If you’re not familiar with how cows digest their food, and really, why would you be, they chew, then they swallow it, then they regurgitate it back up and chew it again. I won’t go into the details of bovine digestive anatomy, but suffice to say that rumination is a critical process in breaking down plant fibers and producing milk.
It’s healthy for cows. Not so much for people.
When we ruminate, we don’t do it by regurgitating and re-chewing our food. We do it with thoughts — negative thoughts.
We don’t fixate on big wins and exciting opportunities. It’s the mistakes, problems, and distressing events that we bring back up and go over in our minds. We think about these worries repeatedly, attaching negative emotions to them, and blowing them out of proportion. Epictetus captured it well when he said,
“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.”
While it feels like we’re accomplishing something with our worries, we’re only increasing our stress. By ruminating on these negative aspects, we take the worst part of our workdays and replay them in our minds in a constant loop. It worsens our mood, prevents rest and recovery, and keeps us from being fully present with our friends and family. All of which creates more stress and more opportunities for rumination.
This internal disharmony creates the vast majority of our work stress. Fixating on things we can’t control, and spending our time ruminating on negative thoughts, is much more draining than hard work. Fortunately, there are a few simple things we can do to retake control.
Interrupt the Pattern
“A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.” — Seneca
Ad Kerchof, a Dutch clinical psychologist, has worked in the field of suicide prevention for over 30 years. He found that before people attempted suicide, they would often go through a period of intense rumination. They became so depressed and overwhelmed that death began to look like their only option. In Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, Claudia Hammond explains how…