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Rumination – Why we should learn to stop chewing the cud

What is rumination?

The word rumination comes from the Latin ruminare which means ‘to chew over again’. It describes any hoofed and even-toed mammal which has a special stomach used to break down plant based food by regurgitating it (the cud), allowing it to be re-chewed to help the digestion process. This cycle where food is passed to a stomach to be passed back and so on is called rumination.

So how does it affect humans?

We live in a society that continually ruminates. Think about the 24 hour news channels, your reaction to something which really got your goat at work or the latest episode with a neighbour you don’t see eye to eye with. Human rumination refers to the mental habit of going over and over something in your mind which either happened in the past or could happen in the future, and dwelling on those negative thoughts.

Can it be detrimental to our health?

It has been found that those people who ruminate a lot have much higher levels of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in their systems, leading to them feeling constantly over-activated and on edge.

When you keep going over the same situation in your head, your brain sends a message for your body to produce more of the “fight or flight” hormone, adrenaline, which is known to increase your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure and augment your energy supplies.

Cortisol is needed by our bodies, amongst other things, to maintain blood pressure and fluid balance. When you’re stewing on a problem your body doesn’t cut off cortisol production and instead just keeps producing it. Chronically raised levels can lead to serious problems including a suppressed immune system, increased blood pressure and raised sugar levels.

If you regularly ruminate and these processes happen frequently, you can see that it isn’t good news for your body.

Does it affect other aspects of our lives?

Sadly, yes.

People who regularly ruminate tend to be less productive than their non-ruminating counterparts. This is thought to be because they are not mentally present enough to be able to get things done. Instead, they are spending their time trapped in a “chewing the cud” cycle inside their heads which has a negative effect on their productivity.

Research has also shown that rumination and self-blame can have a significant and serious impact on an individual’s mental health and may be a crucial predictor of someone’s risk of depression and anxiety following a stressful event.

Are there any techniques for controlling rumination?

There are many ways you can stop this recurring cycle of negative thought.

Most people don’t intend to ruminate and don’t even realise they are doing so, it just becomes a habit. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have impressive results by making you aware of when you are dwelling on the same negative thought and teaching you to observe them and let them go. Over time, it trains your mind to live more healthily, happily and productively in the present moment.

Improving our resilience has been shown to have positive results in helping to control rumination. Learning to keep an appropriate distance between the situations we face and our emotional attachment to them produces good results by practising to focus on what you can (rather than can’t) control and to maintain perspective. Too often we become preoccupied with things that don’t really help us, by learning to let go of them we can help ourselves to stop ruminating.

Two In Equilibrium courses explore the above techniques

Mindfulness Training and Developing Personal Resilience

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