Dec 08

Rumination: How Depression Speaks to Us

By Vickie | Uncategorised

Do you ever find yourself lost in rumination?

What I was 34 I fell in love with a fella at the place where I was doing some voluntary work.

I filled an entire A4 exercise book with my thoughts and feelings about this bloke, blow-by-blow accounts of what happened each time I saw him and what he said to me and how I reacted, minutiae of my feelings about what was happening, what had already happened, what could happen in the future.

On and on and on.

I was attempting to build a bricks and mortar business, out of money, volunteering at a refugee centre (which sounds very altruistic but was rather foolish as I had no money and should have been focussing on my business) and obsessing about this bloke.

I was depressed.

And I was doing something very dangerous.

Ruminating. rumination

Rumination disengages you with what is really going on in life.

I spent hours wallowing in my thoughts and feelings, and not only about that fella.

Day after day I moped and brooded, languished in my own misery, pined, grieved and generally felt very, very bad.

“Why didn’t I have any money? Why did I live in such a crap house? Why couldn’t I get more clients? Why was I always feeling just a bit panicked? Why was I always dissolving in tears? Why wasn’t I married? Why couldn’t I get a grip? Why was life so bad? What’s wrong with me? Why am I such a loser?

Why couldn’t I just feel better?”

On and on and on.


So what is rumination exactly?

It’s a nasty, nasty habit which can lead to depression and can maintain our experience of depression over a long period of time. It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s say you’re not depressed, but something has happened, an unpleasant situation at work, the stress of an illness, an unexpected accident of some kind. You’re feeling bad. rumination

Rumination: it can be hard to turn off the endless cycle of thoughts.


You begin to go over and over in your mind how this could have happened.

“I should have spoken up about it…I should have said…why did this happen to me?  What did I do to cause this? Why is he so horrible to me? What if ….doesn’t get better?”

Your mood drops. You begin to feel consumed by this issue and it spreads to the way you feel about other aspects of your life and yourself.

But doesn’t everyone think about things that are going on in their life? Isn’t it normal?

Yes, it’s absolutely normal to think through problems. Our marvellous brains use thinking processes to help us sort through problems and find solutions. We use our cognitive abilities to consider different aspects of a difficult situation and decide on different methods and approaches which we believe might help.

In non-depressed people, thinking is used to find solutions, or to work towards solutions which for complex problems may take weeks or months, but we use our cognitive skills to set goals and set action plans to move towards those solutions.

In depressed people, the amount of value generated through rumination is quite low. Rumination does not push us to identify solutions. Rumination is fixation on the problem as a problem, not as a challenge which needs a solution.

Rumination is quite disempowering. We flounder, lost and drowning in our own thoughts. Our thinking is not clear, logical or solution-focussed. We are lost in the emotion of the situation, unable calm our feelings so that we can concentrate to finding a way out.

What do we ruminate about?

Rumination is quite generalised and abstract.

We may ruminate on past events and conversations, going over and over not only what happened or what was said, but also on what we believed was meant by the other person or event.

For example, a colleague did not spend the usual few minutes chatting with you in the tea room. You decide it means they no longer like you, that you are not worth knowing, that you are horrible, that maybe nobody likes you at work, that you are doing a bad job, that maybe they are going to sack you, and so on.

Maybe your colleague was just running late for a meeting and intended to chat with you at lunch time.

We may ruminate on our low mood. How did I get like this? Why can’t I get moving in the morning? rumination

Rumination stifles us. It stops us from thinking in different ways, getting a different perspective.morning? Why don’t I have any energy? Why do I cry so much? Why do I get angry so much? Why do I feel pressure in my face muscles, tension around my eyes, a sick feeling in my stomach? What’s wrong with me?

We may ruminate about our Selves, our character and our perceived flaws. Why am I such a loser? I’m hopeless, pathetic, no-good, useless, waste of space.

So what’s happening in the brain when we ruminate?

Parts of the brain which are involved in rumination are the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and the anterior cingulate. Studies have shown that these regions of the brain are active when we ruminate.

The prefrontal cortex is the centre of brain’s planning and decision-making circuit and is a large region that sits behind the forehead. Our motivation and decision-making originate in the prefrontal cortex.

However, when we are experiencing chronic and profound despair, it is also a source of problematic thinking such as worrying, guilt, shame, indecisiveness and ‘fuzzy-headedness’.

The amygdala and anterior cingulate are part of the limbic system and are located deep in the brain. This is the brain’s emotional centre and is where feelings such as excitement, fear, anxiety, memory and desire emerge. In particular, the amygdala is responsible for anxiety and the anterior cingulate is concerned with focus and our ability to pay attention.

You can see how, when you have a very low mooc, an overly active amygdala will create a very emotional reaction to a situation, and problems with functions in the prefrontal cortex with affect how clearly you can make decisions.

