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Mental Rumination and How to Stop Ruminating Thoughts

I could have … I should have … it was necessary … Revelations, worries, contrarieties … The “mental ruminations” appear as a new contemporary evil, invading and exhausting and the victim does not know how to stop ruminating thoughts. If it takes many forms, this process clings to one and the same emotion: fear.

From another angle, they are also called “black ideas”, “obsessions” or “ruminations“. They often occur after an emotional shock. They haunt the mind for days or months. How can we explain the irruption of these fixed ideas into our daily lives? How to cope? Many research and psychological theories try to answer these questions.

Everyone Is Ever Faced With a Question of How to Stop Ruminating Thoughts

In fact, everyone has had this experience. This happens, for example, after a serious argument with a co-worker or a family member. The conflict is violent and the break brutal. During the days and nights that follow, our spirit is invaded by this story. It’s hard to concentrate on your work, to sleep. The same ideas come back to mind: the scene of the argument, the face of our interlocutor, the answers we would have liked to make, the consequences of this break, etc.

This is an example of what is commonly called “black ideas”. Psychologists speak of “mental rumination”. It occurs in the daily lives of all of us, before fading quickly. It takes a dramatic, invasive way in people who have suffered traumatic shock, depression, or people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Mental rumination has given rise to a whole series of questions among psychologists. How is it developing? Is a traumatic event necessary or can it arise endogenously for no apparent reason? Can we control its appearance or does it always occur at impromptu times? Is it related to certain clinical disorders (obsessive disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder) or does it concern the entire population?How to stop ruminating thoughts?

Definition of the Term: Mental Rumination

Mental rumination is the intrusion of involuntary thoughts that are difficult to control, in connection with the memory of a past or future event. The person does everything possible to repel these thoughts that invade him in all the acts of everyday life and sometimes prevent him from concentrating or being happy.

Manifestations of Mental Rumination

If transient ruminations are necessary for the psychological balance and are not necessarily related to the disease when they are focused, repeatedly, circular and sterile, they can become problematic:

– They often concern the causes, the meanings, and the consequences of problems, situations, or state the past or future of the person: “I could, I should have, it would be necessary”.

– The person believes to think, but in reality, his concerns only reduce the space for other thoughts. Rumination amplifies problems and suffering and sets up bad habits and habits.

– Faced with difficulties, instead of solving them or tolerating them by continuing to live, the person constantly rehashes without moving forward.

*** Illustrative situations

Angèle, 38, is a medical representative. Each month, she boasts products designed by her laboratory in front of an audience of doctors. And each month, when this mini-conference ends, a flood of unpleasant thoughts invades him: “I should not have started like that, they had not understood anything! In addition, I forgot to talk about new packaging, I should have written it in red on my sheet! What if they demanded another speaker from the lab? I’m going to ask them for their opinion about my performance … Am I talking about it to my boss? He’s going to make fun of me, I can hear him already! In a few minutes, Angèle became the scriptwriter, actress, and director of a film that she is the only one to shoot, edit and watch in her head.

At 32-year-old Claire, a mother of two, it’s a reflection of the teacher who started everything: “I think Kevin has trouble concentrating … Do you have problems at home? Since then, Claire keeps rehearsing: “What did she want to say? I knew that getting the kid to stay in school was not a good idea. But I followed the advice of his father … As usual, I let myself be influenced! At midnight, Claire is still looking for solutions to a problem that may be totally virtual.

If you recognize yourself in these worries that are Angela and Claire, this is not surprising: the overthinking (mental rumination) of which they are victims has been identified as a new disorder of our time.

1 – How Do You Recognize Mental Rumination?

When thinking about a past or future problem becomes an obsession, that prevents performing the acts of daily life and that no solution is found, and you don’t know how to stop ruminating thoughts it is about a mental rumination.

Mental rumination is characterized by:

– Obsessive and recurring thoughts about a problem, its consequences, or its causes.

