One way I explain rumination is through the frame of ‘helpful’ and ‘helpless’ worries.
A helpful worry is a thought that helps us solve a problem. It draws our attention to things that we can deal with. It is a call to action. Completing the action improves our situation.
A helpless worry is a thought that makes action harder. It causes paralysis or worse, it can lead us to act in ways that do not improve our situation.
The sound of helpful and helpless is different for everyone. You will know if a thought is right for you based on what it makes you do – does it lead to actions that enrich your life? Or is your world growing smaller because of it?
Before dismissing helpless worries, it might be worthwhile to consider the value behind them. After all, we wouldn’t feel worried unless the issue was somehow important to us.
For example, for me, the helpless worry of ‘something might happen to my daughter when she is not with me,’ arises because of the protective and nurturing instinct I have towards my daughter. The thought is a helpless one for me because it makes me freeze in fear for a moment and leads me to contemplate actions that do not improve my daughter’s situation (e.g. keeping her by my side forever and ever so I am never worried about her safety). Instead of worrying helplessly, or responding to the distress in the worry, I may acknowledge the value – ‘I care about my daughter. My daughter will grow if I can facilitate new experiences for her’.
Another way to look at helpless worries is to look for the call-to-action in them. For example, for many people, the worry of ‘I will never find my life partner in this hectic world of online dating’ arises because of a want for a relationship. So the call-to-action is to find a way to meet someone.
By looking at the value and the call-to-action behind a helpless worry, we can turn it into something helpful.