In 2010, researchers at Stanford University looked at the difference in activity in the brains of people who had been diagnosed with depression and those who were not depressed. The participants were asked to think about different topics, such as ‘What people notice about my personality’, ‘a row of shampoo bottles on display at the supermarket’.

The first question was designed to cause rumination. Pondering this question produced greater activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex of the people with depression than in the non-depressed participants.

What that means is that the rumination of emotionally disordered people is quite an emotional activity rather than logical or solutions-focussed. Also, the increased activity in amygdala mean that those emotions tend to be negative. Finally, malfunction in the prefrontal cortex means that decisions around problems are difficult to reach.[1]

Stopping rumination

The regions of the brain need to be exercised to maintain their effectiveness. To engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, we need to practice decision-making, which of course is quite difficult in chronic low mood because rumination gets in the way. “What’s the right thing to do? I can’t even think straight let alone make decisions”.

Depending on the subject of your rumination, make a decision to find out if what you’re thinking is actually true or not. Recall the example above in which your work colleague didn’t stop to chat at the water cooler or staff kitchen.

Could you decide that next time you see your colleague you give him or her a big smile and ask how they are? Don’t mention how their behaviour affected you. You are just testing your theory that they don’t like you anymore. If your colleague returns your greeting warmly, you have just proved yourself wrong and short-circuited the negative emotions in your brain.

The first step in stopping ruminating is to notice when it’s happening. Set an alarm to go off, say, every 30 or 60 minutes. Sit for a short time and reflect on what you have been thinking about. Were you ruminating?

Then, take action to distract yourself from that train of thought. Take a deep breath, practice mindfulness, go for a walk and observe what you see around you, have a chat with a friend or do some exercise.

Ruminating is a dangerous downward spiral into low mood and depression. It can keep you down. Stopping rumination is a very powerful and essential strategy in feeling better.

Start noticing your rumination habit and make defeating it a priority today.


[1] Cooney, RE, Joormann, J, Eugene, F, Dennis, E and Gotlib, IH, “Neural correlates of rumination in depression”, in Cognitive and  Affective Behavioural Neuroscience. 2010 December ; 10(4): 470–478. doi:10.3758/CABN.10.4.470.

Save depression treated
Nov 17

Can Depression Be Treated?

By Vickie | Uncategorised

Short answer: yes. Yes, depression can be treated.

“I am happy that I found some help, because every day life is getting easier, and I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel”. 

“Hope takes real courage, but I know that hope for a happier, brighter, more contented tomorrow, keeps me smiling!”

These are quotations (edited) from depression forums which show that depression can be treated and that there is hope¹.


Treating depression is not an easy road and sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin.

One place to start is to look at what you think about depression.

Do you believe depression is ‘all in the mind’? That is, it’s caused and maintained by the way you think and feel?

Or do you believe that depression is a physical illness, like catching a cold or developing diabetes?

One thing is for sure…depression is complex.

It sits at the junction of ‘mind’ (how we think) and ‘brain’ (the mechanics of thinking and many other things). treated depression

How we believe depression is can affect what we choose to do to relieve the symptoms can maintain our depression symptoms.

So if you think of depression as purely physiological, you may think the only treatment is medication.

However, recent statistics show that the number of people on antidepressant medication is climbing, yet the rate of diagnosis of depression is also climbing!

If you believe that depression is caused only by your thoughts then that is bordering on believing that depression is your fault. Change your thoughts, change your depressive symptoms, yes?

Well, possibly, but more likely, depression is both in the body and of the mind.

Changing your thoughts may assist with changing the brain’s mechanics, helping you feel better.

But you can also change the brain’s mechanics in other ways, like taking more exercise, getting better sleep, enjoying social activities, practicing mindfulness and relaxation.

These types of activities have been shown to have as much of a positive impact on the brain’s mechanics as medication.

To treat depression effectively, we need to see the mind and brain as interconnected and able to exert influence on each other. It’s helpful to see ourselves as a whole being, with a powerful ability to change our mood.

Depression straddles both the mind and the body. It seems that what we think about our depression is very important to how effective the strategies we choose to use will be. depression treated

We can impact our brain’s circuitry with our experiences and our thoughts.

The areas and circuits of the brain which are affected by depression can be positively influenced to give the person some relief, temporarily at first but then more long-lasting from the symptoms of depression.

This positive influence comes from experiences and thoughts which change the brain’s mechanics to relieve symptoms.

The problem begins with whether the person struggling with depression is able, despite their illness, to do the activities which can cause these positive changes.

And this is where the blame-game comes in.

Many people with depression report that their friends and loved ones urge them to ‘snap out of it’ or suggest they are lazy, just a bit sad, or not willing to ‘make an effort’.

