How to Depress Yourself


If you read my blog much, you know how I feel about rumination. Well, as a part of my commitment to actually do the various treatments I propose, I’ve been doing some of the dysfunctional behaviors as well. For the last two weeks I have spent time intentionally ruminating every day.

It has been awful.

No one should do this.

I am insane to do it on purpose. No one should see an insane therapist. I wonder if people think my ideas are bad. I’ve had more than a few bad ideas. I wonder how my life would be better if I hadn’t had those bad ideas. I probably would be further ahead professionally. What was I thinking with my first degree? ARG, STOP!!!!!

This is how rumination works. It pulls us into a thought spiral that is seldom constructive. In this example, I was running away with something I have already processed. In the past, I have done good work evaluating the choices I made around my professional degrees. I know where I made some mistakes and I know that largely, it was the path that made sense at the time. This rumination isn’t bringing me new insight or taking me into an important thought process. It’s just making me feel bad. I had a different topic each day, but at the end I felt a distinct heaviness of heart every time. Ruminating would lead me to new possibilities of negative implications of things that I hadn’t considered. Here are the starting and ending points of just a couple of my rumination sessions:

  • That was a rough fight with my kid >>> I should quit working
  • I’m worried about my colleague >>> I’m always on the outside
  • I can’t find a dress I like >>> I have no identity

Telling what happened in the middle would just be too embarrassing! But this is how rumination works! What intentionally practicing rumination did for me was to examine more carefully what most of us do unconsciously. I see more clearly now that rumination is a petri dish for bleakness and regret. No wonder it is a huge contributing factor for depression! I’ll leave you with this reminder from Jay Uhdinger, who wrote a handout on rumination that I give to clients, “don’t forget, you are not your thoughts! Your thoughts are just part of you and they will fade if you do not hold on to them.” In other words, you are a person who has thoughts. And if rumination teaches us anything, it is that we should be hesitant to believe everything we think.


  1. Good stuff Janice. I can’t believe you actually tried this. Those of us who do it as a bad habit should’ve warned you off!

    One question for you/idea for a future post here: do you have any suggestions for helping kids who do this? I can see it happening in our son and I’d love a few tips on how to give him some clear, succinct help. He’s old enough hat explaining the theory would help a little, but not in the depth that I’ve needed it. And he’s young enough that I think: “Gosh – if he could lick this in the next few years it’d make his adult life SO much better than mine!”

    1. Good idea, Jesse. In the meantime, I actually think that your son could begin to learn the difference between rumination and productive processing. Why not give it a shot and let me know what blocks you run into?

  2. So, how do you take the first thought and constructively work through it in a more rational process? I get the “stop the spiral”, I think. But sometimes I can’t work through without the spiral and I just have to abandon processing at all.

    1. My best practice with the initial thought is to ask yourself, “is this helpful?” or “is this helpful right now?”. If the answer is no, then defusion is best–“thank you mind for that concern, Yes we are drawn to the __________story” and then attempt to shift your attention to the present or to a specific intention. An intention may be, “to be present and stay out of mental swirls” or “to have the best day possible”. However, your thought may need your attention at some point. Then concreteness training can kick in–see blog from about a month ago called “The Language of Depression”.

  3. Great stuff, Janice.

    The photo you picked also speaks volumes. Rumination is not just a thinking pattern; it is also a BEHAVIOR. Note that the woman in the photo has completely withdrawn her attention from her 5 senses (i.e. what’s happening in the present moment), and 100% of her attention is lost in a ruminative thought stream. She is immobile and her head is literally in her hands. Apparently, bed is her favorite choice of venue for engaging in rumination (which, by the way, is a great way to feed chronic insomnia). Often, people have their favorite room or even preferred chair/couch to use in their trip to rumination land.

    Catching and interrupting this behavior can help immensely helpful. Getting out of bed, sitting in a different chair, moving your body can be anti-ruminative.

    Noticing that one is lost in the THINKING SELF and redirecting attention to the EXPERIENCING SELF (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling) is anti-ruminative. Importantly, this is NOT distraction (i.e. forcing away or suppressing unwanted thoughts). Rather, it is a repeated practice of noticing, letting go, and moving attention.

  4. Great post and wonderful dialogue below! I’d just like to say, that for what it’s worth I am thankful for whatever professional decisions led you to where you were when I met you because you and your counsel truly changed my life! So thankful for you, your gifts, wisdom, and willingness to share it with others 🙂

  5. ” This rumination isn’t bringing me new insight or taking me into an important thought process. It’s just making me feel bad. ”

    It’s like any other habit or effort to retrain a thought, recognizing it early at it’s start, you stop, you acknowledge it, you’re going the wrong way, you go in a different direction free from the weighing down, cloudy thoughts. Sometimes ya just gotta shout out loud, stop! I am free and have peace and all the promises from God are mine today, right now.

  6. Traveling home from vacation, I made a series of mistakes which lead to a wheel of our trailer falling off. This resulted in sitting by the side of the road for over 2hrs while we waited for help and the immediate expense of $215, with hundreds more to come.

    After resuming our journey, for another 4 hours I parried incessant thoughts on my stupidity as I continued driving. After 3 hours of internal wrestling peppered with some confession to my wife, prayer and apologies to my kids my thinking shifted. Why did I confess to my wife and kids? It would be easy to let them think the wheel fell off through no fault of my own, but it wasn’t true. Suffice to say, I could have been wiser. Somehow, getting my errors out in the open gave them less power over me. Hiding, magnified the guilt and perpetuated the myth, that “being stupid” would diminish me.
    Finally, my thinking shifted to one of gratitude. I was grateful the tire didn’t hit another car and harm someone, grateful we found a repair person in the middle of nowhere on Sunday afternoon and grateful we made it home with our trailer intact and grateful for people who saw my faults and forgive me anyway, to name a few.

    I expect the thoughts to return as I face additional fallout from the event because I hate to feel or look stupid. But, I will share those thoughts openly with my wife and God seeking a place of humility, rather than one of pretending I’m anything close to infallible.

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