Ruminating about the past or ruminating about the future—which has the bigger impact on health? An exploratory study

  • Lehan StemmetEmail author
  • Derek Roger
  • Joana Kuntz
  • Jo Borrill


Stress has been shown to impact significantly on mental and physical well-being, and a key moderator variable in the stress process is continuing to ruminate about emotional upset: rumination serves to prolong elevations in adrenaline and cortisol, resulting in sustained cardiovascular strain and immune compromise. However, inspection of rumination scales suggests a distinction between prospective and retrospective rumination, and their differential contribution to stress and its consequences have not been explored. The aim of the present paper was two-fold: to establish that the two components could reliably be extracted from a widely-used rumination index, and whether their effects on anxiety, depression and physical symptoms could be distinguished. A final study explored their differential effects on self-harming behaviour, where the impact of rumination has already been demonstrated. Results showed that prospective rumination is the better predictor of psychological and physical health. The deleterious effects of stress are primarily associated with chronic rather than acute stress, and in the interests of resolving definitional confusion, the term stress is used in this paper to describe chronic stress and substituting pressure for acute ‘stress’. The distinction provides a justification for defining stress as rumination, since ruminating about emotional upset serves to prolong physiological arousal (fight-or-flight) which would otherwise revert to resting levels.


Rumination Stress Anxiety Depression Physical health Factor analysis 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethics approval was obtained from the relevant Research Ethics Committees for the samples and no external funding was received for the research.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

The Authors declare no conflict of interest.


  1. Ahlgren, A. R., Cinthio, M., Steen, S., Persson, H. W., Sjöberg, T., & Lindstrom, K. (2009). Effects of adrenaline on longitudinal arterial wall movements and resulting intramural shear strain: A first report. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 29, 353–359.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Borrill, J., Fox, P., Flynn, M., & Roger, D. (2009). Students who self-harm: Coping style, rumination and alexithymia. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 22(4), 361–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brace, N., Kemp, R., & Snelgar, R. (2006). SPSS for psychologists (3rd ed.). Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, T. A. (2006). Confirmatory factor analysis for applied research. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  5. Craske, M. G., Rauch, S. L., Ursano, R., Prenoveau, T., Pine, D. S., & Zinbarg, R. F. (2009). What is an anxiety disorder? Depression and Anxiety, 26, 1066–1085.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Crawford, J. R., & Henry, J. D. (2003). The Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS): Normative data and latent structure in a large non-clinical sample. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 42, 111–131.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. DeVellis, R. F. (2003). Scale development: Theory and applications (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  8. Forbes, A., & Roger, D. (1999). Stress, social support and fear of disclosure. British Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 165–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. George, D., & Mallery, M. (2010). Using SPSS for Windows step by step: A simple guide and reference. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  10. Goldberger, L., & Breznitz, S. (1993). Handbook of stress: Theoretical and clinical aspects. NY: Simon & Schuster, The Free Press.Google Scholar
  11. Gratz, K. L. (2001). Measurement of deliberate self-harm: Preliminary data on the Deliberate Self-Harm Inventory. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioural Assessment, 23(4), 253–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gratz, K. L. (2006). Risk factors for deliberate self-harm among female college students: The role and interaction of childhood maltreatment, emotional inexpressivity and affect intensity/reactivity. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76, 238–250.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Jackson, S., & Schneider, T. S. (2014). Extraversion and stress. In A. D. Haddock & A. P. Rutkowski (Eds.), Psychology of extraversion. NY: Nova Science Publications.Google Scholar
  14. Kaiser, J., Hinton, J. W., Krohne, H. W., Stewart, R., & Burton, R. (1995). Coping dispositions and physiological recovery from a speech preparation stressor. Personality and Individual Differences, 9, 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Marucha, P. T., Malarkey, W. B., Mercado, A. M., & Glaser, R. (1995). Slowing of wound healing by psychological stress. Lancet, 346, 1194–1196.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Lovibond, S. H., & Lovibond, P. F. (1995). Manual, for the depression anxiety stress scales. Sydney: Psychology Foundation.Google Scholar
  17. Neria, Y., Nandi, A., & Galea, S. (2008). Post traumatic stress disorder following disasters: A systematic review. Psychological Medicine, 38, 467–480.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Nieland, M., & Roger, D. (1993). Emotion control and analgesia in labour. Personality and Individual Differences, 14, 841–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Morrow, J. (1991). A prospective study of depression and distress following a natural disaster: The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 105–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Parker, L., & Larson, J. (1994). Ruminative coping with depressed mood following loss. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(1), 92–104.Google Scholar
  21. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400–424.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Roger, D., & Jamieson, J. (1988). Individual differences in delayed heart-rate recovery following stress: The role of extraversion, neuroticism and emotional control. Personality and Individual Differences, 9, 721–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Roger, D., & Najarian, B. (1989). The construction and validation of a new scale for measuring emotional control. Personality and Individual Differences, 10, 845–853.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Roger, D., & Najarian, B. (1998). The relationship between emotional rumination and cortisol secretion under stress. Personality and Individual Differences, 24, 531–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Roger, D., & Nesshoever, W. (1987). The construction and preliminary validation of a scale for measuring emotional control. Personality and Individual Differences, 8, 527–534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Roger, D., Guarino de Scremin, L., Borrill, J., & Forbes, A. (2011). Rumination, inhibition and stress: The construction of a new scale for assessing emotional style. Current Psychology, 30, 234–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2010). Measuring self-harm behavior with the Self-Harm Inventory. Psychiatry, 7(4), 16–19.Google Scholar
  28. Spector, P. E., & Jex, S. M. (1998). Development of four self-report measures of job stressors and strain: Interpersonal conflict at work scale, organizational constraints scale, quantitative workload inventory, and physical symptoms inventory. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3, 356–367.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Steed, L. G. (1998). A critique of coping scales. Australian Psychologist, 33(3), 193–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stemmet, L., Roger, D., Kuntz, J., & Borrill, J. (2015). General and specific avoidance: The development and concurrent validation of a new measure of avoidance coping. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 31(3), 222–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Thomsen, D. K., Mehlsen, M. Y., Hokland, M., Viidik, A., Olesen, F., Avlund, K., Munk, K., & Zachariae, R. (2004). Negative thoughts and health: Associations among rumination, immunity, and health care utilization in a young and elderly sample. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66, 363–371.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Yang, E. V., & Glaser, R. (2000). Stress-induced immunomodulation: Impact on immune defences against infectious disease. Biomedical Pharmacotherapy, 54, 245–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lehan Stemmet
    • 1
    Email author
  • Derek Roger
    • 2
  • Joana Kuntz
    • 2
  • Jo Borrill
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of Business and Information TechnologyManukau Institute of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WestminsterLondonEngland

Personalised recommendations