Ruminating in Grief

Tips for Caregivers: Ruminating in Grief

Grief has many elements. It may involve depression, worry, contemplation, pondering, meditating, musing and reflecting.

Sometimes we focus on one aspect over and over, a phenomenon which can be called “looping” or “ruminating.”

If you don’t understand why something happened and what caused it, it is harder to prevent it from potentially happening to you or others in your life. Acknowledging, exploring and understanding can produce helpful lessons learned—and most importantly, be a precursor to moving on.

Some level of short-term, overpowering thoughts about the situation is a natural part of the grieving process. It becomes a serious problem when it is chronic, passive and repetitive. You may feel stuck or tangled in the loop. When people become embroiled in negative thoughts and guilt, it can result in prolonged distress and grief.

Here are some tips to help you cope with looping:

Do not suppress emotions associated with grief.

You must acknowledge them to heal.

Seek out positive support.

When friends support and validate your emotions, the chance you’ll fall into rumination tends to decline. This is one of the reasons support groups with a good moderator can help.

But be sure to watch out for co-rumination: extensively discussing, revisiting and speculating about problems, and focusing on negative feelings with peers.

Focus on what is rational.

Reappraise whether thoughts are true—don’t automatically assume they are. Instead of replaying them, challenge them. Remember, just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are.

Put things in perspective.

Don’t dwell exclusively on failures. Remember positive things—for example, what you did right in your relationship with the person you lost.

Force yourself to stop the circular, destructive thoughts.

Replace them with something else:

• Picture a giant stop sign in your mind
• Remind yourself: “My thoughts are going nowhere, they aren’t helping, they’re not productive and there is nothing I can do to ‘fix the past’”
• Try to stop obsessive thoughts before they build momentum
• Instead of saying, “I’ll never again…” consider sentences that start with, “From now on I want to…”
• Replace negative thoughts with more positive. Instead of “I should have been there more,” remind yourself of everything you did do for your loved one
• Journal what you are thinking and feeling to get it OUT of your head, and you may see the situation in a different light as you write
• Don’t give up
• Recall that you can’t control or change the loss, but you do have control over what you do in the future and how you react to it
• Believe that, with or without help, you do have the ability to face these heavy emotions or hard times

Consider talking to a hospice bereavement coordinator or other grief counselor if these methods cannot bring you out of the loop.

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