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When a Train of Thoughts Goes Off the Rails - New Study Delves Into the Minds of Extreme Ruminators

The potential of the human brain seems limitless. We have the ability to learn and process complex information, store memories, as well as strategize and plan. In a world of instant messaging and people who intentionally film themselves doing painfully stupid things, the ability to deliberate carefully before taking action should be praised, should it not? But even thinking can be taken too far. Extreme rumination is the tendency to engage in repetitive and obsessive negative thinking.

Analyzing data collected from 1,123 ruminators who took the Emotional Intelligence Test, Queendom researchers attempted to answer one seemingly simple question: What was it like to be in the mind of a ruminator? What they discovered was a world of chaos and spiraling negativity.

Ruminators’ proclivity for over-thinking likely won’t come as a surprise. For example:

  • 91% recognize that they have an obsessive mind.
  • 93% admitted that they spend hours reflecting on what people say to them, including offhand or seemingly innocent remarks.
  • 98% said that they tend to overanalyze situations, finding problems that don’t really exist.
  • 90% said they keep themselves up at night thinking about their problems.
  • 73% admitted that it’s difficult to forget about their problems and just have fun.

Keeping their mind in the present and being mindful is a struggle for ruminators.

  • 54% said that they feel like they’re running on “auto-pilot” and just going through the motions.
  • 74% admitted that it “terrifies” them not knowing what the future holds.
  • 60% said that they can’t figure out what they want out of life.

Wayward thoughts trigger wild emotions, and vice versa.

  • 64% said that they feel like they’re on an emotional roller coaster.
  • 51% admitted that they are high strung.
  • 62% avoid discussing touchy or sensitive subjects.

Ruminators tend to view their life and the world through a rather dark filter.

  • 64% believe that it’s better not to get their hopes up, so that they don’t end up disappointed.
  • 50% said they are never satisfied with what they have achieved.
  • 54% see their life as being one problem after another.
  • 57% hate change.
  • 51% said that they often feel sad.

Ruminators struggle to adapt to life’s ups and downs, and to move on from disappointments and hardships.

  • 64% said that they get angry or sad when even the smallest thing goes wrong in their life.
  • 54% said they feel helpless.
  • 60% feel discouraged.
  • 59% said they feel so overwhelmed that they shut down completely.

Along with their sense of helplessness, many ruminators struggle with self-acceptance.

  • 54% don’t feel confident about a decision unless others approve of it.
  • 64% find it difficult to accept compliments.
  • 59% downplay their achievements.
  • 66% panic when given a task that is outside their comfort zone.
  • 73% are not comfortable asking for what they want.
  • 83% second-guess themselves.
  • 53% change their attitude, behavior, or appearance in order to please others.
  • 61% engage in harsh self-talk - they insult themselves or call themselves nasty names.
  • 75% admitted that they want everyone to like them.

“Ruminating tends to follow one of two patterns,” explains Dr. Jerabek, president of PsychTests, the parent company of Queendom. “The first pattern is like a line of dominoes: You have a negative thought that then feeds and breeds another, and then another. So let’s say that a colleague snubs you during a meeting. If you are a ruminator, you will immediately jump to the conclusion that his behavior had a hidden agenda. You start thinking about all your recent interactions with the person, trying to figure out what you could have done to deserve that treatment. Suddenly, your mind sprints through all your recent tasks, looking for an error. You find nothing, so you figure the person must not like you. Like that colleague who avoided you because she didn’t want to confront you about something you did. Or that guy who stood you up 5 years ago. Or the little girl who refused to play with you in 3rd grade. And round and round, the wild train goes. Then you realize that it’s 3AM and you have to get up at 6:30, and now you’re worrying about the fact that you can’t sleep, that you will be so tired in the morning, and your boss will see how tired you are, and off you go again. So what seemed like one problem propagates into a million other ones.”

“The second pattern feels like you’re being engulfed by negativity and worry. It feels like a wave crashed into you, and you are drowning in impending doom. This is where your thoughts are completely occupied by a problem, to the point where you lose sleep, lose focus, and cannot think about anything else except what’s bothering you. Yet, all that thinking yields no solution. This obsessive tendency to worry and over-think things can lead to major self-esteem issues, as well as anxiety and depression.”

So the question is, how does one stop a runaway train of thought? The answer, according to Queendom researchers, is by breaking the pattern. Here’s how:

  • When you feel the negativity coming on, distract yourself with an activity that requires all of your attention, like baking, gardening, crafts, chess, drawing, sculpting, etc.
  • Set aside some time every day (30 minutes, for example) where you allow yourself to worry. That’s right - let all those thoughts and worries come to the surface. Research shows that this can actually reduce the tendency to worry. So if a negative thought pops into your head, simply say to yourself, “Not now. I will worry about this later.”
  • Set up a daily 30 to 45-minute brainstorming session, where you come up with at least one possible solution to the problem you’re dealing with. This is controlled rumination: You’re giving a problem the thought it requires, but not in an excessive manner.
  • Seek help if you’re really struggling. Repetitive, intrusive thoughts are one of the symptoms of Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, or could also stem from an anxiety disorder, both of which need to be treated by a professional. If your problem is limited to rumination, however, mindfulness exercises and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can be quite effective.

Want to assess your EQ? Check out our Emotional Intelligence Test at

Professional users, such as therapists and coaches, can request a free demo for this or other assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

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