I have quite a few clients come to me who have trouble with rumination. Something negative happened in the past, maybe it was yesterday or maybe it was a few years ago. Sometimes no matter how hard we try we cannot stop thinking about certain things.
Common questions we ask ourselves when ruminating are “Why did I do that?” “Why did this happen to me?” “Why can’t I do anything right” “Why do I feel like this?”
Asking ourselves why so many times can make us feel angry, depressed, embarrassed, and anxious. This not only leads to rumination but can cause us to spiral out of control as we begin to hyper-focus on our distress, its causes, and the potential negative consequences. Focusing on consequences is frequently unproductive. Have you ever played the “why” game with someone to be silly and taunting? Most of us have and it’s funny because we can always keep asking why. The why’s never end. Asking “what” instead of why helps us to focus on solutions, which is more productive.
Change the questions of ‘why’ to ‘what’
I found myself ruminating last week over a scheduling error. I noticed that I was asking myself why too much. I was thinking “Why did I do this?” “Why didn’t I write the date down correctly” “Why am I so stressed and unobservant?” Thankfully, I recognized how counter-productive this was as I noticed my heart rate steadily increasing. I switched to asking myself:
“What exactly happened here?”
Well, it seems that I accidentally wrote down the event exactly a week after the correct date. I must have simply looked at the wrong box. Next time I will double-check to make sure I am writing things down in the correct box.
“What exactly is so stressful about this?”
Well, if I had not had someone remind me of the event then I would have missed it. I should check on important dates a couple of weeks ahead of time to make sure I have not gotten anything confused and plans are still on track.
“What would help me be more observant in the future?”
I could stop rushing to write things down. I tend to be so worried I will miss something important that I can end up not taking the time to think and be careful about what exactly it is that I am doing.
As you can see, asking “what” instead of “why” opens our minds and gives us the power to find solutions to our stressors rather than trapping us in our negative thoughts. We all have the power to take charge of what we ask ourselves. We can end up ruminating for so long that we waste precious time, time that could be used to better ourselves and find new opportunities for growth.
So, ask yourself, WHAT are you going to do next?
About Shelton Piland:
Shelton is a Resident in Clinical Social Work and provides services at our Fredericksburg location. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a B.A. in Sociology. She received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. Throughout her time at VCU she has worked with elementary, middle school, and high school students in the Spotsylvania Public School system. To learn more about Shelton, visit here.