Have you ever heard of the term rumination? It is something that a cow does when it chews its foods over and over again. Even though we depressives are not cows, we tend to do the same thing with our thoughts. And these thoughts tend to be negative. So harmful is this habit that people who ruminate too much find it very difficult to recover from depression, no matter what else they do to get better. So says Stephen Illardi in his book The Depression Cure.

Have you ever caught yourself going over same thought over and over again. Perhaps it was the breakup of your marriage or another major loss. Perhaps it was a bad decision you made about your career or an investment that went south. Ruminating over and over again reinforces the same sad feelings and digs you deeper and deeper into a ditch that it is hard to get out of. If you find yourself excessively I have good news. There is a simple two=step process that you can use to break the habit.. and the second is learning how to redirect your focus to some other activity.

Step 1 is learning to notice when you are ruminating. Increasing your awareness of rumination begins by checking in with yourself every hour or to monitor your thoughts and see what you have been paying attention to. You can do this by setting a timer on your ? or one in the house to ring once an hour, and then make a note of what you are thinking about. You can also write down what you have been doing, noticing how much time is spent ruminating and then rating your negative mood on a 1-10 scale. For example, if you spent 50 minutes in lying in bed, your mood might be an 8, while having tea with a friend would score as a three out of ten.

This leads us to step two, which is based on a simple but powerful fact—that people tend to ruminate and feel the worst when they have nothing else to occupy their attention.  

The antidote to this is to redirect your attention and turn away from the inner world of thought and memories to the outer world of other people and activities. Simply put this means less thinking and more doing. And the best activities are those that involve other people, For there is something about the presence of another person that makes the person less likely to turn inward. Now we can see what the depressed person’s tendency to isolate and withdraw–is so counterproductive. Because not having people to connect to amplifies the rumination process, and in turn makes the depression worse. Activities with other people could involve walking with a friend, seeing a movie, going on a bike ride, etc.  Other ways of turning your attention outward include listening to music or books on tape, watching videos, or playing with children.

Distractions such as these can be very helpful.  Normally, we think of distraction in negative terms; an example is the title of the book about attention deficit disorder called Driven to Distraction. But when it comes to taking your mind off  mental obsessions that can lead you down the rabbit hole of hopelessness and despair, distraction is a very good coping strategy. The exception to this is if you are using distraction to avoid engaging in positive coping strategies such as going to the gym or working on a job resume. In these cases, the best thing to do is to push through the resistance and engage in those tasks that you know are going to promote your mental health recovery.