I’m not a mental health expert and I don’t pretend to be. I write these mental health articles from my personal experiences and maybe you’ll get something from them.
“The unexamined life is not worth living”- Socrates
Time travel is still impossible. But, if you’re like me, then you spend too much of your time living in the past.
Rumination plays a huge part in depression and anxiety. But I don’t hear it being talked about much.
I think this is because humans all ruminate to some extent. And depressive rumination is just a short fall away from healthy reflection.
So the problem is when rumination becomes chronic.
I used to spend hours raging to myself about people that wronged me in high school. Maybe they made fun of me in the locker room in high school, or maybe they picked on me in class. None of it was major, but it still left a mark at a developing age.
Anyway, I would constantly replay arguments that happened years ago in my head and would prepare myself for future possible confrontations.
Unsurprisingly, this chronic habit became a habit of judgmental, negative rumination.
The absurdity of thoughts
The last thing I needed to hear when I was in the throes of crippling OCD and depression was the common self-development mantra:
As you think, so you’ll become.
Whoever said this must’ve never sat down and looked first hand at the whirlwind of thoughts, emotions and feelings. If they did, they’d realize how absurd and disconnected from reality most of our thoughts are.
The problem is we think the things that go through our mind must be true because they feel real in the moment- I think about my next credit card payment, and within seconds, I’m anxious about money, even if I’m just sitting on my meditation cushion.
A physical sensation goes along with a painful thought. My meditation teacher taught me to keep breathing and try to focus on the physical sensation and my breath to see that my internal reality is always changing and eventually leads to the next thought/ sensation.
If you’ve tried meditation then you know how insanely hard it is. Sitting down, breathing and observing thoughts sounds simple, but within seconds I find myself caught in another story in my mind.
And a lot of the stories I tell myself are completely distorted from reality (what CBT therapists called cognitive distortions).
If I’m anxious around people it feels like they’re staring at me and judging me. But, I’m usually the only one judging me. If it’s a slow week on eBay, I feel like I’ll never have another sale.
How to Stop
I’m making progress, but I still spend way too much time ruminating. I want to spend my life in reality. Not in the fantasy world of my thoughts.
And, most of the time, my self dialogue is harsher than reality, so focusing on it usually brings more anger and anxiety. So being stuck in my mind isn’t even a good escape from reality.
I’ve found that spending more time around people and less time alone- is a good way to avoid rumination. I know I ruminate the most when I’m driving in my car.
Realization is the first step to changing a bad habit. And acceptance seems to be one of the hardest parts of this process.
To a Lighter Future
It’s easy to spend a life lost in rumination.
I felt better about myself when I projected my anger, sadness and disappointment out into the world.
It was extremely painful and embarrassing to come to terms with just how much time I spent in negative, angry rumination during the day.
Now I’m learning how to be softer and kinder to myself. This makes me more present in this life right now- And I think that’s what spirituality is all about.