Rumination Breaker exercises

The Rumination Breaker

Rumination, the trance-like repetitive negative thinking that depressed individuals suffer and a major contributor to depression, is especially problematic when it happens prior to sleeping at night. When rumination occurs prior to bedtime, it often causes “over dreaming”. Here the dreamer dreams much more than usual and robs himself or herself of sound and restful sleep.

Dreams are valuable for integrating ruminations, worry, and unintegrated emotional material. When we dream we don’t sleep soundly. Unsound sleep leads to waking in the middle of the night or too early in the morning. This compounds depression and makes for increased tiredness and lethargy. This in turn will create more rumination which will increase depression. Ruminations contain a wealth of distorted thoughts like negative self-labeling, all-or-nothing-thinking, shoulding, horrible-izing, and can’t stand it-itis. The Rumination Breaker, in breaking down and integrating ruminative trances, combines:
An emotional writing exercise that integrates ruminative emotions and distorted thinking.

A method for recognizing and desensitizing specific thought distortions common to rumination.

A replacement pattern of positive memories to start a climb back to a good mood.

Warning: Folks with a history of mental illness, PTSD, or panic are urged not to use these techniques without a therapist. If you decide to do these processes you will agree to absolve the webmaster, the webhost,, and Steve Mensing of any responsibility for the application or misapplication of these processes. There is always in any process the possibility that someone could experience some discomfort.

Steps to the Rumination Breaker

  1. Write out your ruminations on paper or write them out on your computer. Write them free form without any attempt to censor them. Let them come bubbling out. Describe completely how you feel and think. Leave no stone unturned.

    2. In your brief emotional writing process pay close attention to any thought distortions you find in your emotional writing. Learn to recognize these common distortions. Either question the beliefs or write the beliefs out over and over while you’re in a relaxed and neutral state. This activity, like the Belief Repeater Process, will desensitize the emotional charge on these distorted beliefs and help break the rumination cycle. If you want to use the Belief Repeater Process, instead of writing the distortions out, use the link to the left. A list of the most common ruminative distortions will be posted below.

    3. Finish by recalling 10 to 12 very pleasant memories from your past. These may come from your school days, friends, family, work, favorite hobbies, or any other area of your life. Just recall these good times from start to finish. This will conclude the last step of the process.

Checklist for Common Ruminative Distortions

Language and its meaning is highly important in creating our emotional reactions and sensations. Cues that we are employing distorted and upsetting thoughts can be found in depressing evaluations. Automatic & habitual, depressing evaluations occur without reason or reflection. Here is a checklist of words and phrases we use in absolutistic and upsetting ruminations:

Awfulizing: Here we make inconveniences or discomfort into disasters, catastrophes, something awful, horrible, or terrible. When awfulizing we fail to notice the positive or the neutral in our experience. Awful, horrible, and terrible generally imply 100% negative experiences. Very few experiences are fully awful. Believing a situation is awful will make it feel that way. Most so-called awful experiences could be made much worse. If you awfulize, you could see your experience as “inconvenient”, a “hassle”, or “uncomfortable”. “Difficult” & “tough” also work better.

Typical awfulizing words: “awful”, “horrible”, “terrible”, “disaster”, “holocaust”, “the worst”, “doom”, “total hell”, “catastrophe”, “the pits”.

To test your situation to see if it is really awful–ask the following questions:
Does feeling awful actually prove the situation is awful?
Does your belief create your feelings of awfulness or horribleness?
If you believed the event was inconvenient, would you feel differently?
Is there anything positive or neutral in your situation? A valuable learning experience?

How long will your situation last? Can you cope with it?
How is a disadvantage or inconvenience awful?
Could this situation be made much worse?
How does your difficulty compare with: (1) Being roasted slowly? (2) Dying gradually and agonizingly from a rare disease? (3) Seeing loved ones paraded into slavery? (4) Being tortured slowly by aliens from another galaxy?
Is your situation truly awful or is it an inconvenience?

Can’t Stand It-Itis: Here we use evaluations like: “I can’t stand it.” “It’s too much.” “I can’t take it.” “It’s driving me out of my mind.” “It’s overwhelming me.” “When will this ever stop?” With these phrases we make uncomfortable and frustrating circumstances into unbearable ones. “Can’t stand it-itis” resides at the core of impatience and frustration intolerance. If you’re doing something that better be done and you feel extremely frustrated, you might think: “I can stand it.” “It’s not too much.” “I can take it.” “I can hang in there.” “I’ve stood it before.” “Much of life is challenging–I can put up with it.”

