What Is Rumination in Depression and How Do You Deal with It?
Rumination in depression (both unipolar and bipolar depression) is common, and it is typically a negative thing. Doctors will ask about ruminations as will therapists; but what is rumination and how do you handle rumination in depression?
Definition of 'Ruminate'
According to Dictionary.com, the verb "ruminate" has two meanings:
- to chew the cud, as a ruminant.
- to meditate or muse; ponder.
Now, I'm going to assume most people aren't cud-chewing and I'll focus on the second definition.
Musing or pondering doesn't sound bad. In fact, people muse and ponder all the time and no harm comes of it; but, the ruminations in depression that people are concerned about are different and are harmful.
Rumination in Depression Is Harmful
The issue with ruminations in depression that people don't ruminate on rainbows and unicorns when they're depressed, they ruminate on very bleak, negative things.
The Association for Psychological Science (APS) explains rumination in depression in the following way:
One of the most difficult and paradoxical symptoms of depression is obsessive thinking about the disease itself. Many people suffering from depression describe not only an inability to banish sad memories, but also a preoccupation with the origins and nature of disabling melancholy.
I would add that people with depression ruminate not only on the origin, nature and causes of depression but also other depressing thoughts such as "No one will ever love me" or "I am a failure."
And as the APS says, these are obsessive thoughts, not just singular ones. Anyone might think they are unlovable or that they are a failure but it's the obsessing over these thoughts hour after hour, day after day that makes them harmful. One's inability to "change the channel" to more positive thoughts is also what makes these ruminations harmful.
Personally, I have ruminated on all sorts of awful things when depressed. I've ruminated on everything from the content of a suicide note to the "fact" that no one loves me. Particularly the second is indicative of the skewed thinking that is so common and definitive of depression.
What to Know About Depression Ruminations
First off, it's important to understand that the propensity to ruminate is a "cognitive style." In other words, it's just something that some brains are more likely to do; and if you take a brain like that and make it depressed, it's naturally going to ruminate on negative things. This type of cognitive style is not your fault but that doesn't mean you don't have to deal with it.
Secondly, it's important to recognize what depressed ruminations are and catch yourself when you're doing it. I'm very aware of my tendency to ruminate and I can almost feel myself falling down a steep spiral as the ruminations become stronger and stronger.
3 Steps for Dealing with Harmful Ruminations in Depression
It's simple: stop thinking about these negative things.
Okay, it's not simple. If we could control our thoughts, we certainly wouldn't be depressed, now would we?
What I can say is it's possible to deal with negative, depressed ruminations and lessen their impact.
When I detect my own ruminations, I use the three esses:
- See. I need to recognize my ruminations as those of depression and not truly of me. I need to step back from those ruminative thoughts.
- Stop. I physically, say the word "stop" out loud. Force yourself to say it and hear it.
- Switch. I move my brain very pointedly onto one of a few predetermined, pleasant thoughts. (Plan ahead as to what you want this thought to be.)
The three esses will not stop you from ruminating per se, but what they will do is try to nip the ruminations in the bud and transfer your thoughts to something that won't hurt you.
Keep in mind that these three steps may have to be done over and over. You may slip back into rumination mere moments after you stopped. That's okay. It will get easier to switch thoughts as you practice.
And, of course, if your depressed ruminations are too severe and/or are causing you distress and/or can't be altered, you should definitely seek out the help of a professional. Appropriate depression treatment can help ruminations in depression go away more permanently.
- Dictionary.com, Ruminate. Accessed April 17, 2018.
- Association for Psychological Science, Study Offers Clues into Rumination, Symptoms of Severe Depression. June 4, 2007.
Tracy, N. (2018, April 17). What Is Rumination in Depression and How Do You Deal with It?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2018/04/what-is-rumination-in-depression-and-how-do-you-handle-it