Worrying – Stopping Rumination

Ways to Stop Ruminating (Obsessive Worrying)

What is rumination? Depressive rumination, defined as “behavior and thoughts
that focus one’s attention on one’s depressive symptoms and on the implications
of these symptoms” has been identified as a core process in the onset and
maintenance of depression.

What causes rumination? Current theoretical models hypothesize that
unresolved concerns or unattained goals initiate recurrent thinking about the
unresolved issue or goal in order to facilitate effective self-regulation towards the
goal. Thus, rumination is conceptualized as an attempt to make sense of an
upsetting event or to solve a problem. Importantly, recent experimental research
suggests that there are distinct styles of rumination, with distinct functional
properties and consequences: a helpful style characterized by concrete, processfocused
and specific thinking versus an unhelpful, maladaptive style
characterized by abstract, evaluative thinking. Ruminating regularly often leads to
depression. So if you’re prone to obsessing, try these tactics to head off the next
full-tilt mental spin cycle…
Recognize the difference between helpful vs. problematic rumination.
This research suggests that when a depressed patient dwells on his symptoms
and difficulties, analyzing and evaluating the meanings and implications of his
experiences (e.g., “What does this failure mean about me?”) increases
overgeneralization (e.g., “I can never get it right”), impairs problem-solving, and
exacerbates depressed mood. However, dwelling on symptoms and difficulties
in a more concrete and specific way, reflecting on how to do something about the
difficulties, improves problem solving and reduces depression. This difference
between thinking styles appears to be one factor determining the duration and
usefulness of rumination since individuals prone to pathological rumination tend
to be more abstract and evaluative.
Identify the thought or fear
What is your biggest fear? Maybe you are afraid of getting fired or looking foolish
in front of others. Journaling can be a great way to clarify the underlying fear.
Express your Creativity by Engaging in activities that foster positive
thoughts. Worrying = “an inappropriate use of creative energy.” Find alternative
activities to creatively express yourself. “You need to engage in activities that
can fill your mind with other thoughts, preferably positive thoughts,” she said.
That could be anything from a favorite physical activity to a hobby to meditation
to prayer. “The main thing is to get your mind off your ruminations for a time so
they die out and don’t have a grip on your mind,” she advised.
Distract Yourself
Put on music and dance, scrub the bathtub spotless, whatever engrosses you—
for at least 10 minutes. “That’s about the minimum time needed to break a cycle
of thoughts,” says Nolen-Hoeksema, who’s been studying rumination for more
than 20 years. Or choose something to focus on. “A friend told me that she once
started counting the number of times the speaker at her conference said ‘like,'”
Nolen-Hoeksema recalls. “By the time he finished, she’d stopped ruminating.”
Use behavioral cues and techniques to help stop ruminating
One woman I know kept a rubber band on her wrist and would snap it every time
she began ruminating to remind her to stop. Another used visualization,
imagining herself driving and getting to a stop sign. When she reached the stop
sign, she needed to stop ruminating.
Make a Date to Dwell
Tell yourself you can obsess all you want from 6 to 7 p.m., but until then, you’re
banned. “By 6 p.m., you’ll probably be able to think things through more clearly,”
says Nolen-Hoeksema.
We spend so much time thinking about past mistakes or worrying about future
events, that we spend very little time in the here and now. A good example of this
is every time we find ourselves on “autopilot” while driving a car. The practice of
mindfulness is a great way to reduce our “thinking” selves and increase our
“sensing” selves in the here and now. For example, ask yourself what you hear,
feel, smell, see and taste. This can help ground you in the present moment.
Mindfulness is an important skill for enjoying the significant moments in life.
Enjoying coffee with a friend can be disrupted if we begin thinking about all the
things we need to do that day. When you notice your mind wandering, gently
guide it back to the present. 3 Minutes of Mindfulness: For one minute, eyes
closed, acknowledge all the thoughts going through your mind. For the next
minute, just focus on your breathing. Spend the last minute expanding your
awareness from your breath to your entire body. “Paying attention in this way
gives you the room to see the questions you’re asking yourself with less urgency
and to reconsider them from a different perspective,” says Zindel Segal, PhD, coauthor
of The Mindful Way Through Depression.
The Best and Worst Scenarios
Ask yourself…”What’s the worst that could happen?” and “How would I cope?”
Visualizing yourself handling the most extreme outcome should alleviate some
anxiety, says Judith Beck, PhD, director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive
Therapy and Research in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. 1) Then consider the
likelihood that the worst will actually occur. 2) Next, imagine the best possible
outcome; by this point, you’ll be in a more positive frame of mind and better able
to assess the situation more realistically.
Focus on what I can specifically learn from the experience and then plan on
making a change.
According to David Burns, Ph.D., assistant professor at Stanford University, and
author of Feeling Good, “the quickest way to find success is to fail over and over
again.” For example, I was once 30 minutes late for an interview. I did not get the
job and I became very self-critical of my tardiness. Once I asked myself “what is
the lesson I learned?” I quickly calmed down and applied this lesson to future
experiences. I now leave my house one hour early for interviews, which has
served as a valuable lesson. No need to continue to berate myself. In addition,
frequently remind yourself how far you’ve come. Every time you make a mistake,
you learn something new.
Examine your thinking process.
Are you engaging in polarized thinking? Many people with anxiety use an “all or
nothing” type of thought process. You may be focusing on one specific problem,
assuming that the sum of all your years of work is defined by that single event.
Remember, most situations are not defined by one single moment but instead a
result of cumulative events. Try to balance your thinking by writing down a list of
what you have accomplished.
Positive Self-Reflection
Nolen-Hoeksema has also studied the opposite of rumination: adaptive selfreflection.
When people practice adaptive self-reflection, they focus on the
concrete parts of a situation and the improvements they can make. For instance,
a person may wonder, “What exactly did my boss say to me that upset me so
much yesterday?” and then come up with, “I could ask my boss to talk with me
about how I could get a better performance evaluation,” Nolen-Hoeksema said.

