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Stop it from impacting our mental well-being



Have you ever sent an important email, only to notice a typo a few seconds after the undo option faded away? Or maybe you said something you were not supposed to. If you’re like most humans, you probably panicked, maybe let a few expletives fly (privately) or a torrent of negative self-talk, along with, “Why did I do that? I should know better. What will they think of me?” Then you might have spent a good chunk of time thinking about it, aboard the rumination (not so) merry-go-round.


So, about rumination …

We all do it, at least occasionally. We revisit past events, something we said or that was said to us, then we dwell on negative feelings, inundated by repetitive thoughts that make us feel we are stuck on a carousel without brakes. “Our brains are primed to focus on negative experiences, and fear (of something happening again) is a powerful conditioning factor,” says Tammie Oram, a Kamloops, BC-based relationship coach and therapist.

Perhaps one of the most defining features of rumination is it concerns things that happened in the past, which we cannot change or do over so we can do it better.


Can it be helpful?

Yes, but we need to frame things differently. We cannot change the past, but we can reflect on what happened. “Instead of getting caught in endless ruminating, we can engage in healthy reflective thinking, a more positive way of looking at the past without getting stuck in a negative frame of mind,” says Oram.

Self-reflection involves asking questions and analyzing logically, ultimately learning from mistakes and making amends when needed. Perhaps we make a rule to double-check all important emails or to read them out loud before sending. Or we reach out to people and apologize. We also need to learn to let go of past incidents, which is a lot harder than it sounds but is an essential skill for maintaining mental health.


The many sides of rumination

“A bit of rumination can help us stay safe as we remember events that can affect our well-being and take certain precautions to avoid or prepare for them,” says Oram.

But rumination can be detrimental, especially when associated with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Extreme rumination can interfere with regular life activities, such as socializing.

Also, says Oram, “We tend to ruminate more when we are under stress, which can negatively impact our mental well-being and resiliency, ultimately creating a vicious loop.” This can amplify negative feelings and thoughts rather than allowing us to find solutions.


You can stop the thought carousel

“Breathwork and applying mindfulness techniques can help, and so can talking to someone you trust who can ask questions while being nonjudgmental,” says Oram. Also, consider starting a journal where you can pour out all your thoughts to allow yourself to stop carrying them around.

Rumination is mostly powered by emotions and can often create negative thought loops, which makes it important to steer ourselves back to more positive thinking by practising kindness and self-compassion.

How about an “emergency kit” we can keep handy when rumination threatens to take over our thoughts? “Find a mantra for when the negative nagging thoughts pop up and you’re plagued by ‘what if, should’ve, and could’ve,’” suggests Oram.

Plus, there’s age-old advice that never fails us: sleep on it. We always feel better the next morning.


Find ways to get out of your head

Before you say, “But how can I? That’s where my thoughts live,” please remember that thoughts are subjective and, in the case of rumination, are the consequence of emotionally charged situations we cannot change. But we can consciously choose to focus on something else.

“Spend a few minutes with your pet, listen to your favourite music, read a few pages from a book, or play with your kids,” suggests Oram. Or get to organizing bookshelves, your bathroom cabinet, or “everything” drawers (an ongoing pursuit for most humans), or step outside for a few precious moments to bring your mind back to the present.

Journalling can help us remind ourselves of the strategies we can employ, or have employed in the past, to help us lean more toward reflective thinking rather than fall into excessive rumination.


Finally, a reminder

For as long as we’re alive, we never stop growing and learning, and that often happens through the challenges we encounter and the sifting through of emotions and ensuing thoughts. Oh, and everyone makes mistakes. That’s part of being human.


Bring in the helpers

Brew yourself a soothing cup of tea using camomile, lavender, and lemon balm, all of which have been shown to help relieve stress.

Saffron can also help lower anxiety and depressive symptoms.

A plant-rich diet with plenty of greens, other vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats can support mental health and supply important micronutrients including magnesium, which can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep.


Can medical cannabis help?

Medical cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD) treatments hold promise as alternative treatments to help manage anxiety and depression symptoms; however, more research is needed for relevant clinical populations and for determining the exact mechanism of action.

Medical cannabis can have a potentially positive impact on insomnia and chronic pain, but further research is needed for its putative effect on stress (and rumination). As for CBD, the placebo effect should be considered, as well as potential side effects and drug interactions.


Illuminating facts on rumination

·         People who struggle with attention and focus tend to ruminate more, which in turn can lead to more anxiety.

·         Women are twice as likely as men to develop depression, which is partly due to their tendency to ruminate more.

·         On social media, adults who ruminate and compare themselves to others tend to experience more loneliness. Also, people with lower mindfulness and self-esteem have a higher risk of upward social comparison (and rumination), which can have a negative impact on mental health. Social media use is also associated with negative mental health in adolescents.

This article was originally published in the July 2024 issue of alive magazine.



No Proof

No Proof

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD