What is Rumination?
Rumination is an obsessive focus on things that bother you.
And it can be about anything.
I’ve researched rumination a good bit, and heard somewhere that it becomes a chronic problem when we’re trying to get closure on an event that has passed. But, as you know, it’s impossible to go back and get a different outcome on something.
And so this rumination habit becomes a self-sustaining cycle.
Another big reason I ruminate is when something challenges my identity I try to rationalize why it happened, and the story becomes a constant, receptive internal chatter.
I wrestled for 10 years, so I’ve always been fit. I’m only 140 pounds, so even though I’m shorter (5’7″) and lighter than most guys, I pride myself as being able to defend myself.
It’s humiliating to get picked on, and went directly against how I wanted to see myself.
And as a young guy back in high school, feeling strong and capable is even more important. Especially because you’re still living at home, and completely dependent on your parents for food and a place to live.
And so rumination became a habit.
That’s why I have to train myself to shift my attention from the depressive rumination to my real life, and develop compassion.
Women in Victoria England used to eat tapeworms so they’d lose weight and look sexier in their huge dresses.
Rumination is like that tapeworm. Except we swallowed it unknowingly because it starts out as a protection mechanism.
Then, this habit feeds on our attention and mental health, and gets fat and satisfied.
Now we need to convince ourselves that we don’t need this worm, and we’ll be healthier without it, even though we’ve become used to it.
There’s been a lot of changes in my life lately, and I’ve realized that time is the most valuable resource.
When I’m writing at a cafe and someone starts talking to me I get annoyed that they’re distracting me. That’s why I usually wear headphones.
But, the amount of time that I’d spend in conversation with a stranger is a few grains of rice compared to the big, beautiful gold chunk of time that I’ve stolen from myself. Dealing with OCD for most of my life, I’ve probably spent weeks in overall time that’s been spent obsessing.
If I expect other people to respect my time, then I want to respect my own time enough to not sustain in a negative habit that makes me weaker, more depressed, and overall lowers my life.
It’s time I pass this worm.
Thoughts Aren’t Reality
I was at a zen meditation retreat from 9AM to 5PM yesterday. The group that I go to has a day-long retreat each month.
So, for roughly 6 hours I got undistracted, first hand experience of my constant barrage of thoughts.
I’ve had a meditation practice for about 5 years. And the more experience I get the more I realize how unhelpful and damaging a lot of self-help material is.
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. If they did, they’d realize how absurd and disconnected from reality most of them 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.
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 the only one judging me. If it’s a slow week on eBay, I feel like I’ll never have another sale and then I’m make $100.
Thoughts feel real. But that doesn’t make them true.
How to Stop
I’m making progress, but I still spend way too much time ruminating. I want to spend my life in reality. And, a lot of times, my self dialogue usually creates a world of anger and anxiety, so it’s not even a good escape from reality.
I’ve found that spending more time around people and less time alone is a good way to be more grounded in reality. I know I ruminate the most when I’m driving in my car.
And I think cultivating self-compassion and overall better mental health is one of the best antitodes to rumination and general depression.
A physical sensation goes along with a painful thought, so the meditation technique I was taught is to keep breathing, note the thought and then try to focus only on the physical sensation that the thoughts stir up. This way you’ll see that physical sensation and thoughts pass by themselves, and eventually vanishes, and then comes 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- I think that’s the human conditon.
When I’m feeling unmotivated, negative, and/ or ragefully angry about something in the past I remind myself that success is the best revenge.
If I can enjoy the present and better myself, then I appreciate the past because it’s shaped who I’ve become.
But, it’s hard to enjoy life when you’re dealing with a rumination habit. The constant internal negative chatter is very distracting.
There are a lot of causes to depression, rumination and mental distress, and that means there are a lot of ways to feel better.
Learning how to quiet the rumination and instead try to more physically in my body is hard, but I think it’ll be worth the effort.