Rumination, That Thought That Just Keeps On Giving...

Rumination is described as repeated thoughts about something that occurred or of a problem that we are trying to solve. Typically though, rumination is also about replaying a negative event arising from feelings of guilt and regret.

Ruminating over good things can be helpful as it allows us to find a solution. Conversely, ruminating as a result of guilt and/or regret is bad for us and will often lead to anxiety and/or depression.

The number one way of avoiding rumination, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, is to talk with someone about it. Why, because the longer we keep 'thinking' about something without some form of control the higher the chance that it will end in negative rumination as our brain goes into our memory to find the solution from past experience.

As we know, around 80% of our memory is of negative things which, evolutionary, was designed to keep us safe from danger.

Doing nothing is not an option when it comes to rumination. Doing nothing will only increase rumination. Research is overwhelming in the finding that socialisation, talking with others, is critical if we want to stop rumination and to move on with our life.

Socialisation is hardwired into our brains. If you want to see how socialisation operates, the next time that you are talking with a friend and in deep conversation, turn your head and look away as they are speaking. What happens, the other person stops talking or talks louder to regain your attention.

It makes no difference, apparently, who we talk to. A friend, a mentor, a spiritual adviser, a family member, or even a pet. All are helpful. I would suggest a good friend or family member because they may be able to give you both emotional support and solid advice whereas I doubt that your pet could give you any advice whatsoever. (No offence to pet lovers).

Talking may not make the problem go away but what it will do is lessen the emotional pain as it is never a good thing to hold onto negative thoughts. Holding on to negative thoughts only exaggerates them.

What if you don’t want to, or can’t talk to anyone about what you are ruminating over? There is another option described by Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book The Myths of Happiness. In very new research, it is suggested that we should go through the event in our mind as though we are seeing it through someone else’s eyes.

Sonja terms it ‘the fly on the wall’ view. According to her findings, seeing an event from a distance allows us to replay the event without rehashing the emotional connection. Replaying an event in this way has the same effect as speaking with someone.

Essentially then, a problem shared is indeed a problem halved, whether it is with another person or with ourselves viewing it from a distance.

Let’s talk!

Annoyances Are Far Worse For Us Than Major Events!

Contrary to what we might think, it is the small annoyances in our lives that have a greater negative impact than do major events. In her book The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky describes why this is so.

According to her research, when a major event happens we tend to get motivated to quickly overcome the event. Additionally, we look to others for help and support more so than we would for minor annoyances. Furthermore, we conduct increased cognitive (learning & understanding) activity in our brain after a major event such as rationalising why the event happened, what was the reason for it happening if there was one, looking on the bright side of the event, and so on.

With smaller annoyances, we tend to try and dismiss the event as insignificant, trivial, and easily moved on from. We often try to ignore the event, or think that we did so, yet later that day/evening the annoyance returns to our thoughts. We also don’t tell anyone about what happened for fear that it won’t mean anything to that person or that they may ridicule us for getting hung-up on such a little thing.

When we hold onto any negative event in our head, the thoughts of it become exaggerated due to something termed as catastrophising. It’s our brain's way of expanding the danger to bring clarity so that we can fix the issue. Unfortunately, when we catastrophise we create a reality that doesn't exist.

If the annoyance has been and gone we are left with only two options; try and dismiss it or talk to someone about the annoyance to bring balance to our thoughts. We know that trying to dismiss something that is playing on our mind generally doesn't work so we are left with talking to someone about it. The problem with doing so is that the person we are telling might say ‘You need to put a bridge over it’, or ‘Just move on’.

There is a third option that you may wish to try - “Run to the fire” - is a mantra I coach. Bring the annoyance to the fore as it occurs. Research suggests that for the majority of us, we should deal with little annoyances at the time. The old adage of ‘not sweating the small stuff’ has now been largely dismissed, particularly so if the ‘small stuff’ is playing on our mind.

So, when things don't go as planned this holiday season, 'run to the fire'., ensuring firstly that you are in control of your emotions would be my advice.

