Mindfulness: Turning Rumination into positive present focusing Top Tips
1. What is rumination?
Letting problems replay over and over again in our mind is a very common response to negative emotional situations and is called rumination.
Reflecting on painful experiences or worries is natural, however, if we do it too often and for too long it can have serious consequences for our physical and mental health. Research consistently shows that people who ruminate are more likely to develop problems with anxiety and depression, and at higher risk from many forms of self-sabotaging behaviours. Rumination is about getting stuck.
2. Thinking isn’t always useful.
Our ability to think about what’s not happening right now allows us to plan, analyze, imagine, associate and reflect.
This is incredibly helpful for problem solving, using what psychologists call Discrepancy Based Processing, the discrepancy being the gap between how things are and how we want them to be. This is particularly useful for external circumstances or situations, discrepancies or gaps, you have a journey to make or a report to write, a certain amount of analysis and planning may be useful.
However, this cognitive strategy is less useful when the discrepancy or “problem” is an internal experience; I feel a sense of inadequacy about being able to write the report, or irritation that I’m being asked to do it. In these instances, moving into our heads, into a primarily cognitive mode, actually serves to reinforce or amplify what we’re feeling and doesn’t resolve the feelings.
So, it’s both counter-productive and ineffective.
3. What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the awareness that develops when we pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.
The roots of mindfulness are in the Buddhist tradition. For 2500 years the Buddhists have been practising meditation.
Modernised mindfulness started with a molecular biologist called Jon Kabat-Zinn. Though not a Buddhist himself, he was really into meditation. He thought that this particular way of training the mind might be useful for people who weren’t interested in Buddhism. He was also particularly interested in healthcare so he put together a fairly intensive program – an 8 week program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
He brought it to a big University Hospital and invited the doctors there to send him everyone they couldn’t help. He ended up with big groups of people with all kinds of difficult medical conditions. It actually proved to be very helpful. He started researching it straight away so that now, almost 40 years later, the body of evidence is such that it’s being offered more and more widely. It’s moved from healthcare to education, the criminal justice system and the workplace.
4. How can mindfulness meditation help?
Research from neuroscientific studies have found:
- changes in those areas of the brain associated with decision-making, attention and empathy in people who regularly practice Mindfulness meditation
- meditation increases the area of the brain linked to regulating emotion, and that it improves people’s attention, job performance, productivity and satisfaction
- meditation increases blood flow, reduces blood pressure, and protects people at risk of developing hypertension: it also reduces the risk and severity of cardiovascular disease, and the risk of dying from it
People who have learned mindfulness:
- experience long-lasting physical and psychological stress reduction
- discover positive changes in well-being
- are less likely to get stuck in depression and exhaustion
- are better able to control addictive behaviour
5. Rumination fuels an unhappy mind.
It offers few new insights & only intensifies emotional and physical distress.
- Ruminations create a vicious cycle that can easily trap us. The urge to ruminate can feel truly addictive such that the more we ruminate, the more compelled we feel to continue doing so.
- Rumination can increase our likelihood of becoming depressed, and it can prolong the duration of depressive episodes when we do have them
- Rumination is associated with a greater risk of alcohol abuse. We often drink to take the edge of the consistent irritability and sadness that result from our constant brooding.
- Rumination is also associated with a greater risk of eating disorders. Many of us begin using food to manage the distressing feelings our ruminations elicit.
- Rumination fosters negative thinking. Spending such a disproportional amount of time focusing on negative and distressing events can color our general perceptions such that we begin to view other aspects of our lives too negatively as well.
- Rumination fosters impaired problem solving. As an example, one study found that women with ruminative tendencies who found a lump in their breast waited 2 months longer than non-rumintators to schedule a breast exam.
- Ruminating increases our psychological and physiological stress responses to such a degree that it can actually put as at greater risk for cardiovascular disease.
6. How can you stop ruminating?
– Identify the thought of fear.
What is your biggest fear? Maybe you are afraid of getting fired or looking foolish in front of others. Journaling can be a great way to clarify the underlying fear.
– Think about the worst-case scenario.
This may sound like an awful suggestion, but we can often handle the worst-case scenario, which takes away the power of the original thought. Ask yourself two questions: What is the worst thing that can happen? Can I handle that?
Most likely the answer is yes. Human beings are very resilient. Remember, sometimes our biggest hardships can turn into our biggest growth experiences.
– Let go of what you can’t control.
Ask yourself Ask yourself “what can I change, if anything?” If you cannot change the situation, let it go. For things you can change, set up a list of small goals and make the appropriate changes.
– Look at mistakes as learning opportunities.
