
Sometimes we worry about real problems too, and although these are legitimate worries, rumination does nothing to help. The trick is that rumination makes us think it’s helping while in reality it just makes us feel anxious, depressed, and helpless. One solution I found is to actually make a plan to solve the problem and to write it down.
Rumination is essentially the mistaken belief that I could solve all my problems in my head. However, we typically don’t feel better about a problem until we take some concrete step toward solving it. If something is worrying you, do something about it. Even something very small can break the spell of rumination and help you feel better.
Being mindfulness helps reduce rumination. It can help you catch rumination when it starts so you don’t get totally sucked in without realising, you’re doing it. Mindfulness helps you realise they are only feelings and not in fact reality.
Examine your beliefs.
Rumination results from faulty thinking. I had to examine the assumptions behind my thoughts. It was usually something like “I should have done this or that,” or “I should have said that.” Perfectionism is often paralyzing, leading to procrastination and endless rehashing of past mistakes.
So, back to the cow....
Don’t spend most of your time chewing the past only to swallow it, spit it back up and chew again. Take practical steps to understand that we learn when we reflect, we waste time when we ruminate, and addiction has already stolen enough of that off us.
Give yourself a break. Look forward. Move on.