Ruminating, or brooding, is when we focus endlessly on our distress and the possible causes. These are the moments after bad things happen and we ask “Why me? Why did it happen? What does it mean? Who else was affected? When will this end?” Apparently, overthinkers tend to be pessimistic, and more of them tend to be female.
The tendency to awfulize or catastrophize, as some positive psychologists term the behavior, hurts us emotionally and physically. Because rumination is a passive coping response, it doesn’t solve problems or repair a broken situation. It simply produces more negative thoughts. The thoughts then give way to anxiety, and for the habitual ruminators may trigger depression. Some ruminators drink or eat or take drugs to escape worrying or distract themselves. Overthinkers don’t only weigh themselves down. Oftentimes, they also annoy or alienate family and friends who may not want the nervous energy or have exhausted their capacity to be supportive.
Rumination is a form of helplessness. It is learned behavior. The one time we failed got us thinking that we will always fail. Or we grew up with people who conditioned us into believing who knows what November might bring (we could die in a tornado).
Helpless rumination can be unlearned. Here are some self-help strategies. They include doing something fun (instead of foreboding) and expressing gratitude. Perhaps, the most important step ruminators can take is problem-solve. Rather than ask “why”, ask “what can I do” to fix this. This approach doesn’t actually turn us into optimists (this requires more work) but it does at least move the dial from pessimistic to neutral. Furthermore, we don’t have to tread the rough patch alone. We can get friends to help or families to cheer us on. It’s often easier for them to embrace positive actions than ponderous thoughts.
Just as nutritionists tell us to eat the rainbow (consume all colors of fruit) to keep our bodies strong, psychotherapists recommend varied tools for the healing. There’s plenty in the bag to shake up the ruminators. Pick a strategy that works for the occasion. In fact, perform a good deed and show a worrisome friend she can help herself.