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Rumination: A common factor of anxiety or OCD thinking

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

"In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning." —Viktor Frankl.

You may have heard of the concept of rumination and its effects in previous blogs or perhaps by your therapist. It is the process of revising an experience and recycling minute details to understand the experience. It functions in our processing because it allows us to make sense of an event currently causing us pain or suffering.

It often has a negative connotation because we can often make it a maladaptive coping skill if we are not intentional about its usage.

Two types of ruminations can occur to a person; intrusive and deliberate.

Deliberate rumination is the process of controlling the repetitive cycle of memories and knowing when to power it off.

Intrusive rumination is similar to intrusive thoughts; the mind usually hijacks the memories and encapsulates the person in feelings of guilt, anger, and regret with no agenda for repair. This is a common factor of anxiety or OCD thinking patterns.

According to a Japanese study on whether rumination negatively affects our processing, scientists found that although meaning-making is essential to our repair, it can be stalled by introducing intrusive rumination. Often the person confuses the two and may feel a sense of autonomy over their thoughts but might be investing in obsessive behavior that can leave them stunted in their own healing. The study also found a correlation between deliberate rumination and future struggles with processing.

Ways to combat intrusive rumination:

  1. Understanding when you are feeling triggered in your body. Being mindful of your train of thoughts and the antecedents of intrusive memories will prevent you from being ambushed by your own mind.

  2. Making time for deliberate rumination. In this way, you are taking control and owning the power over your mind. You can section off a time in your day for "Rumination" and make it another errand to run, similar to brushing your teeth. This prevents the memories from ambushing you and creates a sense of agency.

  3. Establishing a substitute behavior plan for when the rumination begins.

This can be as simple as going for a walk for 5 minutes to distract your mind or journaling on a paper or notes section in your phone.

All in all, it is important to understand that the function of these behaviors is for the mind to protect the person and keep them safe. Nothing ever starts as an ill intent but as a way to cope with everyday life's stressors.

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