What is bipolar rumination and how do you stop it? Have you ever been told you worry too much or that you dwell on things? Do you have issues with overthinking and problem obsessing? Has anyone ever told you that “you need to just let it go”?
If you have ever been told any of these things or have experienced the distress of repetitively thinking about something, then you probably have experienced what is known as bipolar rumination.
What is bipolar rumination?
Bipolar rumination is a common and distressing symptom of bipolar disorder. If you have bipolar disorder, you have most likely experienced it. You may refer to it by other names such as “overthinking”, getting “stuck in a loop” or “OCDing” about something, but there is an actual term for this symptom. It’s called rumination. If you struggle with rumination, I want you to know that there are things you can do to stop the cycle of repetitive thinking.
Rumination is a cognitive process that people with bipolar disorder (and other mental illnesses) often experience. It is generally described as repetitive thinking or dwelling on emotions, situations, or problems repetitively.
Bipolar rumination, in a nutshell, is when we get stuck in a repetitive loop of thinking about something. We may find ourselves repeating the same thoughts or going over something again and again, unable to let it go. Our bipolar minds may get fixated on something, and we just can’t stop thinking about it (or talking about it).
The term rumination comes from the digestive process of ruminating, or “chewing the cud”. Certain animals regurgitate (or ruminate) their food in a specialized stomach compartment before fully digesting it.
Bipolar rumination is similar. It is a mental form of regurgitation. It involves repetitively processing a particular thought or feeling, going over it again and again, almost as if we are mentally chewing on it.
Bipolar rumination can be frustrating and exhausting. It’s not only distressing and draining for the bipolar person but it can also become a source of frustration for our friends, family, or coworkers – essentially anyone who is stuck listening to our ruminating thoughts.
Rumination is one way that we regulate and process our intense emotions.
Rumination is a coping strategy that many of us with bipolar disorder engage in. While it may not seem logical to dwell on something, rumination is how we try to solve a problem or work through emotional issues. Even though it’s not the best method of solving problems or calming us down, rumination is our bipolar brain’s way of trying to process our emotions or work through something.
When something is bothering us, we will talk about it over and over again or keep replaying it in our minds. Your friends and family may get tired of listening. They may avoid answering your phone calls or respond with other non-verbal cues that they don’t want to listen to you anymore.
However, we often feel the need to talk through things out loud because talking is a way that we self-regulate. In addition to overtalking, we often struggle with oversharing. We may feel compulsive urges to tell someone something personal so that we feel understood or validated, but oversharing often makes us ruminate more. In our minds, being listened to will relieve our distress, but it unfortunately usually makes the distress worse.
Interestingly, researchers have found that rumination is linked to activity in the right hemisphere of the brain. This suggests that when we ruminate, we’re actively searching for ways to solve a problem or make a situation better. There is a purpose for rumination. Sadly, for bipolar people, we often get stuck in this process of thinking through things.
There are different theories about why people ruminate, but most agree that it’s an unconscious strategy we use to process our emotions or solve a problem.
Why do we ruminate?
We are Problem-obsessing: Sometimes bipolar people ruminate to analyze and try to find a solution to their problems or difficult situations. We may feel that if we obsessively think about a problem long enough, we will come up with a solution.
We are processing our emotions: Rumination can be a way that we process or understand our emotions. By replaying and rehashing our experiences, we try to figure out our emotions or how we feel about something.
We are raging inside: Rage issues are common in bipolar disorder. Even if you don’t express your rage in temper tantrums or outbursts, you may feel rage internally. When we ruminate we often have internal conversations about what we are angry about. Some people with bipolar disorder may express their rage outwardly, others may experience it through physical symptoms like headaches or pain.
We lack closure: Unresolved issues or emotions can cause us to ruminate. When we lack a sense of closure, we may repeatedly rethink the situation in our minds, hoping to find peace or closure.
We are perfectionists and self-critical: Bipolar people often have issues with overachieving, and perfectionism or are self-critical. We may ruminate by dwelling on mistakes or perceived failures by constantly replaying them in our minds.
We feel out of control: Rumination can be a response to feeling out of control. Because the disorder can sometimes cause us to act impulsively, we may subsequently ruminate about our behavior or what was said. By mentally replaying events, we may be trying to work through feelings of regret or remorse or trying to understand how we could have handled things differently.