This kind of response comes from a place of ignorance both of the condition and the effect is has upon a person. While this response is not at all helpful to the person struggling with depression, and while kindness and compassion would be much more helpful, if you have never suffered from depression it is actually quite difficult to imagine what it would be like.

I have never had cancer. I do not blame people for having cancer and neither can I know fully what it would be like to have cancer.

But with cancer, as with Alzheimer’s, there is a recognisable, measurable disease that people can often see the effects of, whereas with depression, all you can ‘see’ is the behaviour of the person with depression.

That behaviour can be hard to understand by others. They may feel frustrated that their friend or loved one can’t seem to change their behaviour.

In fact, if you have struggled with chronic low mood for many years, it is possible to change the habitual thoughts and behaviours which maintain emotional instability, but support from loved ones is an essential part of this process and one which I will talk about in a later post.

The message of this post is that Depression Can Be Treated and it starts with your decision to be well. depression treated


  1. As always on this website, when I refer to ‘depression’, I’m referring to a bunch of feelings and behaviours, such as poor sleep, anxious, racing thoughts, lack of energy and motivation, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, sadness, weeping and a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness. When a person goes to the doctor and describes how they feel, the doctor may ‘diagnose’ them with a condition called ‘depression’. I use this term descriptively. I don’t believe depression is an illness. I believe depression is a form of emotional dysregulation, brought on by stress and maintained by unhelpful coping skills and negative thoughts and feelings. 

Save hate exercise
Jun 04

I Hate Exercise

By Vickie | Get Moving , Uncategorised


I do. I hate exercise. I always have and suspect I always will.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the health benefits of exercise. I understand that sitting around all day is really not good for one’s physical, or, as it turns out, one’s mental health.

I was a skinny, weak little kid. My congenital heart defect meant that my lungs did not send enough oxygenated blood around my limbs, leaving me lethargic and lacking in energy.

Finally I had open-heart surgery at age 7, which enabled me to live beyond the age of about 20, for which I am very grateful. I remember after being bed-ridden and molly-coddled by my mother after my heart operation, finally racing outside and up the big oak tree near our house.

At 14 my mother told me to stand up straight. I stared at her and said I was.

“No”, she replied, “Your right shoulder is higher’.

I pulled up my shoulder and raised my right hip. Everything seemed a bit out of whack. It seemed I had Vickie Clayton Life Story

When I see how crooked I am, I really can’t believe the scoliosis wasn’t picked up earlier.

developed a severe scoliosis so familiar to many tall skinny people.

Yay! Back to hospital with me from which I emerged with a leather covered metal back brace (complete with plastic covered arm straps) which I wore for 6 months.

School sport was characterized by a mutual dislike and distrust of physical education teachers.

They disliked me and I loathed them.

One teacher told me to remove the t-shirt I wore under my sleeveless gym dress.

“It’s just with this brace, the straps are plastic and they rub on my underarms”, I tried to explain.
The teacher scowled. “Well, you’re going to get very hot”.

Thanks for pointing that out, oh-so-caring sports teacher who should have picked up my postural problems long before.

So my relationship with physical activity has been strained to say the least.

I was clumsy, unco-ordinated and couldn’t catch a ball to save my life. Netball and tennis made me feel inadequate (I was always put in the goal because of my height, but I couldn’t save a ball to save my life), hockey freaked me out (those wooden sticks and hard, hard ball), I nearly drowned in the swimming pool and point-blank refused to haul myself over the high jump bar.

The only physical activity I quite enjoyed was riding my bike and climbing trees. Something about the sense of freedom?

Whatever your physical condition, some sort of movement is essential for mental health.

Why is exercise so important for raising one’s mood?

As well as increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise also releases the body’s own antidepressant, endorphins.

People with depression are also lacking in another chemical, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes memory and general brain health. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of this vital neurotransmitter.

How to get started with exercise when you’re feeling low and lacking in energy?

The trick is…well there are three tricks:

1/ Start small

You’re not running in the marathon next week, so you don’t need to start training like an Olympic athlete. A brisk walk of 15 minutes three times per week is an excellent start. Try to build up to 30 minutes over the following few weeks. exercise

Walking with a human or canine companion (or both!) is a great form of exercise.

2/ Make it enjoyable

While you’re walking, listen to your favourite music or comedy podcast, walk with a friend, or treat yourself to coffee and even a cake (after all, this is not about weight loss; it’s about creating serotonin) at the end.

3/ Schedule the time

Use your diary or phone to factor in three sessions of walking this week and at least one on the weekend. Once you have committed the time you are more likely to stick with your plan.

One brisk walk will make you feel good for some time after, but for ongoing mental health, you need to make exercise part of your weekly schedule.

Get moving and lift your mood!

Go on. Start. Start today. Start now.

Your brain will thank you! exercise

Your Brain Is A Muscle; Use It Or Lose It!


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