Rumination and Worry Interfere with the Development of Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Worry and rumination are forms of persistent negative thinking. They involve a predominance of verbal thoughts, and can be likened to a negative inner-speech. Worry is concerned with the possibility of threats in the future and ways to effectively avoid or deal with them whilst rumination is concerned more with things that happened in the past.” – MCT Institute
Mindfulness training has been shown through extensive research to be effective in improving the physical and psychological condition of otherwise healthy people and also treating the physical and psychological issues of people with illnesses. Techniques such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as well as Yoga practice and Tai Chi or Qigong practice have been demonstrated to be particularly effective. This has led to an increasing adoption of these mindfulness techniques for the health and well-being of both healthy and ill individuals.
Worry (concern about the future) and rumination (repetitive thinking about the past) are associated with mental illness. One way they may do this is by disrupting the development of mindfulness. In today’s Research News article “Barriers to Mindfulness: a Path Analytic Model Exploring the Role of Rumination and Worry in Predicting Psychological and Physical Engagement in an Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5968050/ ), Banerjee and colleagues had adult volunteers participate in a 2-week, once a day, online Mindfulness-based self-help program. They were measured before and after the program for mindfulness, including the observe, describe, acting with awareness, non-judging, and non-reacting facets, rumination, worry, beliefs about rumination, beliefs about worry, physical engagement, and psychological engagement. The measures were intercorrelated and their relationships were assessed with a path analysis.
They found that the higher the levels of both rumination and worry, the lower the levels of physical and psychological engagement in the mindfulness program. The path models revealed that rumination and worry were associated with reduced physical and psychological engagement in the program and these were, in turn, associated with reductions in four of the mindfulness facets of describe, acting with awareness, non-judging, and non-reacting.
These results are interesting and suggest that the individual’s levels of worry and rumination before engaging in mindfulness training tend to interfere with the development of mindfulness. They appear to do so by interfering with the individual’s engagement in the program, that is by promoting disengagement. It should be kept in mind that these findings are correlational, so no conclusions about causation are warranted. But, the results suggest that training in mindfulness should take into consideration the psychological state of the participant at the beginning of the program. Perhaps, programs can be tailored for the participants state taking into consideration their levels of worry and rumination. They may, thereby, be more effective in promoting mindfulness and all of its benefits.
“repeated practice in noticing, observing with curiosity and compassion, and shifting perspective helps participants to realise that their thoughts, emotions and sensations are just thoughts, emotions and sensations, rather than ‘truth’ or ‘me’. They learn to see more clearly the patterns of the mind, and to recognise when mood is beginning to dip without adding to the problem by falling into analysis and rumination – to stand on the edge of the whirlpool and watch it go round, rather than disappearing into it.” – B. J. Bidushi
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Banerjee, M., Cavanagh, K., & Strauss, C. (2018). Barriers to Mindfulness: a Path Analytic Model Exploring the Role of Rumination and Worry in Predicting Psychological and Physical Engagement in an Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention. Mindfulness, 9(3), 980–992. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0837-4
Little is known about the factors associated with engagement in mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). Moreover, engagement in MBIs is usually defined in terms of class attendance (‘physical engagement’) only. However, in the psychotherapy literature, there is increasing emphasis on measuring participants’ involvement with interventions (‘psychological engagement’). This study tests a model that rumination and worry act as barriers to physical and psychological engagement in MBIs and that this in turn impedes learning mindfulness. One hundred and twenty-four participants were given access to a 2-week online mindfulness-based self-help (MBSH) intervention. Self-report measures of mindfulness, rumination, worry, positive beliefs about rumination, positive beliefs about worry and physical and psychological engagement were administered. A path analysis was used to test the linear relationships between the variables. Physical and psychological engagement were identified as two distinct constructs. Findings were that rumination and worry both predicted psychological disengagement in MBSH. Psychological engagement predicted change in the describe, act with awareness, non-judge and non-react facets of mindfulness while physical engagement only predicted changes in the non-react facet of mindfulness. Thus, rumination and worry may increase risk of psychological disengagement from MBSH which may in turn hinder cultivating mindfulness. Future suggestions for practice are discussed.