Chewing on the Past

A while back, I was in a board meeting as I had been many times before. It was fairly routine. When the second last item came up, the person presenting - not a fan of me and quietly hostile for the last several months - took the opportunity to tear me apart in front of everyone. Needless to say the entire tone of the meeting changed. During his rant, I was accused of fraud, being appropriate with a person I care about, even racist. Those that knew me and/or knew the situation stayed mostly silent or spoke in a way that gave my accuser more fuel for his fire. Talk about being slain the house of my friends!

I spoke quietly to the two main accusations - fraud and being inappropriate which were both completely false (afterwards I was provided written statements by those involved that denied the accusations).  I clarified a few other details. I tried to be as gracious as possible. I even apologized for things I felt I could have done better. At that point the person started screaming, "He's a liar, he's a liar."

That one left a pretty big wound. Even writing this is difficult and brings me distress. I can't drive past that person's neighbourhood without having a mild anxiety episode. 

One of the dangers of having a distressing experience like that is that as the days go by, we can fall into ruminating. I did and I have to catch myself before it gets bad.

Do you know why ruminating is a problem? According to Dr. Guy Winch, in his book Emotional First Aid and in an articlespecifically on this topic, "Rumination is when we bring up emotional distress and “chew on it” repeatedly... When we don’t have resolution, ruminating goes wrong when we play the same distressing scenes in our head over and over."  Here are some key points Dr. Winch notes about rumination.

Rumination is maladaptive - it doesn't help us find resolution and amplifies our distress. 

Rumination is addictive - the more we ruminate, the more compelled we feel to continue doing so.

Rumination increases risk of becoming depressed and it can prolong the duration of depressive episodes.

Rumination can increase substance and food abuse as we try to manage or numb out the distressing emotions we feel. 

Rumination focuses on the negative which tends to spread to seeing other aspects of our lives too negatively.

Rumination impairs problem solving.

Rumination increases our stress responses and that increases our risk of cardiovascular disease.

To break the the rumination habit, Dr. Winch recommends going cold turkey - making a decision to avoid it and striving to stick with it. What can help through this process is distraction. When you feel rumination coming on, try a movie, exercise, puzzles, Angry Birds (is that still a thing?), really anything that requires concentration. This tends to break the pattern and bring us back to a calmer state. This will take practice so don't give up. Your rumination patterns will fade with time.

Do you struggle with rumination? What are you doing to reduce it?

Bradley Dahr