According to David Burns, Ph.D., assistant professor at Stanford University, and author of Feeling Good, “the quickest way to find success is to fail over and over again.” You don’t need to berate yourself when you mess up. Instead frequently remind yourself how far you’ve come. Every time you make a mistake, you learn something new.
– Schedule a worry break.
Schedule 20 to 30 minutes a day to worry and make the most of it. This allows for a time and place to think about all your biggest insecurities while containing it to a specific period of time. At other times of the day, remind yourself that you will have time to contemplate later.
7. Body awareness is the doorway to freedom from rumination.
Mindfulness of the body grounds us in what is actually occurring rather than in what we wish about such happenings, hence we become free of stress.
Here are 5 reasons to bring mindfulness to the body:
- When things feel right with the body we take it for granted. When things feel wrong, we get frustrated. We very rarely appreciate all the things it is able to do. Practising mindfulness enables us to appreciate the remarkable reality of being a body.
- When we practise mindfulness of the body we are opening ourselves to the full experience of being alive.
- The body is always in the present. When we take our attention to body sensations we are naturally drawn to the here and now. You cannot feel yesterday or tomorrow, only right now. Therefore our body is a natural anchor for mindfulness when we pay attention to it.
- Attending to the body has a grounding effect. When we bring awareness to the body we are getting back down to earth.
- The body experiences by feeling. When you become more familiar with patterns of physical sensation we can more easily work with them. We face a better chance of happiness if we can open up to the reality of the body experience and explore how to be with it rather than try to control it with thinking.
8. Mindfulness of body practice.
This practice offers space to experience sensations fully, openly and with awareness.
- Find a place where you can sit comfortably, settling into an upright posture—perhaps on a chair with a firm seat, with the spine self-supporting, hands on thighs. Let the body be upright, but without straining or stiffening. You can close the eyes, or have them open, perhaps letting the gaze fall downwards. Notice how this posture feels right now.
- Open up awareness and notice sensations in the whole body. Be aware of contact, texture and temperature in parts of you touching the floor, chair, clothes, other body regions, the air around—as well as internal sensations, such as tightening, relaxing, pressure, fatigue, heat, cold, aching, and so on.
- As best you can bring interest to pleasant and unpleasant sensations, allowing them to be felt fully. Be aware of preferences—liking some sensations and not liking others—and notice when and how you’re getting caught up in or resisting them. Be curious about any changes in location, intensity or quality of sensation.
- When you see the mind wander into thinking, gently let go of thoughts and come back to feeling. When you notice the mind wandering elsewhere (e.g. to sounds), acknowledge this also, bringing it back, as best you can, with kindness.
- If the mind feels very scattered, or sensations are particularly intense, you could come back to mindfulness of breathing for a time, using the breath as an anchor for attention once more. Open up to the whole body again as you feel ready. Perhaps imagine that you’re breathing into and out from the entire body.
- After you’ve practiced, experiment with staying present to body sensations as you move into whatever comes next in your day.
9. Awareness enables choice.
Naming our emotions tends to diffuse their charge and lessen the burden they create. We can’t change what we don’t notice. Denying or avoiding feelings doesn’t make them go away, nor does it lessen their impact on us, even if it’s unconscious. Noticing and naming emotions gives us the chance to take a step back and make choices about what to do with them.
10. Learn to expect negative experiences as a part of life and plan ways to overcome them.
Individuals should not be trying to suppress their thoughts. Instead they should become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, but in a more controlled and more intentional way
So, as you go through your day and you catch yourself mentally rehearsing the past, take a few moments to ask yourself:
“is this type of thinking helping me solve a problem or is it making me feel less confident in my abilities?”
If you answer yes to the latter, then you’re likely engaging in adaptive reflection; however, if you begin to suspect that your thinking might actually be interfering with your ability to solve problems, then you might be entering a vicious cycle of rumination. When that happens, the best you can do is to try to try to take a break and focus on other things, at least for a while. It sounds way easier than it is, but with regular practice, it might become second nature.
11. Mindfulness practise builds grit.
There are different ways of practicing mindfulness including formal and informal.
In terms of formal practice there are different ways to support this from apps such as headspace and 10% happier. There are also 8 week mindfulness courses such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
Informal practice can be as simple as paying attention to your feet and legs as you walk from one meeting to another.
Commit to something that you can do straight away. Then do it! Then appreciate that. This forms a positive feedback loop.
12. Commit to one mindful breath each day.
Breath in and out and preserve the momentum of your practice
Like any new skill, it takes practice.
Be compassionate with yourself and remember you don’t have to do it all at once—don’t feel like you’ve failed if you have a fearful or anxious thought.
This is not a linear process and frankly, a certain amount of fear and anxiety is normal.