Why Where We Live Makes Us Think Negatively — and What We Can Do about It

I call it “the swirl.”

It starts with the moment when I have a negative thought about something I’ve said or done — or didn’t say or do. “I feel guilty about not continuing to call my mother today until I reached her in her senior living apartment. Now it’s too late, and she’ll be asleep.”

Then my brain begins to suck in other related bad things. “She’ll probably feel abandoned and believe I don’t care about her.”

Next, I up the ante. “She’ll think about what a bad daughter I am.”

Now I begin to pull in remote possibilities. “Maybe she didn’t answer the phone because something was wrong.”

Finally it’s terrible, unrelated stuff. “When the full scope of my neglect becomes public, all of my family and friends will realize what an uncaring person I am and cut me out of their lives!”

You’re sure to have your own work and personal versions of this.

The negative self talk that triggered it all? It’s called “rumination.” Here’s what it is — and what you can do to derail this before it becomes a swirl. 


Rumination often is a criticism of ourselves or others. It sucks in other negative thoughts, leading to blame, shame or justification. Left unchecked, it runs amuck — like my swirl.

Of course this leads to feeling bad. Just as awful is the time and energy it robs from us. All the innovative ideas we could have thought. The new actions we could have taken. The better future we could have envisioned and begun to create.

My psychology degree and year of working as a residential treatment counselor don’t qualify me to give therapeutic advice. But being a neuroscience nerd means I know what your brain thinks you should do.

Change your location to shift your perspective. Go find some green, or look at a video or pictures of nature.

Me? I’m going to walk around the neighborhood, looking for some spring flowers and blossoming trees. And I’ll bring my phone to try calling my mom.