Typical can’t stand it-itis phrases are: “I can’t stand it.” “I can’t take it. ” “This’s driving me crazy.” “I’m being overwhelmed.” “When will this ever end?” “This’s killing me.” “I’m going out of control.” “Life should be easy.”

See if you can really stand your situation by answering these questions:
Could you stand it? Have you stood it before?
Have you coped with a similar situation?
Could you stand it for 2 million dollars or some other valued reward?
If your brain is healthy–can you really go crazy or would you just get upset?
Have you ever lived without it?
Where’s the evidence that it’s too much?
Can you stand it for a minute at a time?

Shoulding: Here we elevate desires and preferences into arbitrary and ironclad laws such as shoulds, musts, oughts, got to’s, and deserves. Shoulding offers us little choice, creates pressures, and leads to anger, guilt, and shame. With shoulds we create new rules and play Jehovah with ourselves and others. If we are shoulding, we better use: “want”, “prefer”, “desire”, “would strongly like”, or “better do”.

Understand that everything is always as it should be. You may not enjoy the present, yet you better accept the idea that everything required to create current reality was done. The present shouldhave occurred as it is now.

It is unrealistic and playing God to believe that reality should not have happened the way it happened. Reality is as it exists. Every prerequisite was met. To demand “it” should not have taken place will upset you and buy you 2 problems for the price of 1. And by demanding “it” should not have occurred, you fail to accept what happened.

If we don’t like the present, we may alter it if possible and prevent what occurred from happening in the future.

Reasonable “shoulds” refer to current reality and can be observed clearly by others. Unreasonable “shoulds” are based on the idea that things should occur because we demand they do. Not based on present observations, unreasonable shoulds are often grounded in the notion that what is correct for us is right for everyone. Example: Mensing’s truths should work for everybody.

Typical should phrases: “I should.” “They must.” “The world ought.” “I’ve got to.” “They have to.” “They deserve.”

To test your “should” laws & rules–ask the following questions:
What law in the universe says you must or they should?
What evidence is there that you or they must or should?
Who or what creates this commandment?
Would a want or a preference give you or them more of a choice?
How would you talk a friend out of this must or should?
Where is it written that what you want, you must get?

Labeling: Here we overgeneralize with the “verb to be” about ourselves, others, things, events, & the world. Example: “I’m no good.” “I’m worthless.” “I’m a failure.” “They are slobs.” “New York is a totally sick place.” “Everything is no good.” By overgeneralizing with “labeling” we, they, or it becomes one behavior, trait or quality. Example: I failed a geometry test–I’m a failure. Or they behaved badly–they are bad.

Sometimes we might label the world, things, and events with an overgeneralized tag. Example: Philadelphia is a snake pit. Or my job is the pits. Obviously Philadelphia and jobs contain far more than negative qualities. If we label, it is better to choose labels that carry the notion that we and everything in this world are multi-faceted and contain many, many positive, neutral, and negative qualities.

Recommended labels for the self: “I’m a multi-faceted person.” “I’m a person with many positive, neutral, and some negative qualities.” “I’m human with a wide range of qualities.” These labels apply to others as well.

Recommended labels for things, events, and the world: “It is multi-faceted.” “It has many positive, neutral, and negative qualities.”

If you are labeling, ask yourself the following questions:
Do you have millions of traits & behaviors?
How can you just be one or a few traits & behaviors?
Can you choose not to rate yourself by a gross overgeneralization?
Is viewing yourself as just one or a few traits an overgeneralization?
List some of your many positive & neutral traits & behaviors.
Is it arbitrary to assign points to a trait or a behavior? How many points do you get added or subtracted for fallen arches?

Absolutizing: With this challenge we employ words like always, never, all the time, forever, totally, continually, not ever, eternally, unceasingly, absolute, incessant, completely, entire, whole, and unrelenting. Absolutizing words mean 100% of the time with no exceptions. Often these words are linked to anger, depression, and impatience. Example: Victor is “never” on time. Or Sally “always” gets it wrong. If we are absolutizing we better use more accurate words like: “frequently”, “infrequently”, “sometimes”, “often”, “a good deal of the time”, “every once in awhile”, “intermittently”, and “partially”. These words lead to less upsetting emotional responses.

If you are absolutizing, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this happen sometimes, frequently, or even infrequently?
What percentage of the time does this occur?
Is it really the entire situation or just a part or a percentage of it?
You mean always, in every single instance?
Does it ever stop? Has it ever stopped before?

Overgeneralizing: Here several instances of a category are seen as an entire category. Overgeneralizing comes in two basic flavors. (1) An event happens and we conclude it will occur again & again. Example: I got fired, I’ll always be fired. (2) You evaluate yourself, another person, or the world by one or a few traits. Example: I got rejected, I’m a reject.

