Rumination in Depression Is Dangerous -- What to Do Instead

November 13, 2023 Natasha Tracy

Rumination can be part of depression, and it's critical to understand and recognize depressed ruminations because they can just be the start of a horrible cycle. I have experienced ruminations in depression many times, but now I recognize them and know what to do to mitigate them.

What Are Ruminations in Depression?

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), rumination involves:

"repetitive thinking or dwelling on negative feelings and distress and their causes and consequences. The repetitive, negative aspect of rumination can contribute to the development of depression or anxiety and can worsen existing conditions."1

The most important part of that definition is the last part: not only can it contribute to the development of depression, but it can actually make existing depression (or other conditions like anxiety) worse. 

The APA goes on to note that ruminations in depression make it more likely that you'll remember negative things from the past and view your current and future life negatively, too. When you ruminate in depression, you may also blame yourself for things from your past. The more you ruminate, the worse you will feel.

So, ruminations in depression are negative; they make you think about negative things, and they make you feel negatively about the future. All this negativity makes you feel hopeless and helpless. Together, this forms what I call a thought-spiral. It's a thought process that builds on itself. Negativity breeds negativity, breeds negativity. It's a cycle that's very hard to break and can endanger your very wellbeing.

When I Ruminate in Depression

I have found myself ruminating as part of depression. This is very normal and common. I can attest to the fact that it makes you feel horrible and makes you think that everything is horrible, regardless of the bright spots you may have in your life. Once you get into that thought spiral, I can also attest to how difficult it is to get out. It's no small problem for many people.

What to Do Instead of Ruminate in Depression

As I said, ruminations in depression are normal, so don't blame yourself if you find your brain going there; just work on what you can to break the cycle. The APA suggests you try these things:1

  • Distract yourself -- This is a technique I use all the time. I find that my brain is very insistent on thinking about things I don't want to think about. One of the only ways I can fight this is to distract myself. I do this by focusing on something concrete in my environment (like, say, petting a purring cat) or forcing myself to think about something without emotion associated with it.
  • Force yourself to recall positive memories --Remember, your ruminations in depression are going to be trying to make you think of negative things; counter this by forcing yourself to think of positive memories.  
  • Change your environment and get active -- Changing your environment and what your body is physically doing can influence the cycle in your brain. Change one to change the other.
  • "Chunk out" your problem -- Break your problems down into small, specific, manageable parts. Make a plan for dealing with things one small part at a time.

I tend to be very specific about thought-stopping and thought-swapping, too. Basically, I scream the word "stop" in my head (or even out loud), and then I start thinking about a predetermined, safe set of thoughts. I think of this as forcing myself to tread a well-worn path in my brain that I know is safe.

Finally, if depressed ruminations are a problem for you, always talk to your doctor or a therapist about them. There's no reason to let them win when help is available.


  1. Rumination: a cycle of negative thinking. (n.d.-b).

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2023, November 13). Rumination in Depression Is Dangerous -- What to Do Instead, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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