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Rumination: Understanding its Causes, Effects, and Solutions


Rumination is a common psychological process involving repetitive and passive thoughts centered on the causes and effects of distress. This type of thinking, which is not solution oriented, often exacerbates negative outcomes such as worsening mood and increased stress levels. Recognizing and addressing rumination is essential for mental health.

 What is Rumination?

If you find yourself lying in bed replaying a conversation with your boss without reaching any solution, you are experiencing rumination. It involves repetitive and passive thoughts focused on distressing events, making individuals feel stuck in their negative emotions. This cognitive loop can lead to a sense of hopelessness and hinder progress toward resolving issues.

Signs of Rumination

Common indicators of rumination include:

  •  Excessive talking or thinking about a painful topic.

  •  Difficulty sleeping.

  •  A feeling of being stuck or overwhelmed.

If you notice these symptoms, taking proactive steps to manage rumination is crucial. 


The Psychology Behind Rumination

The Psychology Behind Rumination

Cognitive Aspects

Rumination involves a focus on self-referential thoughts, emotions, and experiences, leading to overthinking and dwelling on negative events. This cognitive process can distort reality, amplifying negative experiences and emotions. Research indicates increased activity in the prefrontal cortex during rumination, heightening awareness of negative thoughts and emotions.

Emotional Aspects

Negative emotions like sadness, anxiety, and anger are often linked with rumination, which can prolong and amplify these feelings. This emotional entanglement contributes to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, fostering a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

Types of Rumination

Reflective Rumination

Reflective rumination involves analytical and problem solving thinking about past events to gain insight and understanding. While this type of rumination can lead to personal growth, excessive reflection can result in negative thoughts and feelings.

Brooding Rumination

Brooding rumination focuses on negative emotions and events, repeatedly ruminating on them. This type of thinking can lead to negative moods and feelings of hopelessness, contributing to depression and anxiety and interfering with problem solving and decision making.

Types of Rumination

Effects of Rumination

Physical Health Effects

Rumination can cause various physical health issues due to the stress it generates:

  • Digestive Problems: Stress can lead to indigestion, bloating, and diarrhea.

  • Headaches: Tension headaches result from muscle tension in the neck and scalp.

  • Insomnia: Racing thoughts can disrupt sleep patterns.

  • Weakened Immune System: Chronic stress can impair immune function.

Mental Health Effects

Persistent rumination exacerbates mental health issues:

  • Depression: Leads to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

  • Anxiety: Triggers recurring anxiety about situations.

  • Low Self Esteem: Creates feelings of failure and inadequacy.

  • Difficulty Problem Solving: Focuses on negative thoughts without finding solutions.

Rumination and Mental Disorders

Rumination is a common feature in various mental disorders, including:


Individuals with depression often focus on negative thoughts and feelings, creating a cycle where rumination worsens depression symptoms and vice versa. Reducing rumination is crucial for improving depression outcomes.


Anxiety involves excessive worry about future events, leading to rumination on worst-case scenarios. This cycle worsens both anxiety and rumination. Reducing rumination can significantly improve anxiety symptoms.

Eating Disorders

Rumination in eating disorders centers on obsessive thoughts about food and body image, worsening symptoms. Addressing rumination can improve outcomes in disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Techniques to Overcome Rumination

Techniques to Overcome Rumination

Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness helps stay present and focused, reducing rumination:

  • Box Breathing: A technique involving a fourstep breathing pattern to clear the mind and relax the body.

  • Body Scan: Focuses on each part of the body to release tension.

  • Mindful Walking: Involves being aware of surroundings during a walk.

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps change negative thought patterns:

  • Identify and Challenge Negative Thoughts: Examine and challenge negative thoughts to determine their validity.

  • Problem Solving: Brainstorm and implement solutions to issues.

  • Gratitude Practice: Shift focus from negative to positive thoughts by listing things you are grateful for.



Rumination is a common yet harmful thought pattern that can lead to serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Understanding its causes, effects, and types is crucial for developing strategies to manage and overcome it. Techniques such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy can help break the cycle of negative thinking and improve mental well-being. If rumination significantly impacts your life, seeking professional help is advisable.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some effective treatments for rumination?

Effective treatments include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based interventions, and medication. CBT helps identify and challenge negative thoughts, while mindfulness-based interventions teach observation of thoughts without judgment. Medications like antidepressants and antianxiety drugs may also be prescribed.

Can you give an example of rumination?

An example of rumination is repeatedly replaying a negative interaction with a friend, focusing on what could have been said or done differently, leading to feelings of guilt and anxiety.

What factors contribute to rumination?

Genetics, environment, and personality traits contribute to rumination. Trauma, anxiety, or depression history increases the likelihood of ruminating.

How can one stop ruminating about past mistakes?

Practicing mindfulness, challenging negative thoughts, and reframing them positively can help stop ruminating about past mistakes.

What are the symptoms of obsessive rumination disorder?

Symptoms include persistent and intrusive thoughts about a specific topic, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and feelings of guilt or shame. Seeking professional help is recommended if these symptoms are present.



Judy is the founder and clinical director of Your Story Counselling Services, A private practice clinic in Vaughan & Markham Ontario servicing individuals, couples, and families across the Greater Toronto Area. As a Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor, Judy is passionate about creating change and making mental health services more safe and accessible to the public. Judy believes in working collaboratively with others so that they can get back to themselves and their preferred way of life and living.

To learn more about the Your Story Counselling Team and the services we offer click here.

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The information provided in this article is intended to be general knowledge and does not constitute as professional advice or treatment. This information is not intended for the use of diagnosis or treatment. Please do not share or distribute this article without the proper referencing or written/verbal consent of Judy Lui. Additional information can be found at or requested via


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