The Ruminating Dilemma | Understanding and Solutions (Yanking the Velcro)

Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of depression? Ruminating. How to deal with anxiety? Ruminating. Crazy stress? Ruminating. Yikes, this is dilemma material. Ruminating and the mood and anxiety disorders – like Velcro. So what are we gonna’ do about that?

When we’re anxious, we lean toward having biased events recall. If we take that to the extreme, we may well be ruminating over something fictional – or highly magnified.

Well, this won’t be the first time we’ve chatted ruminating here on Chipur. Ran a piece several years ago discussing it within the context of depression. Be sure to tap that link – you’ll find some helpful info.

I’m bringing ruminating to the fore again for two reasons. First of all, I’m seeing a lot of it lately in my clients. And, secondly, I found an excellent article on the subject I’d like to share. I’ve always believed the more well-considered points of view floatin’ around here, the better.

“Struggling with a Ruminating Mind? 5 Strategies to Help”

Okay, so I found the article (title just above) on PsychCentral – written by associate editor Margarita Tartakovsky, MS.

Tartakovsky kicks things off by defining ruminating as a mistakes-replay dynamic. Maybe it’s about the times we might’ve failed. Could be constantly swirling-around why we aren’t good enough. Perhaps we continue to think about an all-wrong decision and its consequences.

Ruminating, all.

More from Tartakovsky on ruminating…

It’s thinking a litany of what-ifs: What if I screwed up the interview? What if I don’t get that job? What if I don’t get any job anytime soon? What if I won’t be able to pay my bills? What if I’ll lose my home?

It’s become all too automatic – a playlist of personal regrets, failures, inadequacies and anxieties.

Speaking of well-considered points of view, Tartakovsky references a new book by psychologist Alice Boyes, PhD, The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points.

Now it’s Dr. Boyes’ turn on ruminating…

Ruminating can sometimes be a bit like daydreaming, in that people often get lost in rumination without realizing they’re doing it.

That being the case, Tartakovsky suggests the initial strategy in yanking the Velcro is recognizing we’re ruminating. First things first, right? So review what we’ve discussed thus far and determine if anything hits home. If you’ve connected some dots, take the time to jot-down your ruminating behaviors and statements and commit to effecting change.

Speaking of which, Tartakovsky shares several of Boyes’ key intervention points. I’ve listed four in headings…

Don’t Trust Your Memory

When we’re anxious, we lean toward having biased events recall. If we take that to the extreme, we may well be ruminating over something fictional – or highly magnified.

To get the true lay of the land, Boyes recommends we ask the following questions of ourselves…

  • What’s my ruminating mind communicating?
  • What are the objective data?
  • Am I recalling feedback as more critical than it actually was?
  • Am I remembering my performance as worse than it was?

So it’s about establishing truth (not that we indulge in distorted thinking, right?).

Shrink Self-Criticism

Self-criticism fuels ruminating. So that must mean reducing self-criticism will aid in yanking the Velcro. Boyes submits we assume if we engage in self-criticism we’ll more easily move forward – and do better. Now that’s some faulty thinking, because most of us know self-criticism is paralyzing and only serves to ramp-up our anxiety and bottom-out our mood.

The alternative?

We have to learn self-compassion, which only comes from practice. Boyes offers this exercise: Consider one of your (supposed) mistakes or weaknesses. For three minutes, write about it. But the catch is you have to imagine you’re talking with yourself in a compassionate and understanding manner.

Put the Kibosh on the “Shoulds”

News flash! When “should” or “shouldn’t” is included in our internal or external conversation, trouble is lurking about. And I’m not wondering why Boyes believes using either word/concept amplifies and perpetuates ruminating.

Have a challenge for you. Over several days time, make a written list of your “should”/”shouldn’t” internal or external statements. My money says you’ll be shocked at its length. But now that you know the depth of your indulgence, you can move-on to turning things around.

To get you going, start substituting “prefer” for the dreaded “S” words. Boyes believes this gentler angle will kink-up your ruminating loop.

Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Okay, no eye-rolling. As cliche as mindfulness has become, it produces positive turnabouts for so many ailments – including ruminating.

Boyes’ approach to mindfulness is simple. Just start with three minutes of daily practice and increase the time by 30 seconds per day. As we take care of biz, she encourages us to become aware of surrounding sounds and the silence between them, pay attention to what we see while walking, and pay attention to the sensations in any given moment.

