Rumination: “Why” or “How”?

“Why is my mood so bad?”, “Why can’t I move on?”, “Why is this happening to me?”. There are many times when we humans are trapped in the vicious circle of such questions when we are faced with psychological difficulties. According to the scientific literature, this thought process is called rumination and refers to the passive and repeated focus on the causes and consequences of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, instead of actively trying to resolve the circumstances surrounding the symptoms (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991; Nolen-Hoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008).

People who suffer from rumination, in the context of many psychological disorders, usually complain of negative, unwanted thoughts. For example, in depression, these thoughts are related to past mistakes or to various subjective “deficiencies” in their personality. In obsessive compulsive disorder, individuals experience recurring episodes of dysphoria or disturbing thoughts and may ruminate as to why they experience these obsessions. Post-traumatic stress disorder is characterized by the persistent return of images or thoughts of traumatic events and people tend to wonder why the event happened and why it comes back to their memory. People with generalized anxiety disorder are worried about things that might happen in the future. Therefore, in all cases, dysfunctional thoughts turn into unwanted ones, even if people think that focusing on them has some benefit (Papageorgiou & Wells, 2004).

So how do we modify the unhealthy rumination? Simply replacing the word “why” with the word “how” in the questions that concern us. “How can I improve my mood?”, “How can I go one step further?”, “If this happens to me, how can I manage it?” By focusing on the solution in a cognitive-behavioral way and by choosing the action, the repetitive, annoying thoughts will begin being accepted, resulting in their gradual weakening (Papageorgiou & Wells, 2004).

In conclusion, rumination is a common phenomenon, both in our daily lives and in the context of psychological disorders, which is treated as an integral part of various psychological therapeutic approaches.


Micaella Kourouna
Licensed Clinical Psychologist (R.No. 780)



Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (1991). Responses to depression and their effects on the duration of depressive episodes. Journal of abnormal psychology100(4), 569.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on psychological science3(5), 400-424.

Papageorgiou, C., & Wells, A. (2004). Depressive rumination: Nature, theory and treatment. Retrieved from