Our existence is filled with memories, realities already lived, images already seen, voices already heard, people we’ve already met and so on.. We are a complex construct of past realities, past moments that build up in our psyche and whether they are positive or negative they seem to get stuck on our mind and memory for us to revisit them.
The main purpose of those memories is to allow us to learn, to have our internal library of knowledge and to extract the useful pieces needed to build the puzzle, however our primitive brain plays with us and attracts us to ruminate, to generate nostalgic feelings, to complain, to fear, to compare or even worst to generate a disease, very popular nowadays called depression or anxiety.
Why does this “feature” strengthens itself and can even become a powerful self-created tool for internal sadness? It is common due to the primitive experiences we had that our neuronal and network construction was designed to avoid danger and to keep us safe from any external threat.
However as time and our current reality has evolved, coming back to past memories could be seen as an “old-fashioned” way of using our amazing neuronal connections and be at the expense of external influences to react and justify ourselves to move on. In fact this reasoning is what exists in the subconscious of many people that used their past as an excuse to act, we have all known people above all many of the greatest in history have had terrible stories and even through them they have found their way back to thrive.
Rumination is correlated with a variety of maladaptive cognitive styles, including negative inferential or attributional styles, dysfunctional attitudes, hopelessness, pessimism, self-criticism, low mastery, dependency, sociotropy (extreme need of social acceptance), neediness, and neuroticism (1).
First, rumination enhances the effects of depressed mood on thinking, making it more likely that people will use the negative thoughts and memories activated by their depressed mood to understand their current circumstances. Second, rumination interferes with effective problem solving, in part by making thinking more pessimistic and fatalistic. Third, rumination interferes with instrumental behavior, leading to increases in stressful circumstances. In addition, Nolen-Hoeksema and Davis (1999) argued that people who chronically ruminate will lose social support, which in turn will fuel their depression (1).
Reflecting on the paragraphs above we clearly see that coming back for memories when they cause us pain and they are just sabotaging our daily lives is a process that has no positive impact at all, it is seen as a self-destructive behaviour, however it becomes addictive in many cases due to the environment we are surrounded.
Why do I say this? Because people with this kind of behaviour tend to relate with people that support them, that (even if it sounds harsh) pity them, that overprotect them, therefore this reinforces the behaviour and makes the life of “ruminators” easier but at the same time allows them to become more addicted, they enter a toxic cycle that is is very hard to break.
Why do you think your brain stores past experiences for? To make your life miserable? or to allow you self-learning, self-motivation, self-happiness?
If we become objective and clearer when we take a picture of something, or we see a movie we use it to have pleasant memories, we use it to remember more details of the past experience, I don’t believe anyone would take a picture of depressive moment and show it to everyone in their family. Then our amazing network and storage capacity is not there so you can revisit the memories and search for something that justifies your apathy, your self-pity or sometimes your comfort to move on with your life!!.
As technology and medicine advances plenty of things have become easier, instantaneous to reach. This characteristics of the epoch we are living in have also increased mental illnesses to the roof and if we think deeper in the simple equation of action — reaction it is even kind of obvious that the less we have to make an effort for something the harder it becomes to action in your life, meaning sedentary lifestyle are being promoted every single time a new gadget/product appears that will make your life “easier” sometimes even to the extent that you don’t really use your thinking power to decide, because someone else or something else will make it for you.
A sedentary lifestyle from a biochemical point of view is a state where your body is not able to release all the energy that has stored, therefore that energy will build up, not in the healthier way, your fat deposits will start to increase, meaning this will increase the number of adipocytes (fat cells), which in turn will release a hormone named Leptin which mainly blocks your satiety center in the brain as well as lowering the ability to burn the calories that you have consumed, those two are the main effects of this hormone.
This means that your brain is no longer able to detect when you’re full and you might get hungry all the time, specially for “sweets”, in addition to this your body is not burning the accumulated fat and is even generating more!! This toxic cycle will be the trigger to start also feeling anxious, which will turn on the alarms and signals inside of your brain and body to release cortisol and adrenaline which will increase the stress in your body.
All this forest of “self-destruction” will make you feel incredibly tired, depressed, overwhelmed and hopelessness of your life, which is the big internal picture of why it is so damn hard to get out of a state of rumination and picking the past experiences as justification of our sad lives.
However in many places of this cycle we are able to break it and see the light again, and it is in our own capacity to do it, we just have to detect the main issue that is provoking that fear or anxiety to step again in our lives and become empowered to move on…
How do we do it?
Might sound hilariously simple but as life is … the simpler solutions are always the best highways to escape from pain and hardship.
Journaling is one of the best known and ancient techniques that it is also used nowadays to process what the minds has stuck, in my own point of by and supported by research journaling gives you the ability to see your thoughts as an observer, to begin the process of detachment from them, to see them as if they were from someone else that you’re listening to.. and we all know and we all have experience giving advice to a friend or loved one with a much higher clarity than the one that we are able to give to ourselves.
Has it happened to you that when you suddenly listened to the advice you are giving, you sound so coherent and clear that you just want to write it down and save it for yourself? Well my friends !! That is the power of journaling about your own problems, issues and inner thoughts that you have and that you are completely capable of seeing them as an “observer” as a third party that is going to give advice to a loved one.
