The One Habit You Have with Friends that Leads to Depression
Updated: Dec 28, 2019
Some of us do it with our friends on a daily basis.
And when we do, it makes us feel understood and supported, thinking “We’re in this together”.
But it’s a habit that’s actually leaving us anxious and depressed.
Co-rumination is a relatively new concept, only introduced in 2002 in a study that revealed the negative effects of talking with our friends about the same problem over and over again. The word means to revisit an issue repeatedly, constantly scrutinizing it with someone who’s willing to join us.
The tricky thing is this: Self-disclosure truly does bond us. Being vulnerable with another woman increases intimacy and feelings of closeness. But co-rumination—discussing a problem again and again with another person—actually makes you susceptible to depression.
Co-rumination involves complaining, worrying, and fixating together—with one person’s anxieties feeding the others’. The problem with the habit is it places focus on problems rather than solutions. And that obsessive examination of your issue doesn’t do any good. Instead of confiding in and then uplifting each other, you instead become laser-focused on your problems… and you do it repeatedly. This leads to stress, increased alcohol consumption, and anxiety.
Why is this issue especially relevant to female friendships? When men get together, it's usually against a backdrop of basketball, darts, or watching sports-- they typically get together to enjoy activities. But when women get together, ... we talk.
So how do we stop talking about the things that negatively impact our mental health?
1. Create a list of possible solutions—alone.
The problematic part about co-rumination is that you’re swimming in negative thinking with someone who adds fuel to the fire. The weight of the issue at hand just continues to grow and fester. While collaboration is typically a good thing, it may be best to brainstorm solutions to your problem by yourself. Doing it with your friend would require her to share your desire for a new thought pattern, and you don’t want your newfound positive outlook thwarted by someone who takes pleasure in revising negative issues. But once you have your tangible list (write it down!) of solutions, you should definitely share them, if it helps.
2. Ask her to time you.
You can get as technical with this as you’d like, but before venting to a friend, tell her, “Don’t let me talk about this for more than two minutes.” Co-ruminators launch into negative thinking together, but if one calls the problem out, it could encourage both to avoid the detrimental dance of pessimistic exchanges. Setting limits on the subject offers a layer of accountability.
3. Identify your triggers.
Try to trace your spiral-thinking back to the very thing that caused it. Were you hanging out with a particular person? Was it a certain location or time of day? Be aware of what launches you into intense overthinking, and work to avoid or eliminate that factor before finding your “conspirator” to hash it out.
It’s natural to want to examine your problems and discuss them with friends. But talking to someone we trust about our issues should help us gain perspective and generate solutions. (We’ve even written about ways to help someone in a negative thought pattern here.) Co-rumination may temporarily make us feel less alone in our troubles, but it’s a weight that our mental health—and our friendships—won’t withstand.
[If you have a lingering issue that you want to talk out with someone who will actually help you develop solutions, sign up for a session with a certified coach here.]