Need some help getting started? Read my article, Our Stress and Relaxation Responses | How to Call Upon and Nurture Your Relaxation Response.

All Set

Symptoms of depression. How to deal with anxiety? Crazy stress. And there are so many more situations that breed and sustain ruminating.

Folks, it doesn’t just happen because – well – it does. Nope, there are causes and, more importantly, effective interventions. And it’s up to each of us to seek them out and claim relief and healing.

If you’re eyeball deep in ruminating – okay, that’s just the way you roll right now. No reason for panic or for beating yourself up. That is, as long as you’re doing all you can to yank the Velcro.

Thanks to Ms. Kartakovsky and Dr. Boyes for sharing their insight.

Sooo many Chipur titles waiting to help. Check ’em out, k?

  • Patricia Miller March 23, 2015, 10:11 pm

    I must admit my ranching roots always make me laugh when I see the word “ruminate” because I know I am a cow chewing my cud. …vomiting up the same old stuff over and over. Of course the cow is SUPPOSED to be doing this and I am not. I read your great article and it hit all the way home, so I purchased Alice Boyes book from Amazon in the Kindle version. She is an easy to read author and the book is extremely practical. I know I need far more tools in my kit to address the anxiety. Thank you for once again pointing us in a positive direction. Oh, BTW, I am not sure I have enough paper to keep track of my should and shouldn’t messages

    • Chipur March 24, 2015, 3:56 pm

      And there you have it, Patricia – “Chewing the cud.” Your ranching roots serve you well. That’s why I provided the link to my previous article on ruminating – it contains a lot of definitive information.

      So glad you purchased Boyes’ book. Would sure welcome additional input as you read or when you’ve finished.

      Thank you, as always, for your visit and participation. Both are valued…

  • Lisa Frederiksen | BreakingThe March 24, 2015, 6:33 pm

    Oh my gosh – as always – another “take action and here’s how” post, Bill – thank you!!

    • Chipur March 24, 2015, 7:02 pm

      You’re welcome, Lisa. And thank you for visiting and contributing. Speaking of “take action and here’s how” posts – readers, tap on Lisa’s ID link and check-out her work on secondhand drinking…

  • Sue Ledet April 25, 2015, 5:57 pm

    As expected, I just ordered Alice Boyes book on my Kindle too. Rumination hurts.

    • Chipur April 25, 2015, 6:55 pm

      Glad you checked in, Sue. Hope the book helps. Would be great if you’d update us here.

      Thank you…


  • npeden April 28, 2015, 8:58 pm

    love the mention of mindfulness. when i sit, and just watch my thoughts, but more my breath, i move into a place buddhists call equanimity. when in equanimity, i could sit, peacefully for a very long tme and have. btw 40 min. is a long time…

  • BCat June 15, 2015, 8:13 pm

    I have a burning question for you, Bill. What is the borderline between acknowledging past traumas, facing them and trying to process them, and reactivating and exacerbating those traumas all over again by immersing ourselves in them, when oftentimes this immersing is out of our control? I’m talking big time rumination here. I have recently begun reliving my long, lonely and depressing summers as an young adolescent when all my friends went away for the summer, only to survive in a home that was both abusive and neglectful. My memories of feeling awful not knowing what to do with myself and being too depressed to seek out new things are as alive now as then and I’m now immersed in those same feelings and fears that I didn’t know how to acknowledge back then.

    It’s the not knowing what to do with myself when I’m feeling this way, nothing suits, and I’m not doing anything creative, and it leaves me feeling jammed up and ragged with no place to put this anxiety. Meditation helps a little, but I won’t be able to rest until I’ve come to some peace with this past. This reliving and ruminating is going on now as it was then, but at least my home life is safe and happy, although telling myself this doesn’t help much in the moments of despair. I know that inability to enjoy things when depressed is typical, but I’m wondering if I’m not just making myself depressed by revisiting those memories, of which I don’t seem to have control over.

    Only thing is, I didn’t understand what was going on back then and could only stuff the pain. I know better now what the root of my suffering was and am trying to talk to my little self back then and offer comfort and compassion when she had none. I’m understanding a lot about my current sadness as well by understanding how it affected me back then with no outlet. This understanding is crucial and bringing me many ‘ah-ha’s’. But the trauma of the PTSD rises up to cripple me and I don’t know where to draw the line. Therapy isn’t an option for me right now financially. But I’ve been through years and years of therapy and can call on what I’ve learned from it, but really don’t know how healthy it is to relive all that anguish now. Where’s the healthy line between processing the pain and not letting it swamp me? Where’s the balance?

