Rumination Is Ruining My Life Right Now

by Samantha Angoletta
 An illustration of a woman in a red dress falling into a black and grey spiral
Julia Meslener for Scary Mommy and Malte Mueller/Getty

I have a generalized anxiety disorder and OCD.

Rumination is a primary symptom of both of those disorders, and it absolutely feels like I’ve been hit with a double dose. Rumination is clinically defined as a repetitive negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind ad nauseam. In my personal experience, I would define it as a special kind of hell that you can’t escape, because the negative thoughts that are plaguing your every moment are inside your brain. And they do not have an off switch. I am victimized repeatedly and held hostage by my own brain.

I’m not exaggerating for impact here: this is exactly what it feels like to suffer in this way.

Sure, there are times when it’s more subdued than others. There are times when it’s easier to ignore for variable intervals of time, so that I can feel the tension in my shoulders loosen ever so slightly. Feel the freedom of not being plagued by fears of job loss, various health issues, and trying to come to terms with all my existential fears. But once it’s triggered, once the cycle starts, it’s so acute and intense that it literally takes over my life.

I can put on a good front. I’m able to function. I work, I take my kids to school, pack their lunches, help them with their homework. I shuffle them to their appointments, host my fair share of meetings, hop on my spin bike, and try to find time to spend with my spouse. I live a life full of countless blessings. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that anxiety robs me of so much. So many stolen moments because I’m frozen with fear I can’t explain or trapped inside my own head. So many times I couldn’t be fully present, even though I was physically there, because I was trying to will myself off the ferris wheel of unanswerable questions and negative thoughts.

For me, rumination is — by far — the worst symptom of anxiety. It’s the one thing that medication and therapy haven’t been able to help minimize (so far), in the same way that other symptoms are more readily managed. It impacts my energy level, my patience, and my ability to fall/stay asleep.


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There’s a lot going on in my life right now, lots of changes, and that tends to be a big trigger for me and others who suffer in this way. So my mind wanders and starts to ruminate on what would happen if….

my kids get COVID-19 from a classmate and end up severely ill…

my kids give COVID-19 to a classmate and they end up severely ill…

I lose my job and our health insurance and one of us needs major medical care…

I couldn’t find another job and we end up losing our house…

I die and my kids don’t have a mom, and I don’t get to be their mom anymore even though it’s what I love most in the entire fucking world.

I often ruminate on intense, stressful, big things. Things that may be unlikely to happen, but feel like a distinct (if not probable) possibility when your mind is so obsessed with it that you can’t think of anything else.

Sometimes it’s smaller things, or things that have alternative options (like finding new employment), but they feel huge, overwhelming, exhausting…because I can’t see the forest through the trees when I’m drowning in my own intrusive thoughts.

Rumination makes me feel powerless, and that is such a shitty feeling. It takes my extroverted, optimistic soul and makes me want to hide from everyone, everything. It makes me angry, and then I lash out at people who don’t deserve it, like my husband and kids. Then I feel terrible about that, so that increases my anxiety, which further promotes the cycle of rumination.

It’s brutal.

I was discussing my current mental state with a friend earlier this week because right now I’m definitely trapped in a rumination cycle. This is what I said:

“You know how sometimes a red light feels like it sneaks up on you. And the car ahead of you slams on their brakes, and you see their brake lights, and as you slam on your brakes you also brace your body for impact? You hold your body rigid and tight and you are overcome with fear in that moment that you might wreck? Then you realize your brakes work, so you’re fine and you relax your body and move on with your day? Well, I just feel like I’m constantly braced for impact. That ‘moment’ for me lasts for weeks, months, with no reprieve. I can’t just move on with my day.”

And that’s honestly the best way I have to describe it. I’m stuck in that moment. Constantly braced for impact. Not knowing what that impact might be, or if it will ever come, but my body feels like it MUST be ready just in case. It’s so intense that it causes me jaw pain, headaches, and muscle tension. I have knots the size of baseballs in my back. My neck is stiff and sore. Anxiety (and depression) doesn’t just manifest itself in your mind. It causes you physical pain too.

I haven’t found the magic bullet, because there isn’t one. Everyone copes differently with anxiety, OCD and all of its related symptoms. Medication is essential for me. Talk therapy helps immensely too. Since I can’t turn off my brain and stop the rumination, I tend to treat the ailments it causes me in hopes of finding some relief and comfort. I find joyful ways to move my body. I love a good stretching session followed by some cardio. I get massages when I can swing it—deep tissue––so that I can feel some tangible relief and rest more comfortably. I read fiction books. I watch reality TV. I write. I take my kids to the park. I drive and listen to true crime podcasts.

I can’t meditate. I haven’t figured it out yet, even though everyone keeps telling me it’s magical. I can’t turn my brain off, so those thoughts I’m trying to run away from creep right in, and I can’t push them out. So, I suck at meditating right now and that’s not part of my self-care kit.

If you are in similar shoes, facing similar battles, my coping will look different than yours. You might swear by meditating. I do think professional healthcare should be a priority and wish it was more readily accessible to us all. After that, I think it’s all about finding what works for you. It’s temporary, it’s a band-aid, but the respite is worth it.

Those of us with mental health struggles know that (usually) we get some kind of a break. We hit a high eventually and things get better, go smoothly for a spell. And we know the low is inevitably coming again too. For me, that means at my baseline I have anxiety and OCD, and that when peaked, I get stuck in these cycles of rumination that impact my daily life, self-worth, and overall health. It’s hell. It sucks. I want off this ride. But for now, I brace for impact.

If you’re also bracing for impact, stuck in this cycle of rumination, I see you. We’ve got this.