“Hell is an endless, hopeless conversation with oneself” ~Dante’s description of rumination (in a biography of Churchill)
People who do this know exactly why Dante describes rumination this way. When I get caught up in a ruminative spin, I am only half experiencing my current activities and half of my energy is swirling in whatever unanswerable question that’s plaguing me that day. The spins are different for everyone, “how will I ever get all my work done?” “why am I like this?” “why does my boss hate me?” “what am I going to do about my miserable marriage?”. But the outcome is clear—rumination does one thing and one thing only—it negatively impacts one’s mood.
So why do we do it? Sometimes our mental spinning can reveal an underlying question that actually needs our attention. BUT, spinning all day on the question is not the type of attention that really gets you anywhere. What I suggest is that you process the important questions of your life ON YOUR OWN TERMS. What I mean by this is that you address the important questions that are tempting you to ruminate when you are rested, grounded, and focused. Set a timer for 30 minutes and really concentrate on the question. Give it your best, most creative effort for those 30 minutes and then stop for the day. When you notice yourself tempted to spin on it later in the day, remind yourself that you will be working on that question on your own terms at a better time and return your attention to what you are doing. You may need to keep pulling your attention back to your life a lot, but each time you do, you are creating a new neural pathway in your brain—the pathway of non-rumination. It will be worth it!
So, go get that timer out and add productive processing to your repertoire. Rumination isn’t getting you anywhere.