    • Chipur June 15, 2015, 9:14 pm

      Hey, BCat. End of the day and brain fried. Great comment – insights, questions. To do it justice I’m going to reply in the a.m. with a fresh mind. As always, thank you so much for sharing with us…


    • Patricia Miller June 15, 2015, 9:32 pm

      BCat, I wanted to let you know I understand this situation quite well. I have an extensive trauma history and there have definitely been periods of time when my emotions from those times dominate and genuinely did need to be felt to be processed and permit healing. This wouldn’t be the typical rumination. However I’m now in a place where the majority of my genuine trauma work has been done and I do know that there are still going to be emotional “waves” that will swamp me unless I learn to work with them.

      I’m not sure what your childhood trauma might include, yet since you mention PTSD I’m going out on a limb and mention a peer-to-peer web site I’ve found extremely helpful. The site is Pandora’s Aquarium and the web site is membership is free and there are many resources related to PTSD caused by a variety of sexual violence. Learning my emotional state wasn’t bizarre or odd and that I was no longer alone made a huge difference.

      Just don’t give up on yourself! Patricia

      • Chipur June 16, 2015, 10:30 am

        Thanks for pitching-in, Patricia. Good counsel for BCat. But, then, you always come through with excellent insight and input, and you’re always willing to share your personal experience. It’s valuable and appreciated…


    • Chipur June 16, 2015, 12:49 pm

      Okay, BCat, let’s take a look. Again, great comment – though I wish it didn’t have to come from your personal experience. It’s been harder than I could ever know, I’m sure.

      There is, indeed, a very fine line between acknowledging, facing, and processing past trauma(s) – a healthy and necessary thing – and reactivating and exacerbating those very same traumas – a not so healthy and unnecessary thing. And fact is, we face so many potential triggers in our daily lives, which can easily generate a cycling ruminating/depressive nightmare (how well you know). That being the case, are we literally making ourselves depressed? Well, I suppose so. However, reliving such terrible times will do that to us. And it’s very difficult to fight-off the manifestations.

      You’re doing so many things right, BCat – meditation, acknowledging your now safe and happy home life, talking to that “little self” and offering her comfort and compassion, gaining insight into your current sadness, embracing those “ah-ha” moments. And I would encourage you to continue; however, ya’ gotta’ do it in small bites. Having the work consume each and every day will only push you downward.

      Where to draw the line? Where’s the balance between processing the pain and not letting it swamp you? Well, it’s in your heart – your soul. Only you can do the drawing and establish balance. Please do your best to limit your hard work to small and tolerable sessions, BCat. By the way, Patricia offered some excellent advice. Take a peek.

      Peace to you, BCat. And don’t hesitate to record “processing notes” here. I/we will do all we can to help…


      • BCat June 19, 2015, 2:55 pm

        Thanks so much, my dear friends. I will check out that website, Patricia. It wasn’t sexual abuse, thank God, just a garden variety crazy violent father, and I have to believe that I am dealing with now what I didn’t have the resources to understand then. Doing much better today. The meditation is definitely helping. Always does, but sometimes I just can’t sit still with those icky feelings running around.

        I had a wonderful experience when I was a youngster, perhaps 10 years old, of feeling awful and sensing a loving supportive presence beside me offering encouragement and comforting. I’ll just bet that presence was me, now, as I offered that poor little kid the same compassion I felt coming from that presence back then, just like I was really there, and probably was. Ah, quantum reality. Ya never know where you’ll be, or won’t be.

      • Chipur June 19, 2015, 7:58 pm

        What a sweet experience – and interpretation, BCat. I say it’s just as warm and real as you know it to be…


      • Patricia Miller June 21, 2015, 12:35 pm

        Bcat, please don’t minimize the abuse with a “just” in front of it. All awful is just as wrong.

        I adore your imagery because like you I also see time as a non- linear construct and agree you did indeed care for the comfort lacking at a pivot point in your childhood. I’ve often used similar recognition now to ease a stuck traumatic memory or emotion. It allows me to take myself and other resource people to the source of the hurt. I can rescue myself, comfort myself and then unstick the trauma points.