Chewing the Cud

Thoughts going round like a hamster in a cage: a huge amount of energy which gets us nowhere.

Someone upsets us and we go straight down a familiar path, which gets faster and smoother the more we use it, until it becomes the default. We get so good at it that we can run the current worry in the background, everything greyed out by familiar glum scenery.

As Kristin Neff points out, rumination on the past produces depression; on the future, anxiety. States most of us know well. So why do we do it? Why do we dwell on the negative? Simple, our brains are trying to protect us. We need to feel safe and our brains have evolved with a negative bias: it is safer to watch for the predator lion than gaze at the scenery. So our brains constantly scan like a lighthouse beam. When they spot a possble danger, they assume the worst and zip down a familiar path.

Women, because of our historical powerlessness, are more likely to ruminate – and have greater rates of anxiety and depression. I found almost the greatest help with coping with pain is to catch my thoughts and change direction. To learn to recognize a choice point where I can go down the slippery slope or look up to the sky. It was so hard at first – and so tempting to wander into misery. Such an effort turning my thought round.

Kristin Neff writes about self-compassion, which is not self-pity, but loving kindness towards yourself. The same as you would easily show a friend, but we are so hard on ourselves.

So, why not catch that hurt moment or grinding pain. Stop beating myself up or exhorting positivity, which is so exhausting. We ruminate as protection against past and future hurts. So why not consciously create a feeling of safety, soothe the anxious amygdala brain. Wrap a safe, warm feeling round me like a pashmina and as Kristin Neff suggests, hug myself or stroke an arm. The brain will be soothed. Why not be kind?


More info:

Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind by Kristin Neff, Ph.D

Amygdala – The amygdala is a brain structure responsible for autonomic responses associated with fear and fear conditioning.


About UntraveledRoads

Fascinated by life, looking for answers to chronic pain and finding unexpected gifts. Interested in people, ideas, healing and humour. I am very happily married with three children and a kitten. As English born immigrants to Canada, we have family spread overseas, a daughter in South Africa and one in England. We also run a charity in South Africa to educate black, rural South African Women. Our first girl from a rural township has just graduated as an accountant from Johannesburg University and got a good job in a bank.
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