Four scientifically backed strategies to stop a vicious cycle of self-destructive thoughts

Four scientifically backed strategies to stop a vicious cycle of self-destructive thoughts

The phrase “ruminant chewing” It means more chewing of partially digested food – but many of us use it to mean something more abstract. The scientific word for this is rumination: the process of breaking down large things into smaller parts that can then be handled or used. It is appropriate that we use the same word for the human tendency to take on and focus on our problems.

While researchers are still working on defining exactly what rumination entails, it is generally used to mean excessive and repetitive thinking about personal problems. It often leads to emotional distress and is linked to many mental health issues – particularly depression.

In the meantime, positive rumination involves focusing on positive situations and thoughts. This can improve your health and wellness, explains Dane McCarrick, a graduate researcher at the University of Leeds who studies rumination.

“In general, we need to learn more about the different types of rumination and how they respond to different types of treatment,” McCarrick says. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

This article will focus on negative rumination—which can also hinder problem-solving and take away needed social support—along with the tools that researchers have identified as helpful in mitigating it. Rumination can get us stuck in a rut. With the help you can get out.

What is passive rumination?

Rumination involves thinking more about causes and consequences rather than solutions. Getty Images

Negative meditation involves “repetitive, negative focus on distress and its possible causes and consequences,” explain the authors of a 2012 research paper. It often involves excessive focus on negative, self-defeating thoughts. They write that this can lead to thinking more about causes and consequences rather than solutions.

In a study published in March 2022, scientists demonstrated that metacognition about rumination strongly influences long-term depression — metacognition means thinking about your own thought process and these thoughts and beliefs can be positive or negative.

In this case, the positive metacognition associated with rumination might be, “Thinking about the past helps me prevent future failures.” Meanwhile, a negative metacognition can be thinking that “thinking about my problems is uncontrollable.”

Ultimately, the study confirms that while both can contribute to depression, negative metacognition is probably the best predictor of brooding. Some scholars argue that rumination can be divided into two factors: thinking and thinking. Reflection leads to the development of problem-solving strategies, while brooding involves the negative comparison of the current situation with desired – and often unattainable – outcomes.

Leif Edward Otesen Kinnear is a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and senior author of a study that specifically examined how thinking — an element of rumination — affects rumination rates among adolescents. As we all think, it becomes even more difficult when the thought-control mechanisms of “suppression and distraction” don’t work, he explains.

The solution to rumination, says Kinnear, is “understanding that it’s something you do but that doesn’t help you and you don’t start—or stop if you’ve started.” Unfortunately, this is very difficult due to the nature of rumination.

How do we stop ruminating?

4. Treatment

Studies have found that different types of therapy can help with rumination. Getty Images

Because rumination is linked to a number of mental health issues — including anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder — and because it can be difficult to manage your thoughts on your own, therapy can be a helpful option for people whose ruminations are causing harm.

But there are different treatments that take their own approach to rumination. Some experts argue that one of the best ways to treat rumination is to address the underlying mental health problems associated with it. Rumination-focused CBT, for example, typically involves focusing on modifying one’s way of thinking rather than the contents of one’s thoughts—this is more of a focus than standard CBT.

Meanwhile, Kinnear and colleagues make the case for metacognitive therapy in their paper, suggesting that it “may be an effective intervention for depressive symptoms.”

This type of therapy focuses on modifying the metacognitive beliefs that drive anxiety, rumination, and attention fixation. Evidence that this type of therapy can be particularly beneficial for rumination has increased in the past decade.

Incorporating some elements of mindfulness, Kinnear explains, metacognitive therapy teaches individuals how to increase “metacognitive flexibility,” and decrease the belief that rumination is either uncontrollable or beneficial.

3. Vigilance

Mindfulness involves awareness of your thoughts and feelings. Getty Images

Across a number of studies, mindfulness has been found to reduce rumination and thus reduce depression and anxiety. When you engage in mindfulness, you use awareness of the present moment to manage your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

Rumination researcher McCarrick explains, “There is some evidence that mindfulness-based methods can be particularly useful for relieving unwanted thoughts and feelings due to a change of perspective to the present moment.”

2. Nature

The act of being in nature can counteract negative rumination. Getty Images

In 2015, scientists found that spending time in nature can also reduce rumination. Study participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination than the comparison group who walked in an urban environment.

These participants also showed reduced neural activity in the hypothalamic prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that shows increased activity when we feel sad or engage in negative self-reflection — a process associated with rumination.

“These findings support the view that natural environments may confer psychological benefits to humans,” the study authors wrote.

1. Work and life limits

Moving away from work-related technology can also ease work-related ruminations. Getty Images

2020 study published in Organizational Behavior Journal She found that after-hours email alerts and sounds can cause negative rumination and maintenance of negative work, along with bad moods and restlessness. In general, work-related rumination — recurring thoughts about issues at work, whether stress due to an interaction or fear of too much work to do — contributes to poor physical and mental health.

However, the team behind this study found that “technological frontier tactics” – aka turning off smartphone alerts and identifying prospects they don’t need to respond to work-related messages after hours – significantly reduced work-related rumination.

These findings are reminiscent of the concept of “psychological detachment,” which McCarrick explains “involves the individual’s experience of mentally moving away from stimuli that—from their perception—cause their anxiety or rumination.”

“It’s about finding time to pause,” McCarrick says. “We often see this type of intervention in the workplace, when researchers aim to reduce the time spent thinking about work-related issues.”

2022-06-05 14:00:25

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