Do you ever find yourself lost in thought about something that you feel bad about? Maybe it’s a situation in which you feel you didn’t do well, you didn’t do enough, you embarrassed yourself, you can’t fix something that’s broken, you wasted time, you hurt someone’s feelings, you can’t get someone you love to do the right thing, etcetera, etc… I bet you didn’t know that many people around you do the same thing. It’s just a part of life. But, it doesn’t have to take over and use up your time.
The problem I just described is called rumination. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines rumination as 1: to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly 2: to chew repeatedly for an extended period. 3: to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed: chew the cud. The first definition gives a good description of what is happening in our minds when we ruminate. However, the second and third definitions describe chewing something that has been chewed previously. Look into a pasture and observe a resting cow chewing incessantly. This chewing is necessary for the cow to process the nutrients in the grass and hay that they have consumed. Yet, humans are not natural ruminators.
Rumination in cows and sheep is natural, necessary, and healthy. Rumination in human minds happens naturally, but that does not mean you have to be held captive to your negative thoughts. When we ruminate over negative feelings and thoughts, it is not necessary or healthy. It is as if the ‘chewing’ that is going on in our minds involves ‘chewing’ toxic material and hoping that eventually the toxicity will wear off over time. A toxin (poison) does not improve with ‘chewing’. It continues to damage the chewer. Therefore, we need to remember that when we find our minds rethinking negative feelings and thoughts, rethinking will not create a new result and may be harmful for us.
Thomas Merton said, “Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them.” Avoiding adding things to our nest is an effective emotional ‘weight’ control method. So, how can someone deal with the tendency to ruminate (chew)?
Get a sheet of paper and write “NO ASKING WHY, WHAT IF, or BLAMING” at the top left and then writing “WHAT I CAN DO” in the center of the top of the paper. Write out a descriptor word for the main thoughts. For example, if my mind won’t stop thinking about being embarrassed about accidentally wearing shoes that weren’t matches in front of a group, it would not help for me to ask why, to say what if, or to blame anyone for this mishap. It is done and in the past. However, if my mind won’t stop thinking about paying my power bill and not getting the power shut off again, asking myself “How can I change things for now?” or “What is within my power to do about this?” will help generate answers. Write down solutions. Choose a course of ACTION to resolve the problem.
You are not bound to the consequences of your worrisome thoughts. You are not just ‘along for the ride’. You are the driver. You can do this. When (not if) you need help, seek a trusted friend or professional to help regain peace of mind.
Spencer Blalock, DHA, LCSW, BCD, is a clinical specialist with Senior Care – a service of Rush Health Systems If you are a senior adult struggling with worry, sadness, or loss and/or are struggling with coping with daily living, Senior Care can offer help and hope. Contact us at 601-703-4917 for more information or visit www.rushhealthsystems.org/seniorcare.