Rumination: Why It Happens and How To Stop It
Ruminating can cause a lot of distress in daily life, and it sometimes leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Often, rumination involves getting “mentally stuck” on topics that are uncomfortable or painful, which reinforces distressing emotions. Understanding rumination and making a plan for managing these thought patterns can provide relief and reduce the impact on your mental health.
What Is Rumination?
Rumination refers to obsessively thinking about a topic, and it’s something we all do from time to time. It’s a common human experience that occurs when our thoughts become hijacked by distressing, repetitious content that causes emotional discomfort. Rumination is different from worry, which is future-oriented and based on uncertainty. It is a type of thought-trap that causes a lot of emotional pain and contributes to distorted thoughts and unhealthy coping mechanisms that can reinforce rumination patterns.
Whether you’re overthinking a conversation you had with a friend or dwelling on a painful life event, rumination can be disruptive and cause a lot of stress. It can also cause feelings of loneliness and exhaustion. In some cases, rumination can become so disruptive that it turns into a type of thought disorder.
What Causes Rumination?
Anyone can experience periods of rumination, but people who struggle with certain types of emotional health challenges may ruminate more frequently or with greater intensity. People who suffer from chronic pain sometimes struggle with rumination, which can worsen physiological and psychological symptoms. Some disorders that are commonly associated with rumination include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Alcohol misuse
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Bulimia nervosa
- Social anxiety disorder
What Does Rumination Look Like?
Rumination is an internal process, so it can be hard for others to know when it’s happening. However, rumination can involve a lot of stress-related symptoms that can vary from person to person. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Talking or thinking about a painful topic excessively
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Moodiness and irritability
- Feeling detached or numb
As a result of these symptoms, people who ruminate a lot may struggle in their relationships, isolate themselves or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance use.
How To Stop Rumination
Rumination is often a symptom of other co-occurring conditions, so treatment should address any underlying challenges that may be causing it. Fortunately, there are many effective ways to manage rumination and reduce the impact on your quality of life. Often, addressing the root issues and using a combination of physical and mental health interventions is key.
Rumination-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Rumination-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (RF-CBT) is an evidence-based treatment that is often more effective than traditional CBT for curbing rumination symptoms. It can help people identify some of the underlying thoughts and feelings that cause rumination and learn alternative ways to think and respond.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Obsessive thinking is exhausting and takes us away from being present in the moment. However, mindfulness and meditation practices can help reduce some of the overwhelming symptoms of rumination. Using mindfulness techniques like focused breathing and body-scan practices can reduce focus on rumination and help you clear your mind.
Rumination can be lonely and isolating. Using psychotherapy as a tool to process difficult thoughts and feelings can offer fast relief, and it is far better than bearing the burden of rumination on your own. There are endless options for therapy, including online providers and local clinics.
Sometimes, rumination is part of a constellation of symptoms that may require medication treatment. Talking to your medication management provider or physician is a key step in learning which medications may help with your specific needs. To prevent contraindications, it is also important to mention other conditions you have and medications you take.
If you are struggling with rumination, there are many avenues toward better health. The best step you can take is to reach out for support. When you talk about the ways rumination is affecting your life, you can learn methods for coping and begin to find relief.
The free-to-use Nobu app allows you to discover helpful mindfulness techniques, access support resources and speak with licensed therapists. Download the app today and see how this valuable service can help you lead a happier, healthier life.
Edited by – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.
Written by – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master’s degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. With over a decade of experience in the field of mental health, she is always amazed at the strength, beauty, and resilience of the human spirit… Read more.
Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips
Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.
Sansone, Randy A.; Sansone, Lori A.. “Rumination: Relationships with Physical Health.” Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 2012. Accessed October 9, 2021.
Hvenegaard M, Watkins ER, Poulsen S, et al. “Rumination-focused cognitive behaviour therapy vs. cognitive behaviour therapy for depression: study protocol for a randomised controlled superiority trial.” Trials, August 11, 2015. Accessed October 10, 2021.