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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Are You Magnifying Your Stress?

By September 4, 2013

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Have you ever found yourself stressing and obsessing over something that's happened in the past? (Actually, this is such a common experience, I should be asking, 'When's the last time you found yourself stressing and obsessing...") Whether it's a conversation gone wrong that you keep playing and replaying in your head, a financial difficulty that has you constantly imagining worst-case scenarios, or an injustice that occupies much of your attention, this type of negative, obsessive thinking is known as rumination, and it can dramatically increase your stress levels.

Rumination differs from regular thinking in that it's negative and repetitive--your mind becomes like a tenacious dog not wanting to let go of a bone--and it tends to solve nothing; you focus on problems and fixate on the negative feelings, but don't find solutions, emotional or practical, to get out of the loop, so you're 'stuck' marinating in the negative experience of it all.

Rumination can be especially hard on you because your body reacts the same to your thoughts about negative events as it would to the event itself--it's like you're constantly reliving the stress of these experiences, and repeatedly reacting to it. You put yourself into a state of chronic stress.

It's hard to stop ruminating once you've started, though, for a few reasons:

  • It becomes automatic. We often start ruminating and only realize we're doing it a few minutes later, after we've been ruminating for a while.

  • It seems helpful at first. Rumination begins as an honest attempt to work through a problem, and find a solution. We just get 'stuck' into a negative cycle of circular thinking along the way.

  • It feels good, in some ways. We like the feeling of being right, and rumination often involves telling ourselves we are, and it's the other person or situation that's wrong or unfair. It feels good in the short term, but leads to a stress response that later doesn't feel so great. But then we're stuck.

So, how does one get past the negative cycle of rumination? Here are some strategies that can help: Tips For Letting Go

Additional Rumination Resources:

Do you find yourself stuck in rumination mode? What do you tend to ruminate about? What helps you stop? Write your thoughts and tips in the comments section.

Like this post? Want to use it to start a discussion with your friends? Pass it on! Ongoing Stress Reduction Resources - Follow Me on Twitter - Subscribe to the Newsletter

September 30, 2009 at 7:28 pm
(1) Liv says:

When I feel someone’s being unfair with me, I tend to replay conversations we’ve had over and over in my head. Then I’ll come up with what *might* be said in the future, and what I can say about it. I ask other people what they think, to get an idea of if I’m being unreasonable. I know that at some point, this goes from being ‘helpful’ and ‘food for growth’ to ‘unhealthy’ and ‘obsessive’. It’s just hard to pinpoint that exact place. Anyway, lately I’ve been forcing myself to think about other things, even if it’s just reading something about another topic. It’s nice to know that this is a ‘good’ way to handle things; it feels right.

September 30, 2009 at 7:33 pm
(2) Sue says:

I know I shouldn’t do it, but I still find myself obsessing over frustrating situations. I try to meditate, but then everything seems to get LOUDER, and my negative thoughts seem to take over! I’m not sure what to do there.

October 1, 2009 at 2:14 am
(3) Health Advisor says:

most of the times, we magnify our stress level like this…

October 1, 2009 at 9:29 am
(4) Gayatri Prakash says:

I always consider myself as a channel for God and look at alternatives. I talk to myself loud and correct myself , if I am wrong and if I am write feel very happy with my proactive behaviour and thank God for His excellent mentoring. Life is a challenge for me as I have faced lot of problems side by side enjoying the best fruits of it also- curtesy-Almighty.

October 1, 2009 at 8:50 pm
(5) Courtney_!82 says:

Part of the problem is that people think the stressful thoughts are not only reality, they are also for forever. The thinking process goes: if you can’t handle what life throws at you now, then you can’t handle it for the rest of your life. This creates a feeling of powerlessness as the momentary thought becomes the truth for the rest of your life.

September 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm
(6) Petra Šimonová says:

Could you please consider the close cross on polls?
The poll is hiding the article on the mobile version.
After voting the new page with ‘return’ button appears – but after clicking the poll re-appears :-/.
Thank you.

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