If you overgeneralize, focus on: (1) Frequency of occurrence. This will give you a more realistic view. (2) That you recognize everything and every person possesses positive, neutral, and negative qualities.

Here are some questions you can ask:
Are you or they just one trait or several, or many like most people?
Just because it happened once before, does it follow that it will ALWAYS happen?
How often does this happen?

Viewing Only the Negative: This mindset has us seeing only the negative while filtering out the positive. Example: My wife did 7 really helpful things for me today, yet I only recall her failure to take a message when someone called.

If you sometimes view only the negative, practice looking at what good or neutral things are happening in your life. You may want to make daily lists for several weeks to remind yourself of what is positive and neutral.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

Did positive or neutral things happen?
If someone else was watching this situation, what positive or neutral things might they notice?

Black & White Thinking: Events are seen in black & white only with no neutral shades of gray. Or we see either/or situations, all or nothing, or one way or the other. These kinds of thinking signal we are not recognizing middle grounds, gray zones, average, or neutral areas. Most events don’t occur in black or white or all-or-nothing terms without middle grounds. A black & white thinking example: If he’s not a good guy, then he’s a crook. Or if my performance wasn’t great, then it stunk.

If your thinking sometimes goes to blacks & whites, look at average, middle grounds, neutral, and gray areas.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
Is there something average going on here?
Do you notice a middle ground?
How about a gray area?

Gut Thinking: Here you base your evidence on your surface feelings. Feelings can be as distorted as the beliefs, images, and thoughts creating them. Feelings are not facts nor are they deeper intuitions. Your feelings mirror your attitudes and if your attitudes are distorted, you can guarantee your evidence will also be distorted. Example: I feel in my bones this isn’t going to be my year. Or I feel like I’m going to get assassinated if I go to next week’s Shriner’s meeting.

Examples of gut thinking:
I feel stupid.
It feels like nothing will ever change.

If you tend to gut think, check out the beliefs & images behind your feelings. Look at the evidence.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Because something feels true or real, does that make it true or real?
Where’s the evidence that because something feels real, that it is real?

Expanding: Here we exaggerate small weaknesses or defects. Example: Making an error on the spelling bee was a disaster! Or my left nostril is slightly larger than the other–it destroys my face.

If we expand, let us look at these deficiencies in the light of the larger context and accept what we can’t change. Let us take into consideration what works and what is positive.

Here are questions to ask yourself:
Is this an exaggeration?
Am I making this larger than it actually is?
How might others view this?

Contracting: Here we minimize assets or diminish the positive. Example: Winning the Super Bowl 3 years straight was nothing much. Or sure she’s brainy, but she never uses it.

If we contract the positive, let us accept what is positive and enjoy it.
Am I minimizing what I do?
How might others view this?

Permanent Conditions: Taking a temporary or time limited situation and transforming it into a permanent condition. Examples: “I lost my job–I’ll never work again.” “She shot my proposal down–I’ll never be married.”

Questions to ask yourself:


Isn’t this a time-limited situation?
Is this a failure or is it feedback about my progress?
How permanent is this situation?
Could things change?

After you’ve identified Distorted Thinking, click here for the Belief Repeater.  The Belief Repeater Method (BRM) is based on the observation that if you repeat distorted and self-defeating beliefs over and over while experiencing neutral emotional states, the belief loses its emotional support and believability.


Use the VOC Scale to check the believability of your self-defeating or distorted belief: To use the scale properly, do an intuitive read on the belief.  Click here to view the VOC (or Validity of Cognition) scale.

Tips on the Rumination Breaker

Make sure you’re well hydrated.

Never practice the Rumination Breaker in bed or places where you like to feel comfortable.

Learn self-acceptance. See the Self-Acceptance Learn-in.

Eat well, practice good sleep habits, and exercise. All contribute to defeating rumination.

Walking, running, and other aerobic exercise can break up rumination.


Use the Dive Reflex to help breakup rumination.  The Dive Reflex is listed in the left hand column.
When rumination occurs, step back from the thoughts through labeling them “Those thoughts”, neutrally observe them, and let them be. They will often die down through this mindful exposure.

Learn to immediately redirect your attention to some other activity which provides importance, meaning, or pleasure.

Hang out with friends, or call friends on the phone.

Do the Left-Hemisphere Mood Elevator found on the Techniques A to Z page. This exercise consists of right nasal dominance breathing, looking to the extreme right while your head is turned left, and tightening the right side of your face. This exercise leads to mood elevation.


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