The connection between depression and rumination

I was thinking about this the other day…haha, okay, that’s funny, and you should understand why shortly. Ages ago, I remember seeing a story about the connection between depression and rumination. For these purposes, rumination is roughly defined as thinking, non-stop, and in a bad way. Thinking about your problems. Thinking about being depressed. Chaining all of your depressed thoughts together, one into another, until it avalanches into something terrible. Thinking about all of the things that are wrong, that can go wrong, or that will go wrong. All of this leads to an increase in your levels of depression.

First, the link:

Numerous longitudinal studies point to rumination’s negative effects: For example, research Nolen-Hoeksema conducted on Bay Area residents who experienced the 1989 San Francisco earthquake found that those who self-identified as ruminators afterward showed more symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The article goes on to note many others studies which have come to the same conclusion: People who think too much and think too much about negative things are much more likely to show symptoms of depression.

Why does this happen? Well, this paragraph lays it out nicely:

Many ruminators stay in their depressive rut because their negative outlook hurts their problem-solving ability, said Nolen-Hoeksema. According to her research, they often struggle to find good solutions to hypothetical problems. For example, if a friend is avoiding them, they might say, “Well, I guess I’ll just avoid them too.”

In addition, ruminators express low confidence in their solutions and often fail to enact them–for example, failing to join a bereavement support group despite intending to, said Nolen-Hoeksema.

Not only does ruminating lock you into negative thought patterns that can extend your depression, but it makes it harder to seek out and receive social support.

Alright, so, rumination sucks. Let’s pivot then to something more positive (see what I did there?) – how do you break the cycle of negative thoughts and move onto something more positive? According to this article in Psychology Today, there are a few things you can do. First, stop thinking about the negatives. That’s obvious, but a good way to do this is to instead concentrate on times when things did work out okay, and specifically by “shifting your neural network.” The article specifically advises that you rely on friends and family to help you break up the negative thoughts, use a memory jogger (like pictures, a video or an upbeat social networking status), or listen to good music that will remind you of the positive experience.

Another way – although I admit this one can be very difficult – is to try to “unhook” your thinking. Stop just mindlessly focusing on whatever ails you. Instead, unpack it. Examine it. Ask yourself, what’s really bothering me, here? Is there anything I can do about it? Make a plan of attack in your head to deal with whatever the problem is head on. If you find there’s nothing you can do, no problem! Put it in a little box. There is no sense wasting your valuable time and energy on something that you cannot touch or do anything about.

There’s more, but these are two of the more valuable ways that I’ve discovered. I have to say, this is useful for me. Most of my depression comes from runaway thinking – aka rumination – that I cannot control. I’m going to make a real effort to change my thinking processes here and bring this under control. Maybe meditation will help too? I don’t know.

Either way, I’d love your thoughts, as always! What strategies have you used to bring your own head into shape? Let us know in the comments below!


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