– The occurrence of these thoughts at any time, without being able to fight against them.

– The attempt to take control of his thoughts, without success.

– The inability to concentrate on something else or to feel pleasure during an activity.

– No solution is found to the problem that becomes more and more important and invasive.

Mental rumination has no single cause, but it often occurs in people with anxiety in general. It is linked to a feeling of fear for the past or the future, and especially for the events and problems of daily life that are becoming very important.

It is often caused by depression, generalized anxiety, phobia, paranoia, erotomania, psychotrauma, or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorders).

2 – Mental Rumination: Between Anxiety and Thought

Popular language had already pointed out this mechanism. It hits all those who “take their heads,” “make movies,” “cut their hair in four,” “flip” or “see noon to 14 hours.” But Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in the United States, studied it scientifically. His works have just been translated in France.

According to a study of 1,300 people randomly selected, she found that 63% of young adults and 52% of the forty-year-olds can be considered “overthinkers”. What is this hyperactivity mental that pushes to consume alcohol or Prozac while they cannot cure stresses of the everyday? For the American psychologist, it is a “manifestation of hypersensitivity” that causes “torrents of concern”.

When, we are struck by mental rumination, “our negative thoughts swell, like a dough with yeast. In the beginning, they focus on the event that has just taken place, then, little by little, they slip into other situations of the past, of the present, stirring together our most intimate doubts. ”

It is this chaotic, spiraling aspect, the very agitated “reticence of ideas” that characterizes mental rumination.

If eventually, this disorder can lead to depression or chronic anxiety, it cannot be reduced to sadness or anxiety: “In contrast to anxious, overthinkers are not in the” And if? “, They are absolutely convinced that the worst has already happened,” said the psychologist. Nothing to do either with the fact of thinking, as some expressions suggest (do not they say intellectuals they “take the head”?).

“To think is to be able to differentiate, to name and to associate”, recalls Norbert Chatillon, psychoanalyst. However, rumination prevents us from distinguishing what really means to ourselves. To the point of not being able to discern the real worries – a gravely ill loved one – peccadilloes – a reflection of his loving partner. “It is a thought that comes out of its wake, an overflow that passes through us and that we can not get in shape, while the intelligence, it, manages to serenade,” continues the psychoanalyst.

Reconsider these situations illustrations: when Angela and Claire “mill” in their heads, they just seek to think, but cannot. Why? The answer probably lies in their way of living their emotions.

3 – Mental Rumination: Listen to the Emotion

For Catherine Aimelet-Périssol, a psychotherapist specializing in the reptilian brain, and therefore in emotional life, any “head-start” is a signal: “It tells us that we have moved from a state of openness to a state of defense. Basically, there is always a threat (to be abandoned, dismissed, disqualified …). The fear comes next. This “root emotion” triggers a flight reaction. “We are experiencing a period of brain overheating and sensory agitation: five hundred ideas per the second jostle in our head, all aimed at mobilizing us to find solutions. ”

But for most of us, this mobilization mechanism seems to be stalled. “Instead of listening to our fear to identify the needs that it expresses and to act – because a fear is always legitimate -, we undergo and lock ourselves in,” regrets Catherine Aimelet-Périssol. A form of complacency that the specialist describes as the “backlash” of the 1970s: “We made the revolution to be able to release our emotions, but by breaking the frame, we won everything with: our landmarks and our values. What to do now with all these emotions that express themselves? This is the big question of our time. ”

For Norbert Chatillon too, fear is the main driver of our mental “little bike”: “Cluttering your head has an antidepressant function. This mechanism paradoxically allows us to screen our deepest existential anxieties by cutting off our feelings. To each his method for going through these periods of mental agitation. Do not forget that they can be creative. Because of this mental maelstrom can spring insights and decisive insights.

4 – Mental Rumination: A More Feminine Fragility?

