of Mindfulness in Education - Part 5:
Negatives of Rumination
Imagine the following scenario at a school on a
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
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.
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.
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
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