We have anxiety: Rumination is often associated with anxiety disorders and not just bipolar disorder. When people have anxiety, they may ruminate about negative feelings or obsessively worry about a situation. This can create an anxiety loop, where their thoughts keep circling around, intensifying their anxious feelings.
Bipolar rumination is linked to pain and other physical symptoms
Bipolar disorder is a complex condition that affects both our physical and emotional well-being, and we are only beginning to understand it. For those of us who struggle with bipolar disorder, rumination can be a significant issue that can take a toll on our mental health and our physical well-being.
When we ruminate or constantly dwell on negative emotions, it can drain us of our attention and focus, cause cognitive issues, and impact our ability to interact with others. Frequent rumination can trigger a distress response in our bodies, leading to physical symptoms that include headaches and migraines, back pain, muscle tension, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, low energy, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, or difficulty sleeping.
Recent research suggests that rumination not only affects us psychologically but can also result in long-term physiological stress on our bodies. Some studies have found associations between rumination and higher blood pressure, elevated cortisol levels, and a higher risk of heart disease. Scientists are also exploring the potential link between rumination and inflammation, although more research is needed in this area. Still, the evidence indicates that rumination is connected to somatic symptoms and body pain.
Repeated experiences of rumination can have a significant impact on your bipolar disorder and your overall health. It can:
- Increase or prolong your depressive or manic episodes.
- Decrease your attention span and cognitive abilities.
- Exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
- Cause insomnia or disrupt your sleep patterns.
- Elevate your stress levels.
- Lead to physical manifestations of pain, such as tension myositis syndrome.
- Increase your risk of immune system dysfunction and inflammation.
- Increase your risk of substance abuse disorders and alcoholism.
- Increase your risk of heart disease.
So, how do you stop the cycle of bipolar rumination?
Understanding what rumination is and the effect it has on the body is great, but how do you stop doing it? I couldn’t tell you how many times people have told me to stop overthinking, to stop oversharing, or to stop dwelling on things. Yes, I get it! I know it’s annoying and bad for my health, but how do you stop doing it?
One of my goals for Girl with Blue Energy is not just to describe the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but also to help you (and me) to manage the symptoms better. So let’s get into what you can do to break the cycle of ruminating thoughts.
In a study published in the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, researchers found that mindfulness can be an effective strategy for breaking free from ruminative thinking. The study’s authors explain that “by becoming increasingly aware of automatic maladaptive cognitive processes and learning to decenter and disengage from them, patients prevent themselves [from entering] a vicious cycle of ruminative thinking that could otherwise aggravate symptoms of depression”
Practicing mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment and being aware of how you feel and what’s happening in your body. When you feel yourself ruminating, pay close attention to your thoughts and emotions, and what symptoms you are feeling in your body. Don’t judge your feelings. If you feel angry or embarrassed, that’s okay.
One way to practice mindfulness is by naming your emotions and describing them without criticizing yourself for how you should or shouldn’t feel. After that, practice letting those emotions go.
When you notice that you’re ruminating, understand that it’s simply your brain processing emotions and thoughts. You can consciously disengage from the cycle. Gentle self-talk can be the easiest way to disengage. For example, I might say to myself, “Hey Patty, you’re ruminating again. What can you do to stop this cycle?”
Then, I will think about why I am ruminating, and what I can do to stop. Once I recognize that I am ruminating and why, I can break the cycle by intentionally directing my mind to something else.
Personally, just recognizing that my bipolar brain is engaging in rumination helps me break free from it.
When you find yourself ruminating, one of the most effective ways to shift your focus away from those obsessive and repetitive thoughts is to get your mind onto something else. It’s important to choose an activity that requires concentration, as it helps break the pattern of rumination.
For me, watching TV is not a good distraction. I just drift off into my head and start ruminating again. Plus, binge-watching television or distracting yourself with a bowl of ice cream isn’t exactly the healthiest way to deal with your emotions.
Here are some ideas for healthy distractions:
Tap into your creativity: Try activities like drawing, painting, knitting, crocheting, writing, or scrapbooking. These creative outlets can capture your attention and help redirect your thoughts.
Play games: Play board games, card games, or other games that require concentration. They provide a fun way to divert your mind from rumination and give your brain a mental challenge.
Read a book: Reading requires focus and immersing yourself into a good book can take your mind off of your current situation. It’s a healthy way to distract yourself from ruminating
Learn something new: This could be as simple as following a YouTube tutorial or reading a book on something you’ve been wanting to learn. Learning keeps your mind occupied and helps shift your focus away from rumination.
