It has long been known that women get depressed more often than do men. The answer to why seems to be in how men and women handle distress. Studies show that men are more likely to use distraction as a coping strategy while women are more likely to persist in trying to think through interminable, unanswerable, why questions. Psychologists call this ruminating; Grandma called it worry.
Anytime we brood over the past (which is unchangeable) or rehearse negative scenarios about a feared future, we are ruminating. Ruminating gets in the way of doing the things we know are important. Ruminating zaps us of the motivation we need to keep working toward meaningful goals, and it sucks the life out of our social relationships. Ruminating passes for problem-solving, but it isn’t. True problem solving identifies and defines a goal and articulates a clear sequence of tangible steps– of concrete actions that you can take to solve the problem. Rumination stays in your head; problem-solving leads to deliberate, thoughtful action.
So here are some tips for managing the bad habit of ruminating:
First, interrupt the sequence. One very effective way to stop ruminating is called “thought stopping.” This technique involves wearing a rubber band on one wrist, and, whenever you find yourself ruminating, ping the rubber band and stay STOP out loud. Visualize a bright red STOP sign. Hear Dianna Ross sing STOP in the name of love.
Then, replace it with something positive. It is important to interrupt the sequence, but also to replace the bad habit, the ruminating, with an incompatible behavior. Ruminating and singing are incompatible because these two activities use the same areas of the brain. Gratitude is also incompatible with ruminating, so shifting your attitude from worry to thankfulness by generating a list of gratitudes, is another strategy. Wonder just how many strategies there could be for stopping rumination? Can you think of any?