Rumination: My Hated Friend

When I ruminate, I get stuck with intrusive and unpleasant ideas. Fortunately, I'm gradually learning how to act in these situations.
Rumination: My Hated Friend
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 05 December, 2022

When something worries me, I enter into an endless loop of thoughts from which it’s impossible to escape. It doesn’t matter what I might be worried about: work, a partner, family, a breakup… It’s like when you put a finger in the middle of a circle and someone tells you to try and get out without touching the circumference. It’s impossible. The same thing happens with rumination, the friend I love to hate.

What happens to me is similar to what happens to cows when they eat. They tear up the grass with their large mouths, roll it into a ball, and chew it. After a long chew, they swallow it and then regurgitate it back into their mouths. Of course, this happens because cows are ruminant animals. They spend a long time chewing, swallowing, and regurgitating the same amount of grass. Always the same grass. Just like when something worries me I repeatedly turn it over in my head.

worried woman
Rumination can paralyze the person who experiences it.

The consequences of rumination

Rumination is exhausting. It’s simple yet intense. If you’ve ever experienced it, you’ll know the amount of energy it absorbs from within you. When it establishes itself at the back of my mind, my heartbeat quickens, my heart feels like it’s beating too fast, and I’m begging for air.

Sometimes, rumination has prevented me from focusing on what was truly important.

It’s at these moments that I tell myself to stop for a moment and breathe. I try to put into practice some breathing methods I’ve learned and, surprisingly, I relax. However, it only temporarily calms me down, as that rumination is still there at the back of my mind.

Before I tell you about my anti-rumination strategy, I’ll explain how I breathe to relax. My method is to breathe in for a count of four, hold my breath for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four. I repeat this two or three times and, surprisingly, my heartbeat gradually returns to its normal rhythm. By breathing slowly and being calmer, I can focus on what interests me. In fact, I can get the rumination to go back to where it came from.

4 x 4 breathing is always a great ally when it comes to reducing the anxiety that thinking so much about something causes me.

Woman with eyes closed
Relaxation techniques often work to lower the noise of rumination.

My anti-rumination strategy

Over the years, I’ve learned that mindfulness visualization exercises are a strategy to be treasured.

What I do is really simple. First, I look around me for an object. It can be anything …a glass, a stone, a tree, a lamp, or the handkerchief I’ve been crying into. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just needs to be a physical object. No matter where I am, there’ll always be some object to choose from.

Then, I close my eyes and visualize the object. Once it’s well-formed in my mind, I take a mental tour of the entire object. I go over it and ask questions:

  • How big is it?
  • What color is it?
  • Is it rough or smooth? Does it feel different in different areas?
  • How much does it weigh?
  • If I shake it, move it, or squeeze it, does it make a sound? If it does, what sound does it make? Is it pleasant or unpleasant?
  • I mentally hold it up to my nose and ask myself more questions. What does it smell like? Does it always smell like this? How did it smell when I bought it?

When I have no more things to ask, I stop. You might be thinking this sounds really weird. However, I guarantee, it works. And the mechanism by which it works is really simple. Let me explain. When I’m submerged in rumination, I’m unable to see anything else. It completely takes me over. But, with this exercise, I can put the rumination to one side. Indeed, by focusing on a physical object, I put the contents of my mind to one side and escape from that awful circle.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who suffers from rumination. So, I’m hoping that this article will help others from ruminating.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • González Pando, D., Cernuda Martínez, J. A., Alonso Pérez, F., Beltrán García, P., & Aparicio Basauri, V. (2018). Transdiagnóstico: origen e implicaciones en los cuidados de salud mental. Revista de la Asociación Española de Neuropsiquiatría, 38(133), 145-166.
  • Otero, M. R., & Moreira, M. A. (2003). El uso de imágenes externas y la visualización mental: un estudio de caso. Actas, 4.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.