When you find yourself in a pattern of ruminating, stop and consciously take a few deep breaths. Deliberate slow and deep breathing can be an effective method for halting a rumination cycle. By focusing on your breath, you redirect your attention away from your repetitive thoughts and into your breathing.
Take slow, deep breaths, feeling the cool oxygen enter through your nostrils, and filling your abdomen with air. Then, slowly release your breath as you exhale. Concentrate on each breath and pay attention to how you feel as you breathe in and out. This simple technique helps to calm your mind and relax and interrupts the cycle of rumination.
Keep a journal
Journaling has always been a tool for managing my bipolar disorder. It provides me with a safe place to process my thoughts and emotions, and also an outlet so that I’m not constantly “venting it out” to someone. Sometimes just the act of writing down my emotions helps me process them.
However, I have found that using a journal as a venting tool, can be counterproductive and just becomes another way for me to ruminate about a problem. Rather than simply writing about what’s bothering me, or what I’m overthinking about, I write about my experience of rumination. Ask yourself questions like why am I ruminating about this? How does it make me feel when I think about this? Or when I talk about this to others? What can I do to feel better about the situation?
When we write about our rumination, we can explore what’s triggering us, and identify what emotions are causing us to ruminate. Journaling also provides a safe space to process and release our emotions, allowing us to let go of emotions that are not serving us. By journaling regularly, we can release negative emotions and stress to break the cycle of rumination.
Exercise to relieve stress and stop bipolar rumination
We all know that exercise is good for our health, but when we’re caught up in ruminating over our problems, it’s often the last thing on our minds. Still, it’s no surprise that exercise can have a remarkable impact on our mood and help us break free from the cycle of rumination. We’ve all had that friend who simplifies our distress by saying, “Hey why don’t you take a walk?” As annoying as this may sound, it actually works!
Rumination hinders our ability to think constructively or focus on our life goals. When we find ourselves trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts and obsessive problem-solving, it prevents us from having productive ideas. That’s where exercise helps. Even a single session can uplift our mood and improve our executive function. This can break the cycle of ruminating thoughts.
In a study involving 129 inpatient psychiatric patients, published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers observed the effects of a single exercise session on the participants’ well-being. The findings demonstrated that exercise led to improved mood, attention, and social interaction while reducing rumination and tiredness.
I have been meditating since I was twenty, but I have recently discovered a new tool that has been incredibly helpful. I listen to self-hypnosis audios. They provide suggestive affirmations that integrate into your subconscious when you listen to them. It may sound a little hokey, but research on hypnosis and mindfulness practices suggests that it can be beneficial in treating rumination and depression.
I’ve found them helpful not only in breaking free from rumination but also in letting go of others’ energy, as well as tension, and pain. I’ve found that just twenty minutes of listening to self-hypnosis audios leaves me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. I particularly love Dr. Alexandria Saunders’ self-hypnosis audios because they are female-focused and help me feel more empowered. They help me to release any blocks that may be contributing to my negative thought patterns. It’s a practice I highly recommend exploring if you struggle with rumination, overthinking, or overtalking.
Practice Self-Care and Self-Compassion Daily
Self-care is critical for people with bipolar disorder. Spending time on exercise, meditation, and self-love can help prevent rumination from taking over. It’s also important to be gentle with ourselves when we find ourselves caught up in rumination. I can’t stand it when I get stuck in that cycle. When it happens, I end up feeling guilty about it and I will literally ruminate about ruminating. See the dilemma? In order to let go of the emotions that cause us to ruminate, we have to love ourselves and forgive ourselves when our minds don’t cope with things the way we would like.
Dealing with bipolar disorder is tough, and rumination is just one of the symptoms we deal with. If you find yourself stuck in a loop of ruminating thoughts, give yourself credit for recognizing it and breaking free. Take some time for self-care, whether it’s enjoying a relaxing bath, getting some exercise, meditating, or simply taking a moment to breathe deeply. These simple acts of self-care can make a difference and help you not to get stuck in negative coping strategies like rumination.
Bipolar friends, Do you Struggle with Bipolar Rumination?
If you’re reading my blog, let me know what you think in the comments (either on my post or on my YouTube video). Do you struggle with bipolar rumination? Did you know it had a name? Do you find any of my tips helpful? Do you have any tips of your own? I’d love to include any tips that others find helpful in managing bipolar rumination. Let me know what you think!