Let's talk!

Happiness, Optimism, or Positivity?

Some say that we should be happier, and we should be. Others say that it helps to be optimistic, again no questions from me, we should try to as much as possible. But where does positivity fit into things and which of the three is possibly better for us?


The state of being happy, an emotional state. Making the best of what you have rather than having the best there is. A feeling of contentment. Happiness is different for each of us, it is for me the final outcome, the fruit of our labour if you like. We cannot be happy all of the time but being as happy as we can is the best that we can hope for when times get tough. Or is it?

In her book, 'The Myths of Happiness', Sonja Lyubomirsky discusses the many factors involved in happiness. The overarching message is one that we already know, what makes one person happy may not make another person happy and it is doing more of what makes you happy that is of greatest benefit for us.

However, if you have unresolved challenges, you may need to get them sorted before you can become truly happy.


"Forever the optimist", always looking for the best in everything. It is said that optimists see the glass half full rather than half empty. Nevertheless, the glass remains with less than its total capacity. What about if we saw it as a glass that once emptied, could be refilled, because that is what it is.

Optimists, similar to those who explore happiness, are looking for the good in everything. Seldom do you hear an optimist say "Lucky we didn't die", most will say "What did I learn?"

Being optimistic may change your thoughts about a situation but it won't provide you with total control. Optimism could be viewed as hoping for the best whereas it might be better to prepare for the worst so that you increase the chances of a better outcome.

Conversely, preparing for the worst involves negative thinking, looking at what could go wrong rather than what could go right. Could this make you only look for negative things?


Positivity, similar to the above two states, goes further to involve doing things that makes us happy, steering our thoughts, and controlling or changing our emotions. Barbara Fredrickson examined positivity and found it doesn't just change the content of our minds, it also widens the span of possibilities. In her book, 'Positivity', Barbara shows us that science indicates that positivity doesn't just reflect success and health, similar to happiness and optimism, positivity also produces success and health.

Barbara lists ten forms of positivity; joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Doing any or all of these things in a meaningful way will help us greatly.

Positivity, in short, is doing what makes us happy and feeling the joy that it brings.

No matter what state you choose, happiness, optimism, or positivity, it should always be a positive one. Positivity may not be for you despite science suggesting otherwise, just trying to be happy may be enough to change you.

The challenge is though, your brain (and your mind) can tell the difference between what is genuine and what is not. A recent study found that insincere positivity puts us at risk of having a heart attack in the same way that anger does.

'Fake it until you make it' might help initially, then it is up to you to 'Make it, to make it'.

Let's talk!

Exciting Times To Get Your Brain Excited.

There have been some encouraging discoveries, developments, and confirmations in relation to how to support our mind (mental) health. Here are a few of them;

*Neuroplasticity is a good place to start. Simply described, neuroplasticity is the brains ability to form new connections, to rewire itself. If a part of the brain gets damaged, it often has the ability to form new connections, termed functional plasticity. We can also change our brain's physical structure as a result of learning, termed structural plasticity.

In his book The Secret Life of the Mind, Dr Mariano Sigman researched what predisposes our brains to change and stay changed. Heat is the answer. Simply repeating a thought over and over will not necessarily change our brains unless there is a determination (motivation) to actually make the change, when both of these work in tandem dopamine is released into our brain thus the brain becomes 'plastic' similarly to what water does to clay. Therefore, to change our brains faster for longer, it comes down to both motivation and effort.

*Epigenetics is proving to be another field of exciting development for psychology. We know that all of us are who we are from the affects of both nature (genetics) and nurture (what happens to us). Recent science, through fMRI scanning shows that we can actually turn some genes on and some off by controlling our thoughts on a specific thought. Unfortunately not all genes can be used in this way, we can't 'think' ourselves taller or to grow more hair!