The American psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema announces it from the first page of her book: women are more serious than men. Why? According to her, this trend would be linked to education which, very early on, encourages women to listen to others and to talk about their difficulties, when men are rather encouraged to react quickly and effectively to find solutions. For other American psychologists (reports of the American Academy of Sciences, July 23, 2002), this difference in behavior is due to the fact that happy or dark, events related to emotion are anchored more strongly in the female brain. For proof, their ability to remember important dates, like the anniversary of their marriage, when men, they, easily forget these details…

So, innate or acquired? Both says psychoanalyst Hélène Vecchiali (author of “So be they: without real men, no real women …” Calmann-Lévy, 2005): “From birth, the girl feels less desired and desirable, because it does not arouse the wonder in the look of his mother, who, being of the same sex, is in “known territory” in front of her. The rehashing of thoughts would be a means developed unconsciously to escape the malaise generated by this false statement.

To this endogenous cause, the psychoanalyst adds a societal factor: “Today, the” malaise in civilization “especially affects women, who feel obliged to shine on all fronts: in the couple, as a mother, at the work … and hence greater demands on themselves. With so much emphasis on all of their “homework”, they have a hard time shutting down themselves and are busy in one area while pondering over their other goals.

5 – Mental Rumination: How to React?

Mental rumination can poison a person throughout his life. It is therefore important to put in place techniques to reduce it:

– Do activities that generate pleasure: sport, leisure, religion, seeing friends, going out, walking, or having a pet.

– Find a solution to the problem by clearly identifying a point for which a solution is possible, talking with his entourage, his friends, or a psychologist to take a step back and find the solutions. Why even confide in his Creator through prayer and the study of the Holy Bible?

– Practice meditation and sophrology that allows to accept without judging these ruminations and especially to live the moment in full consciousness.

– The confrontation with reality through action allows focussing on the present. Writing a diary of one’s thoughts and emotions clarifies thoughts and avoids being invaded by these ruminations.

If the ruminations invade the person’s life and plunge her into permanent anxiety or depression, it may be necessary to take care of a psychiatrist and a psychologist. Some medications such as anxiolytics or antidepressants may be effective.

Let’s finish this article with 5 tips to get away from mental ruminations.

Five tips on how to stop ruminating thoughts:

– First Tip: Recognize Your Toxic Thoughts

The first step in order to “exorcize” these mental ruminations is to identify them when they arise. When one of these thoughts comes up, ask yourself these questions: “Why did I say that?” “Why did I act like that?” “Why am I in the repetition of behaviors that ultimately hurt me?”

By recognizing these habits of thought, “you will be able to act on them by the action of your reason located at the level of your prefrontal cortex,” says Erwan Deveze. In this manner, you will find out how to stop ruminating thoughts.

– Second Tip: Unmask

This tendency to blame and see things in black is natural, recalls our expert: “The negativity bias is the result of brain wiring inherited from millions of years! Being bothered by various concerns is the rule and not the exception, no need to find yourself null or abnormal for that “. It is essential to be aware of this to make you feel guilty about all these toxic thoughts. Try the exercise of positive reframing to change your perception.

– Third Tip: Meditate

Mindfulness meditation is a good way to accept your thoughts and emotions without judging or being overwhelmed by them. Regular practice helps the mind to regain control of its emotional ruminations and to distance them better.

– Fourth Tip: Work on Self-Esteem

Without realizing it, these mental ruminations can affect self-esteem. “Knowledge of the basic brain mechanisms can limit the toxicity of negative thoughts, promoting greater benevolence towards oneself,” says Erwan Deveze. Accept who you are, with your qualities and your faults. You do your best and it’s already great! Learn to value yourself.

– Fifth Tip: Show Discernment

Ruminations prevent you from discerning what is good for you and lock in a sterile vicious circle. To get out of these thought patterns, focus your thoughts instead of finding positive active solutions. “Shun those who lock you in reproaches, regrets, or resentment towards yourself or those around you,” advises the neuroscience consultant, Erwan Deveze.

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