You receive another literary rejection. This one says they didn’t want your writing because of x, y, and z. That stinging message from the publisher stays on your mind and you replay it over and over trying to figure out exactly what they didn’t like. You continue to think about it because you want to solve the problem. You seek new insights about your writing, but what is really happening is your negative thoughts are taking over. Before you know it you are knee deep in the cycle of rumination.
The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines ruminate as:
1: to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly
2: to chew repeatedly for an extended period
A cow chewing on her cud without swallowing for 8 hours of every day is a great visual for this psychological response to rejection. Ruminations are addictive and easily become habitual. They are the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety. As Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, explains, “when you are ruminating you are temporarily withdrawn from reality. You are not active, you aren’t socializing, you are not living in the present moment. You are somewhere else — in your head, in your thoughts, in a different time. You think you are “doing something,” but you are not pursuing goals, nothing is happening, you are stuck.”
When I resigned from teaching last year I got swept away by ruminations. I would spend hours thinking and trying to figure out why I had failed after 15+ years of success in the profession. This brooding over my rejection led me down a path of self-criticism, anxiety, and depression. My focus on the negative amplified the rejection and made me feel horrible.
How To Cope With Rejection
There are a variety of approaches for handling rejection and conquering rumination.
What worked for me was asking for help. I met with an experienced mental health professional who helped me recognize the ruminating thoughts. Additionally, I took a beginning 6-week course on mindfulness where I learned how to sit with these negative thoughts without getting wrapped up in them. Another useful strategy is distraction. It sounds so simple, but it really helps.
Psychologist Guy Winch explains, “we must try to catch ourselves ruminating as quickly as we can each time, and find ways to distract ourselves so that we occupy our minds with something other than the focus of our ruminations. And to be clear—anything else will do. Whether it’s watching a movie, working out, doing a crossword puzzle, or playing Angry Birds, anything that requires us to concentrate will force us to stop ruminating. Over time, by preventing the rumination from playing out and by not reinforcing its allure, the urge to revisit it will diminish.”
Psych Central offers 9 mindfulness exercises that you can do in a minute or under. Create Meaningful Change lists 6 effective ways to distract yourself. They include stress reduction, physical activity, hobbies, mentally engaging tasks, social activities, and routine activities. How To Stop Negative Thoughts gives a step by step method to stop rumination.
Conquering rumination is an important step in coping with rejection. It will help you move on and get back to life and the real work – writing!