Jayme Albin, Ph. D – Psychologist and Expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, offering therapy New York NY discusses rumination techniques and Cognitive Therapy.
Often times people will over think themselves into maintaining or causing a state of depression. This is because when we feel feel sad or worried our brain wants to explore the “why” and as a result we keep asking ourselves negative, useless questions.
“Why did this happen to me? Why do I feel so bad? Why did I make this mistake(s)? Why cannot I control my emotions? Why am I so needy? Why am I too sensitive or Why am I not sensitive enough? Why cannot I get over this?”
These questions are known in Cognitive Therapy to psychologists as “mental rumination”. Rumination is when you mentally and visually relive a negative situation over and over again without having the ability to control the automatic thoughts. Rumination is different than actual problem solving.
Problem solving involves assessment, acquisition of knowledge, decision and action where in rumination you just think!
When you ruminate you tell yourself you are helping the problem by over analyzing and discussing the situation but in reality rumination usually promotes lack of decision making and action taking. Many studies show that ruminating often leads to more harm than good especially when it comes to negative mood and onset of depression, anger and anxiety.
Other behaviors that accompany and contribute to ruminating include obsessing, checking, seeking reassurance, procrastination, and avoidance.
How do I know if I am Ruminating or still in the assessment phase of problem solving? As a general cognitive behavioral therapy rule ask yourself “By thinking about this situation is there any new information to be gained?” If the answer is yes then allot a reasonable amount of time to assessing the problem and gathering the necessary information. Determine when you will make a decision and when you will carry out the action phase. This will ensure you are actually problem solving .
Why does rumination and over active thinking occur?
Neurologically we are drawn to the mental habit of ruminating and obsessing because the brain is flooded with stress hormones that automatically alert your brain to focus on threats and identify problems. When you are depressed quite often these negative threats are yourself and when you are worried you identify everything in your life as more threatening than reality.
How does CBT help with these over active thoughts ? As a psychologist I make a distinction between the content of your thinking and it’s purpose- we not only examine and challenge the content but sometimes it is necessary to work on recognizing that some thinking only has a negative purpose so the goal of the Cognitive therapy exercise is to calm the brain and the psychotherapy is about learning to accept that it’s okay not to think at times. Otherwise, by keeping the rumination going you don’t allow yourself to heal, which inevitable impedes problem solving and the healthy acceptance needed to move forward .
What to do:
1. Practice healthy meditations. Learn and develop the ability to think about nothing except your breath. Rely on this method to shut off your thinking mind when you start to ruminate. Begin practicing when you are not ruminating to develop the skill.
2. Prepare in advance for triggering situations: Keep an ongoing list of places you find yourself ruminating in or experiencing psychological flashbacks (also common with anxiety and PTSD ). Likely you’re conditioned to associate ruminating with these places / situations. Track your emotions, topics and thoughts. Select a neutral time that you can default to thinking about this topic instead
3. Use the 2 minute rule to help break the pattern. Set a 2 minute timer at the beginning of the situation, if you catch yourself ruminating when the timer goes off force yourself to think only about your breathing.
4. Create action. Instead of ruminating use your rumination to trigger action. Ask yourself “What is the next action step? ”
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Dr. Jayme Albin is a Licensed Psychologist and Yoga instructor who offers cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback therapy and EMDR therapy in New York NY