I confess: I’m a ruminator. An over-analyzer. Left to my own devices, I can get caught in a mental loop for days.
I have a friend who can think things through in his head. He literally closes his eyes and thinks though a concern or a problem, exploring options, considering consequences, weighing possible outcomes. He then opens his eyes and has a solution or strategy – or at least a constructive perspective on his dilemma.
Not me, though. The more I toss a problem around in my brain, the less clarity I gain. And the more anxiety.
Was I rude at last night’s dinner party? No I don’t think so, I just said what I thought. But that girl did give me a funny look. I think she was offended. I should apologize tomorrow. But why should I? I was only being honest. But was that honest, or unkind? Did I use unnecessarily harsh words? I’m a writer, I should be able to tell the truth without hurting someone’s feelings. But is it my responsibility to protect someone else’s feelings? No, it’s my responsibility to be honest when asked a direct question. So there’s no need to apologize. Although I don’t want her to feel hurt when a simple apology would cost me nothing. Or is there a cost? Is the cost honesty? On the other hand…
Rumination Is An Endless Loop
The issue with these loops is their seductiveness, the sense that if you just keep mulling the problem over you’ll eventually alight on a solution.
But you won’t. Not if you’re a ruminator.
Because we ruminators don’t think well in our heads. Problem solving doesn’t happen productively in there.
Rather, we need to move the analysis out of our minds to break the cycle of worry.
Take It Off-Mind
We can talk to a trusted friend. The input of someone else, asking questions and making observations, can stop us getting stuck in the rumination loop.
We can write it out. The act of writing helps us move our thinking forward, rather just around and around and around again.
If you get into rumination loops in bed when trying to sleep, try getting out of bed and briefly writing about your concerns. Make bullet points if that’s easiest. I’ve found this a helpful approach.
What we probably can’t do, though, is stay in our heads and also stay clear. Once we get caught in a loop, we tend to stay there.