Writing or talking about emotional experiences, relative to writing about superficial control topics, has been found to be associated with significant drops in physician visits from before to after writing among relatively healthy samples. Writing or talking about emotional topics has also been found to have beneficial influences on immune function, including t-helper cell growth. Disclosure also has produced short-term changes in autonomic activity (e g , lowered heart rate) and muscular activity (i.e. reduced phasic corrugator activity — effect of surprise) (2).
Self-reports also suggest that writing about upsetting experiences, although painful in the days of writing, produces long-term improvements in mood and indicators of well-being compared with writing about control topics.
Recent meta-analysis on written-disclosure studies indicates that, in general, writing about emotional topics is associated with significant reductions in distress.Behavioral changes have also been found Students who write about emotional topics show improvements in grades in the following months, the study Senior professionals who have been laid off from their jobs get new jobs more quickly after writing (2).
So it is clear now that one powerful tool to detach from a “ruminating or holding on” state is writing, many people could argue that it’s not easy for them to write, well don’t worry I bet that now with the technology you love to send voice messages instead of writing them. Then this means you can record your thoughts and produce a voice dairy that you can listen in your own privacy and reflect on the thoughts you are producing, it can also be very powerful that you go a little deeper and analyze with more detail the moments that you were feeling depressed or anxious, What time of the day it was?, Was it after you ate?, Was it after you had an argument?, Was it after you take some pill?, What kind of food did you eat before the episode?, Were you alone or talking with someone?, Was it something from work, relationships, love, money, etc..?
These are just some “simple” but powerful questions that can help you dig deeper into the issue and in the end come out with a much more detailed diagram or sketch of what is going on inside your head and obtain clarity, empowerment and strength to move on !!
Different experiments asked participants to write for 1 to 5 days, ranging from consecutive days to sessions separated by a week, writing sessions have ranged from 15 to 30 min m length In Smyth's (1996) meta-analysis, he found a promising trend suggesting that the more days over which the experiment lapses, the stronger the effects (2).
In contrast inhibitory work (not writing or talking with anyone, isolation), which is reflected in autonomic and central nervous system activity, could be viewed as a long-term low-level stressor (Selye, 1976) Such stress, then, could cause or exacerbate psychosomatic processes, thereby increasing the risk of illness and other stress-related disturbances Just as constraining thoughts, feelings, or behaviors linked to an emotional upheaval is stressful, letting go and talking about these experiences should, in theory, reduce the stress of inhibition (2).
Just in case you needed some more data and research proof that journaling is a powerful tool to break toxic cycles, we can also argue and discuss that this tool also activates autonomic and nervous system meaning it will boost your metabolic functions as well as your immune system, depicted above, because it means that physically speaking your moving your hands to write, you’re moving !! even if it means very little, or if you are recording you are speaking, you’re requesting your inner voice to release also the negative energy stored.. that is translated into opening channels of energy inside your body which will start moving the deposits of toxic chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol.
If we are aggressive on the recovery, we can start adding some physical aids that will also start moving you towards recovery, walking or walking in nature will also trigger your body and brain to start detoxifying, of course exercise will boost your mood, your hormones and your neurotransmitters towards recovery releasing also more dopamine and endorphins that will allow you to have more clarity on your mind!!.
As we are on the road and now moving on !! We can start to simply modifying or lowering some toxic food from our system, we can start taking out sugars or lowering the amount of them, lower any processed food and start increasing proteins, vegetables and fruits to get a more powerful detoxifying process.
And we are getting to the cherry of the cake to finally crush it!! I believe we can all get this far, in our own rhythm and without pressure, therefore the final tool is Meditation any king of meditation can help you detach from that state, as well as also allowing you to have a clearer view point as an observer of the kind of thoughts you are producing.
If you have a hard time to maintain still and listen to your voices, you can start with nature sounds and write what kind of repetitive thoughts you’re having or what event in the past is not allowing you to move on. What are you afraid of losing? Who are you afraid of losing of you change?
Sometimes we don’t want to move on and we get stuck in the past because we are afraid to lose people in our lives, because we think that If we become stronger and able to get out of the toxic state or illness then they are going to feel useless with us or maybe they will feel envy, jealous or threatened by the inner power that we have gained.
If that is your case then you gotta be more motivated because you will …kill two birds in one shot!! You’ll be able to figure out who is really in your life because of the love they have for you, because they really want to see you better and healthier, or you will confirm that some people were just around you because they were not dimmed by your light!! In any case this detoxifying and inner cleansing process will allow you to have a healthier social circle, in fact I can assure you that during the journey of healing you will find different people that will start approaching you and without any hidden agenda they will ease and enlighten your path towards recovery…
In summary “ letting go” and releasing your past, or stop ruminating about any kind of thought is a task that can only be performed individually, of course you can also have help of a therapist, friend or if you are really brave you can do it yourself through Journaling and Meditation.. believe me that once you give the first “small” step towards letting the toxicity inside your body find an outlet it will be a straight road that will also have the support of your higher self or a higher power (God, Buddha, Universe, etc) that will also help you to light up the path towards recovery !!
Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking Rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400–424.
Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing About Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162–166.