Rumination refers to a form of perseveration cognition which is a behavior that is chronic and repetitive which can focus on negative content, past and present, and results in some emotional distress. The degree in to which people ruminate can vary from individual to individual. But by definition, it is something that is a chronic behavior. For some this can be more pervasive when under stress, while others may find this a daily habit or just an everyday lifestyle.

Worry Versus Rumination

Worry and rumination are different things although they are similar and overlap. Both are habits, but they do differ some. While rumination is a more perseveration thought pattern of past and present, worry is more specifically about what might happen. So, it is about the future and danger that might occur.  Worry is also unproductive. Many people practice both. Worry can also be a problem and can get out of control just like rumination.

Problem Solving Versus Rumination

Some may feel their rumination is problem solving but generally speaking they most likely are not problem solving. If we are actively working on a solution this would be more problem solving versus being stuck in repetitive thinking patterns. It may feel like you are problem solving but instead of moving through the problem and solutions, you get stuck with the same thought pattern. If you are not coming up with a possible solution that can be acted on, it may just be rumination. The real tell is that rumination doesn’t make us feel better and usually leads us to feeling worse. It has been said that both worry, and rumination are problem solving gone haywire or maybe it is just going off the rails. It may be initiated as an attempt to problem solve but does not focus on a solution and is a replaying over and over.

Problem Solving

If what you really want to do is problem solving than there are steps to make it more productive. Some steps for problem solving involve identifying the problem, deciding on an actual objective, coming up with a step-by-step action plan and putting it into writing. But if your brain goes off on its own journey and you are spinning your wheels then it has turned more into rumination and it’s time to move off.

Emotional Processing

We all need to process events that happen in our lives, but this is different from rumination. With emotional processing it actually leads to acceptance and release of emotions. If you are working through something and it feels like something is changing, you are probably doing some processing. But if the theme stays the same then that would indicate more rumination. If you feel stuck running on the hamster wheel, and you are not going anywhere. It has turned into rumination. You need to ask yourself, “Is this helpful?”


What can you do to decrease or stop rumination or worry? It may be like a hard stop to accept that rumination and worry are habits and that you can control and change this behavior. These perseveration thoughts may feel like they have a life of their own. But the good news, is it is a habit which you can change.  The first step is acknowledging this behavior does not impact the outcome of the situation and accepting this is a habit just like any other habit in our life.

Breaking A Habit?

Habits are hard to change.  And we need to take one step at a time. You can try some distraction. It is giving your mind something else to pay attention to. Sometimes it may be easier to switch it off by distracting yourself for 5 minutes. It can be helpful to have a few tricks in your toolbox for this. It could be listening to music or a podcast, playing a game or coloring, reading a book, exercising or short mindful meditation. Our brains can be just like a small child where you just have to distract them with a shiny object to get their attention onto something else.

Maybe try reframing your thoughts with “I cannot do anything about this right now and will put it in a container.” Or “Right now I cannot do anything to solve this so I will address it at another time when I can make an impact.” Or you can create a mantra for yourself. When you notice that you are worrying or ruminating then say, “This will pass”, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it”, or “I’m not my thoughts”. Maybe something like, “I can have peace and calmness”.  Again, it is really about retraining the brain.

Worry Time

If this has been a way of life and the idea of completely letting go of this practice feels way too scary, then try setting a limit on your worry time or ruminating. Set a time, with a time limit and choose a place that you use every time. With regard to place, don’t choice a place where you do other things. Pick that area of the house you really don’t use as the worry place. Stick to it and it will be a help to transition away from worry and rumination.


Mindfulness is the antidote to rumination and worry because mindfulness is about being present without judgement. Neither rumination nor worry have anything to do with the actual in the present moment. Mindfulness is a skill that we all need to practice in order to get good at it, but we can always start small which may act as the distraction you need. Mindfulness is about having an anchor to focus on which really is anything but our thoughts. It can be an activity, or something sensory. You can also do a guided mindful meditation if that is easier. Yes, sometimes we will notice our thoughts are really front and center, this is a first step taking notice of that. When we take notice of our thoughts without being pulled into them, that is an improvement. We are increasing our awareness. You can take a class or find an app that will help you learn techniques to improve your mindfulness practices.

All About the Brain

It begins when we start to identify the behavior and decide to do something different. The bottom-line about worry, and rumination are they just are not good for the brain. There are a lot of negative impacts on our brains. When we create healthy habits like mindfulness, we are making our brains better. And like all bad habits, it is best to work to change or stop them. Moving away from rumination and worry can improve our overall well-being. There is some research that habits of worry and rumination can age our brains faster and worsen our mood state. When you think about the habit of rumination or worry, it generally makes people feel bad and it steals the present. There are no benefits to rumination or worry. But there are a ton of benefits to stopping.

Photo by Daria Nepriak on unsplash,

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About the Author: Karen Gentilman
I’m a license clinical social worker in Idaho. I have my master’s degree in social work which I received in 1992 from California University of Long Beach. I have over 20 years working with individuals with different neurological conditions, chronic illnesses, and different medical conditions, including brain injury, strokes, and spinal cord injuries. I have continued to work in Neuro Rehab. I also do private practice (Illumination Counseling Service).

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