Grief has many stages. It can involve depression, worry and rumination. It involves pondering, mediating, musing, and reflecting. The focus on the over and over part. Some people call it "looping."
Both rumination and worry are about control and uncertainty. One difference is that worriers tend to see events as potentially controllable.
I have a tendency to ruminate, but am also action-oriented. I want to be a learning individual. Mindful thinking can increase self-awareness that can result in positive change. If you don't understand why something happened, and what caused it, it is harder to prevent recurrence. Acknowledging, exploring and understanding can produce helpful lessons learned. It can be a precursor to moving on.
I also think some level of short-term rumination is a natural part of the grieving process.
It becomes a serious problem when it is chronic, passive and repetitive. You get stuck or tangled in the loop. When people become embroiled in negative thoughts and guilt, it can result in a powerful downward spiral.
I just read an interesting paper called Rethinking Rumination from Perspectives on Psychological Science. (I would have called it Ruminating on Rumination.) Here are some highlights.
"...rumination is a mode of responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and on the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms. Rumination does not lead to active problem solving to change circumstances surrounding these symptoms. Instead, people who are ruminating remain fixated on the problems and on their feelings about them without taking action."
The article notes that "rumination exacerbates and prolongs distress" because it:
The paper notes that people prone to rumination claim they are trying to understand and solve their problems. In reality, this strategy doesn't work very well. They end up drained and overwhelmed. Problems appear even more unsolvable. It provides justification for hopelessness, withdrawal and inactivity. It erodes confidence in potential solutions.
However, many of the issues and events bereaved people worry or ruminate about are real. Loss of a loved one, changed financial circumstances, etc. The problem is when it becomes chronic and disabling.
The challenge is not to get stuck in rumination mode. Here are some strategies the report suggests as alternatives, and some of my own ideas. Experiments have shown mixed results, but they sound like they are worth a try! Be realistic about timing - don't expect yourself to go out and do all these things the day after someone dies.
Different things work for different people. Do what works for you.
By the way, they do NOT recommend harming yourself or others through reckless driving, escapist binge eating or drinking, or drugs! Or punching people out!
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