*A team of engineers and physicians at the University of Southern California (USC) have recently discovered that mood variations can be decoded from neural signals in the human brain and thus by using this code, the goal is to create a technology that helps clinicians obtain a more accurate map of what is actually happening in a depressed brain at a particular moment in time. By obtaining a more objective assessment of our mood over time to guide a more directed course of treatment.

*Researchers have identified a new process in the brain that is responsible for the delayed stress response and the long-term effects of stress: with a delay of 10 minutes after the "danger" occurred, the area of the brain that reacts to stress and responsible for further action is activated via cerebral (brain) fluid. This could provide new perspectives for understanding the processes at play in post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic stress and burnout.

*Researchers are recognising more and more that the intestinal microbiota (gut microbes) affects our health. The human intestine contains tens of trillions of microorganisms and humans have developed a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria. Studies show that the intestinal microbes also influences the brain. By transferring specific microbes from the gut of a person who has had depression may help immunise others from depression. (Transferring faeces may work the same way...)

So what do all of these 'new' and encouraging discoveries, developments, and confirmations mean for the future? If we continue to advance the way that we are, brain diseases and disorders may well become less frequent and when they do occur, they can be healed much faster.

Something that is common with all of these studies that is overwhelmingly obvious, we are discovering, developing and confirming what we have always known - eating a balanced diet, exercising at least four times a week, reducing harmful habits, and having a balanced lifestyle will help us all. Furthermore, if we bring enthusiasm and effort into the mix, we increase the chances of a positive outcome.

Finally, let's not forget the huge benefits of socialisation, of talking with real people in real life. Socialisation is hardwired into us all.

Let's talk!

Depression - Caused By Our Thoughts Or A Chemical Imbalance?

Another question I get asked regularly in my resiliency coaching sessions, "Is depression caused by chemicals changing in our brain that subsequently change our thoughts, or do our thoughts change the chemicals in our brain?

Early thinking was that depression was down to a lack of mood regulation chemicals such as serotonin. The answer now is, it's not that simple. Current neuroscience suggests that while chemicals are involved in depression, it is far more complex than that.

According to the Harvard Medical School (2017), there are many possible causes of depression including not just faulty mood regulation by the brain, it is also genetic vulnerability, stressful events, medication complications, medical problems, and a few more lesser factors.

It's believed more so now that several of these forces interact to bring on depression. And, the combination that causes depression for one person may not be the same for another person. Genetics, like most things about us, is now known to play an even more important role than previously thought.

Because of advances in medical technology, it is now certain (for now at least) that three parts of the brain play a significant role in depression; the amygdala, the thalamus, and the hippocampus.

  • The amygdala, a structure deep in the brain that's associated with some emotions, is activated when a person recalls emotionally charged memories such as a frightening situation causing us to go into fight-or-flight. Activity in the amygdala is much higher when a person is sad or clinically depressed. This increased activity continues even after recovery from depression. Controlling the fight-or-flight response through breathing can reduce this activity.

  • The thalamus receives most sensory information and relays it to the appropriate part of the brain. Some research suggests that bipolar disorder may result from problems in the thalamus, which helps link sensory input to pleasant and unpleasant feelings. Studies give hope to the possibility that we may be able to change signaling within the hypothalamus to slow down the aging process and increase longevity through what we eat.

  • The hippocampus is smaller in many depressed people. Stress may be a key factor here as it is believed that stress can suppress the production of new neurons in the hippocampus. Research shows that we do have the capacity to grow new neurons above and beyond what is generally produced in our hippocampus and to make them become mature and strong within weeks and months. The best way to generate new hippocampal neurons is to exercise, both physical and mental.

There is emerging research that shows forcing ourselves to think happy thoughts may also help. We have always known that if you are having more happy thoughts than sad ones you will probably be much happier. This however, is more about your mood and is still influenced by other complexities listed above.

While neuroscience and research is advancing along with the technology used to see inside our brains, we come back to what we have always known - breathing, exercise, a good diet, and controlling our thoughts can help reduce the risk of depression.

And of course, don't forget smiling.

Let's talk!