Humans tend to stay focused on problems until a problem is solved. This tendency is called rumination, and it’s a natural survival mechanism.
Unfortunately, some problems cannot be resolved quickly, and some are completely beyond our control. People often get stuck ruminating about things they can do nothing about.
If one ruminates about a problem exclusively for longer than an hour or two, that’s a sign of psychopathology.
Unresolved problems or unfinished business create anxiety and stress. Cortisol, a by-product of adrenalin, suppresses the immune system and floods the body with harmful chemicals that accelerate aging and can cause disease.
People who excessively ruminate are constantly in fight or flight mode. They are under constant stress and find it difficult or impossible to sleep. If they continue to ruminate, their body and mind both begin to break down. They can become mentally and physically ill and even die from accumulated unrelieved stress.
Here is the definition of rumination from Wikipedia: “Rumination is the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions. Rumination is similar to worry except rumination focuses on bad feelings and experiences from the past, whereas worry is concerned with potential bad events in the future. Both rumination and worry are associated with anxiety and other negative emotional states.”
The cure for excessive and compulsive rumination is a “pattern interrupt.” When we get stuck in habitual patterns of thought, we experience confusion, anxiety, amnesia, and depression. We are unable to recognize what others say.
Pattern interrupts force one to think about something else long enough for the fight or flight response to ebb. Helpful pattern interrupts are to focus on something else: physical exercise, someone else’s problem, or the absurdity of any situation that generates laughter. Norman Cousins halted the progress of his cancer by watching situational comedies and old slapstick videos. Pattern interrupts can affect body and mind in many positive ways.
Pattern interrupts work by diverting our attention. For a moment, we focus on something besides our own problems.
Writing this was, for me, a pattern interrupt. Reading this was, for you, a pattern interrupt.
Now you can go back and ruminate about your problems again, if you desire. The momentary interruption was enough to allow your body and mind an opportunity to heal.
Vacations are supposed to function as pattern interrupts. Unfortunately, the stress generated by preparing for a vacation can often be stressful. Take a mini-vacation whenever you need one. Make it entirely spontaneous and worry-free. For me, an afternoon nap is a wonderful mini-vacation. I simply fall asleep in my chair.
If all this talk about sleep put you to sleep, that’s good. When you wake up you can view your problems with fresh eyes. Perhaps they won’t appear so insurmountable as before.