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Tips for Caregivers

Ruminating in Grief


Grief has many elements. It may involve depression, worry and contemplation. It involves pondering, meditating, musing and reflecting. Sometimes we focus on one aspect over and over, also referred to as “looping” or “ruminating.”

If you don’t understand why something happened and what caused it, it is harder to prevent recurrence. Acknowledging, exploring and understanding can produce helpful lessons learned. It can be a precursor to moving on.

Some level of short-term over-powering 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 get stuck or tangled in the loop. When people become embroiled in negative thoughts and guilt, it can result in prolonged distress or grief.

Here are some tips to help you cope with ‘the loop:’

  • Do not suppress emotions associated with grief.
    We must acknowledge them to heal.
  • Seek out positive support.
    When friends support expression of emotion, rumination tends to decline. This is one of the reasons support groups with a good moderator can help. Just watch out for co-rumination, which is 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
    • Remind yourself: this is going nowhere, it is not helping, it is not productive and there is nothing you can do to ‘fix the past’
    • Try to stop obsessive thoughts BEFORE they build up 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
    • Journaling might also help—write down what you are thinking and feeling to get it OUT of your head. You may see it in a different light as you write
    • Commit to taking action to solve problems and cope
    • Don't give up
    • 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
    • Focus on what you CAN control
    • Believe that, with help, you do have the ability to face these issues problems

And lastly, consider talking to a hospice bereavement coordinator or other grief counselor.

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