Rumination: Getting off the (Hamster) Wheel

wheelYou’ve just been told that there’s a problem with a proposal you’ve submitted at work. Your boss tells you 15 minutes before the end of the day on a Friday about it. Do you:

  1. Brush it off and tell yourself you will deal with it on Monday
  2. Stay a few minutes later at work to write up a quick to-do list for Monday morning related to the proposal
  3. Go home and think about the proposal, your hard work on it, and the possibilities of what went wrong and how you might fix it

If you answered “C”, you’re probably about to hop on the hamster wheel we’ll call Rumination.

When we let the problem replay itself over and over again in our head, we are ruminating. We might look at the factors that led to a problem, the actions taken when the problem occurred, and solutions that have been tried before. No matter how we put it, this overactive thinking can be intense to the point where it consumes our ability to think clearly and solve problems.

In fact, people that ruminate are more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety and are also more likely to self-sabotage. When we ruminate, we have a harder time solving the problem, which leads to negative thinking about ourselves and our abilities. When we ruminate often, those negative thoughts might become part of how we think about ourselves instead of the situation.

With that said, one of the most helpful ways to overcome rumination is to do something fun that you can fully immerse yourself in. Ideas include:

  • Crossword puzzles/Sudoku
  • Following a recipe
  • Going to a class – fitness, yoga, painting, pottery, etc.
  • Taking music lessons
  • Dancing to your favorite music

Whatever the task is, allow your mind and body to fully engage in the activity. By doing so, you’re giving your brain a break from rumination as a type of problem solving and giving yourself permission to have fun!

Remember, problem solving is a good thing. When rumination gets in the way, it clouds our ability to solve problems so we can enjoy the rest of our lives.