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Benefits of Mindfulness in Education - Part 5:

Negatives of Rumination

Imagine the following scenario at a school on a Friday:

The day seems to be going smoothly, and the adolescent student is looking forward to a relaxing evening at home. Then, an hour before school closes; the class teacher approaches the student and tells her she had really messed something up. The student apologises and tries to explain what happened, but the teacher sternly tells the student she needs to get her act together and rectify the situation.

Everyone has to deal with situations like this and it would put most people in a bad mood. The student has two options on how to deal with the situation:

1) Go home and enjoy the evening, leaving the problem at school

2) Let the problem eat away within her all evening and think about how unfair the world can be.

Try to guess which would be the healthier response.

By replaying the problem over and over in her mind the student is engaging in a process which is called 'rumination'. This refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one's negative emotional experiences and its possible causes as opposed to its solutions (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). Basically, rumination means that we continuously think about the various aspects of situations that are upsetting.

Think about your own tendencies. When something upsets you, do you tend to mull on it, and keep going over the problem again and again? If so, then you are probably a ruminator.

Wrong approach to problem solving

We may think that rumination invariably involves problem solving. While it's true that problem solving and planning are essential to overcoming a difficult problem, students or people who ruminate tend to take these activities too far and for too long. They will often spend hours analysing the situation, even after they've developed a plan for dealing with the situation. Sometimes people will ruminate about the problem so much so that they never even develop a solution to the problem. This is where rumination becomes really problematic. If the situation or the problem has the student in a bad mood, rumination will keep that bad mood alive, and she will feel upset for as long as she ruminates. If she ruminates on the problem for days, chances are the student will remain upset for days.

Depression and Anxiety

Scientific research on rumination is extremely consistent. Students or adults who ruminate are much more likely to develop problems like depression and anxiety, and those problems are hard to overcome for someone who fails to change the ruminative thought patterns.

Rumination is also connected to many different forms of self-sabotage. For example, if the student ruminates on something upsetting the teacher did, it's going to take longer to forgive that teacher and get back to accepting the future time spent with him or her. If the student holds a grudge and constantly ruminates on what the teacher did, she might even miss or mentally switch-off when the teacher is conducting a class, thus missing on studies. The student is more likely to have constant problems with that teacher and harbour negative feelings. But, if she does what she can to make improvements, and resist getting caught up in being upset about being reprimanded, then she is more likely to improve her situation.

Overcoming Rumination

There are many ways to stop the repetitive cycle of negative thoughts. The student can talk about her problem with an adult to understand them and move on (healthy self-disclosure), proactively engage in positive thinking, or even distract herself with other joyful activities, which has been shown in some scientific research to help stop rumination. Psychological interventions such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy are also used at times.

However, the problem usually occurs when people don't even realise they are ruminating, and it becomes a habit on auto-pilot.

Mindfulness helps Stop Rumination

Mindfulness helps to stop rumination is three ways;

1. It helps us stop ourselves from dwelling on the same negative thoughts at any given moment, observe them without judgement, and then to let go of them.

2. It was found that when the levels of Mindfulness were high in students or adults, there was a significant decrease in incidences of rumination. (Brown & Ryan 2003), (Wilkinson, P. 2012)

3. Practice of Mindfulness also helps to reduce already set in rumination and depression. This is the reason for the development of programs such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

Mindfulness helps develop a sustained, relaxed attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally. It encourages observing everything that goes on in the mind 'without judging, reacting, or holding on'. Instead of joining the cycle of rumination, the observer's attention slowly dissipates the cycle and the attention is brought back to the present moment and one point of focus, usually the breath.

Through continuous practice, mindfulness meditation helps students draw themselves out of rumination and live more healthily in the present moment.

Aruna can be contacted at [email protected]

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