The over-thinking obsession: When the mind goes rogue

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I am well-aware of the slippery slope that is rumination. You start off thinking about an issue that’s bothering you. If you don’t keep tabs on the twists and turns your thoughts make, one wrong turn, one negative thought, will breed another and another. You start to feel helpless. You start to doubt your ability to persevere. You start projecting into the future, creating a variety of nightmarish endings. All the fear and doubt starts to boil over, leaving you feeling like you’re on the brink of having a panic attack or of going insane.

As if that wasn’t enough, when I compared obsessive ruminators to non-ruminators who took Queendom’s Emotional Intelligence Test, the differences in personality of these two groups weren’t just drastic, they were pervasive. Ruminating is like downloading a computer virus into your brain: It affects every aspect of your emotional and psychological health, your general sense of well-being, and your capacity to function at full cognitive capacity.

Here’s where ruminators and non-ruminators differed the most:

Contentment – Perhaps not surprisingly, non-ruminators are more content with their life, probably because they don’t spend every waking hour worrying about one issue after another.

Score for non-ruminators: 82

Score for obsessive ruminators: 44

Self-esteem – Non-ruminators focus on their strengths and what makes them special, rather than on their faults. They recognize that they have value, and refuse to let anyone or anything convince them otherwise.

Score for non-ruminators: 82

Score for obsessive ruminators: 47

Self-control – Preventing your thoughts from wading into deep, dark waters requires the ability to self-monitor, and to consciously keep your perception focused on the present and the issue at hand, not what could happen. Non-ruminators do this with ease.

Score for non-ruminators: 82

Score for obsessive ruminators: 47

Resilience – Non-ruminators refuse to be deterred by adversity, whether facing minor or major challenges. They bounce back quickly from disappointment, failure, and hardship, and use the lessons they’ve learned to help them cope with future problems.

Score for non-ruminators: 80

Score for obsessive ruminators: 51

Positive Mindset – Although I cannot definitively conclude that pessimists are more likely to ruminate, I can tell you that statistically, there is reasonably strong correlation between rumination and pessimism. Non-ruminators choose to focus on hope, possibility, and the good in people and in situations.

Score for non-ruminators: 76

Score for obsessive ruminators: 50

Emotional Self-awareness – Obsessive ruminators don’t just allow their thoughts to run rogue, they also let their emotions go unchecked. This isn’t to say that non-ruminators are detached from their emotions – quite the contrary actually. They are very much in touch with their feelings and most importantly, milk them for information: “Why am I feeling this way? What is this emotion alerting me to? Why is this situation stirring up these feelings in me, and what does it say about me, or the person/situation that I am dealing with?”

Score for non-ruminators: 66

Score for obsessive ruminators: 42

Problem-solving Skills – Evidently, over-thinking a problem does little, if anything, to help you solve the problem. When your mind is preoccupied with worry or fear, it limits your potential to come up with constructive, creative solutions because your brain is so focused on dealing with the “threat” at hand.

Score for non-ruminators: 84

Score for obsessive ruminators: 59

Self-motivation – When they feel helpless (because they’re fixation has turned a problem into an insurmountable obstacle), obsessive ruminators struggle to motivate themselves. Essentially, when things get ugly, they’re more likely to stick their head in the sand, paralyzed with indecision and doubt, hoping beyond hope that things will eventually blow over.

Score for non-ruminators: 73

Score for obsessive ruminators: 50

Impulse Control – Ask ruminators (like myself) why they over-think things, and the consensus will probably be, “I can’t help it.” Ruminating is an addiction, and once you’ve started down that path it can be difficult to stop. This often leaves ruminators with one of two options when trying to resolve the problem that set things into motion: Ignore it, or find the quickest and easiest solution and consequences be damned.

Score for non-ruminators: 65

Score for obsessive ruminators: 42

Flexibility – Tying into problem-solving, obsessive rumination can result in “tunnel vision,” where all the ruminator sees is the problem, and a limited amount of options to resolve it. They are unable to put the situation in perspective and look at it from different points of view. Essentially, rumination leads to a very rigid way of thinking.

Score for non-ruminators: 64

Score for obsessive ruminators: 42

I asked my long-time mentor how to cope with my tendency to ruminate…and why my life always seems to drop one problem after another on my well-laden, frustrated shoulders. It’s like that tree I keep parking under, despite the promise I make to myself every evening to not park there: I always come back to find it covered in buds from end to end, like squirrels have had an elaborate wedding on the hood of my car. His answer, as always, was infuriatingly plain:

“Because if life were easy, you’d be bored.”

“Yes, yes.” I wave away his advice. “I get it. Life is simple, we’re the ones who make it complicated. Take it one step further: How do I simplify things and just go with the flow? And please, don’t patronize me with the usual ‘relax, have more fun, and focus on the present’; I HATE the ‘focus-on-the-present’ bit.”

Then he smiles that annoying yet disarming smile, and tells me what he always tells me, in different variations:

“You have an obsessive need to control your circumstances and to over-think things. Let go and trust the process. Why are you leaping for hurdles you haven’t arrived at yet?”

I nodded. Naturally, he added: “And most importantly, focus on the present. The present is all you have to work with, and is the only thing that matters.”

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Insightfully yours,

Queen D