Rumination is thinking (and thinking and thinking) about something upsetting, but in a passive way, without actually taking action.
Now, I bet you never thought you’d learn about taxonomy in a psychology podcast, but I promise I’ll connect the dots: animals like cows, deer, goats, and sheep belong to the suborder Ruminantia. These multi-stomached ruminants regurgitate their partially digested food and chew it again.
Likewise, ruminators chew on their thoughts, as it were, over and over and over again. Very different, but essentially the same concept. How’s that for a mental image?
What’s So Bad About Rumination?
Rumination makes people think they are working on a problem, but not only does rumination not produce solutions, it also exacerbates the problem. All that thinking takes up time and energy individuals could spend fixing the problem.
Not only that, but rumination has been found to impair problem solving skills, which makes ruminators less likely to take action on a possible solution, makes them more pessimistic about the future, and pretty much guarantees a bad mood. In fact, those who ruminate develop major depression at four times the rate of those who don’t ruminate. It’s like a hamster running frantically on a wheel, exhausting itself without actually going anywhere.