Call a Friend
Ask a friend or relative to be your point person when your thoughts start to speed
out of control.
Exercise. Go for a walk. A change of scenery can disrupt our thoughts and give
us new perspective.
Let go of what you can’t control.
Ask yourself “what can I change, if anything?” If you cannot change the situation,
let it go. For things you can change, set up a list of small goals and make the
appropriate changes. Say, “Oh well.” Accept that you’re human and make
mistakes—and then move on, says Dr. Beck. Be compassionate. It’s harder than
it sounds, so keep practicing.
At a later point in time, commit the time to make one small change towards
solving or reducing the Problem.
People who ruminate not only replay situations in their head, they also focus on
abstract questions, such as, “Why do these things happen to me?” and “What’s
wrong with me that I can’t cope?” Nolen-Hoeksema said.Even if they consider
solving the situation, they conclude that “there is nothing they can do about it.”
Instead, when you can think clearly, “identify at least one concrete thing you
could do to overcome the problem(s) you are ruminating about.” For instance, if
you’re uneasy about a situation at work, commit to calling a close friend so you
can brainstorm solutions.

Use a journal or Complete a Worry Script Exercise.
Writing down your thoughts can help you gain control over your ruminations.
Using a “Worry Script” may help you to relieve your anxiety, especially if you are
worrying about events that have not yet happened.
The “Worry Script” exercise should be completed for 30 minutes each day for two
to three weeks.
• You should write about your worst-case scenario of whatever you are
worrying about. For example, if you are worried you will lose your job,
what will happen if this occurs.
• Your scenario should be as detailed as possible. What will happen? What
will you feel? What will you do?
• When you reach 30 minutes stop. Continue the next day. You should
continue on the same theme for several weeks. Each day you can go into
more detail or go into one aspect of the theme. For example, you could
focus on losing your home one day, losing your car, etc.

The Anxiety BC explains that you may begin to worry more about this situation as
you are writing about it but that this is normal. You may also find yourself agitated
and upset when writing. This is also normal and actually signals you are making
progress because you are confronting your fears. Dr. Melisa Robichaud
explains, “sometimes people stop halfway through; for this reason, we try to
emphasize that once you start writing, you want to give yourself a few weeks with
this technique: it is absolutely normal to feel anxious the first week (in fact, some
people say they feel worse than before starting!), but that passes. It is important
to ride out the difficult week in order to get the benefit of the worry script in the
long run.

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