Rumination is what cows do when they rechew their food (cud) to digest it. They spend about eight hours every day doing it. We humans also ruminate. We can spend minutes, hours and even days rechewing our thoughts, especially during times of distress.
If you struggle with OCD, your external and internal experiences (e.g., thoughts, memories, feelings, and sensations) are magnified and more persevering during difficult moments, and rumination can lead you to become stuck in the OCD cycle.
When you get triggered by anything (internally or externally), you will have an initial thought that evokes the obsessions. You may then feel overwhelmed with difficult internal experiences (e.g., thoughts, feelings, sensations). As you try to find a solution to your suffering you may engage in private or public behaviors (compulsions). The relief you experience may be short lived. Yet, when you get triggered again, you may repeat the compulsion hoping to find lasting results, only to get stuck anew.
Your rumination may start as an obsession, and the moment you start figuring things out and reviewing the situation to find certainty and reprieve from other unpleasant experiences (e.g., thoughts, feelings, memories, urges, sensations), that’s the moment you are engaging in rumination as a compulsion. It doesn’t matter if your ruminating behavior began as an obsession and became a compulsion. What matters is that you recognize you are doing it, and how it may be affecting your life.
Rumination May Give You a False Sense of Control
Your mind’s number one job is to protect you. It will come to your rescue when you are under adversity. The uncertainty and anxiety may feel unbearable. The sensible action may be to mentally reassure yourself by going back in time and start ruminating.
You may feel like you can be better prepared for future events so you can avoid unpleasant circumstances. Obsessively planning can become compulsive planning because you may be doing it to mitigate anxiety and doubts. The more you ruminate, the more solutions your mind will offer. What will you do with the option overload?
Your yearning for coherence can drive you to choose a solution that possibly makes sense in the moment and brings temporary comfort. The question is, does that solution satisfy the OCD? Is rumination working effectively in your life?
The Cost of Rumination
Research indicates rumination affects people’s mental health. It can heighten symptoms of depression and impair their ability to process their emotions. Because rumination causes distress, sustained elevations in cortisol may have relevant health consequences for people who ruminate repeatedly and excessively.
Rumination can be habit forming because it provides temporary relief. In the long run though, you may become overwhelmed by intense emotions such as sadness, anxiety, guilt, and shame.
Rumination can also hinder your ability to be in the present moment. When you are with your loved ones, friends, and co-workers, are you here or there with your thoughts?
Rumination may persuade you to engage in avoidant behaviors. You may believe you need alone time to figure things out and neglect precious time with your loved ones and doing what matters most in your life.
The good news is that you can learn how to change this unhelpful habit. When the urge to ruminate crops up, you don’t have to let rumination distort your thinking, heighten your emotions, and get in the way of living a meaningful life!
Keep an eye on our next blog article to learn how to catch yourself ruminating, and how to respond differently.
Azargoon, H., Kajbaf, M., Molavi, H., Abedi, M. (2009). The Effect of Mindfulness Training on Mental Rumination and Depression of the Students of Isfahan University. Clinical Psychology and Personality, 7(1), 13-20).
Sun, H., Tan, Q., Fan, G., & Tsui, Q. (2014). Different effects of rumination on depression: key role of hope. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 8. 53. https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-4458-8-53.
Zoccola, P. M., Dickerson, S. S. (2012). Assessing the relationship between rumination and
cortisol: A review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 73 (1), 1-9)