Nick Petrie used to score 10 out of 10 on a scale of how stressed he was. Now, it’s a zero. What has changed?

Nick learned that the #1 cause of stress is rumination.

According to more than 30 years of research on stress and resiliency led by Derek Roger while at the University of York in the United Kingdom, there are 8 key ways of behaving that determine whether you become stressed or not, the most important of which is the tendency to ruminate: to continue to churn over emotional upsets.

Rumination is what you do when you wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep because you are thinking about all the stuff you have to do and all the things you haven’t done and should have. It’s the kind of thinking that happens when you spiral into worst-case scenarios when your teenager has missed her curfew or you are waiting on medical results. It’s what happens when you leave a meeting where you stumbled through your presentation and you can’t stop thinking about what you should have done.

Or, as you work on a project, your mind wanders to past events or future scenarios, replaying worry and negative thoughts over and over. There’s nothing useful about rumination. It just creates stress symptoms and is the enemy of resilience.

Nick met Derek Roger 15 years ago and began to change his mindset about stress. He learned and practiced habits that have made stress a thing of the past. During this time, Nick has had plenty of pressure — including building a career, starting a family and facing illness. He is currently a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership and has co-authored a new book with Derek, Work Without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success.

The book explains that to feel better, live better, and lead better, you need to stop ruminating and help your teams and direct reports do the same.

Stress isn’t something you have to learn to live with. You can totally banish stress.

Ever wonder why different people respond to tough events in different ways? Why some people are more vulnerable to stress than others?

Why do some people seem to be more resilient?

More than 35 years of research point to one clear difference: the tendency to ruminate.

The mental process of thinking over and over about something and attaching negative emotions to it — rumination — creates stress symptoms and is the enemy of resilience.

People who don’t ruminate may have plenty of pressure or hardships in their lives, but they aren’t stressed by it.


And it’s a myth that some stress is “good.” Actually, stress is never good for you.

Everyday stress — rushing to keep up with competing demands and schedules, presenting at a meeting, hitting a deadline, solving a work challenge — is mostly pressure. It isn’t, in fact, stress.

Pressure is defined as a demand to perform. The demand might be intense, but there is no stress inherent in it. The key to resilience is to avoid turning pressure into stress.


You can be free of stress if you change how you respond to pressure and the shifts or events of life. You have a choice. The way you respond is a habit, but you can control and change it.


4 Healthy Habits to Banish Stress

Overloaded leaders — and anyone who’s feeling stressed — can practice these 4 habits to reduce stress and burnout:

clock-focus-on-present-time-center-for-creative-leadership-ccl1. Wake up: The first step is to recognize how much time you spend ruminating. People spend as much as 70% of their daytime hours in the half-awake state in which all rumination — and therefore all stress — is generated. Instead, focus on where you are and what you’re doing now. Don’t let your mind drift into worrying about the past or the future.

conscious-focus-reduce-stress-center-for-creative-leadership-ccl2. Control your attention: Practice consciously putting your attention where you want it to be and holding it there. Reduce distractions when you’re “in the zone,” working on what matters most, thinking strategically, or being singularly productive.

paper-airplane-detachment-perspective-distance-center-for-creative-leadership-ccl3. Detach: Get appropriate distance from the situations you’re facing. This helps you maintain perspective and know the difference between care and worry.

calm-meditation-reduce-stress-center-for-creative-leadership-ccl4. Let go: Ask yourself a simple question — will continuing to focus on this help me, my people, or my organization? If the answer is no, let it go. It isn’t doing you any good.

The solution to stress is to wake up to it and change your behavior.


How to Change Your Habits

Stress impacts mental and physical health. It’s estimated that 15 million working days were lost to stress-related sickness-absence in the U.K. in 2013, and sickness-absence is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $227 billion annually.

Habitual rumination in leaders will significantly compromise a team’s productivity and happiness. Resilient and effective leaders don’t transform pressure into stress.

Here’s what they do differently — and you can, too:

  • Distinguish pressure (external demand) from stress (rumination). Pressure is a natural part of having a good job, whereas stress is chosen. Reflect the difference to your direct reports.
  • Stay in the present moment. Fully connect with the people you’re talking to rather than daydreaming about something else. Be interested and curious about right now.
  • Focus on the things you and your team can control. Be clear where you have influence and responsibility. Know you always have control over your attention.
  • Handle emotions with care. Pick up the emotional tone in a group. Be able to manage other people’s strong emotions without taking them on. Express appropriately how you’re feeling about things. Let go of grudges and forgive quickly.
  • Address concerns quickly. Don’t let your issues or other people’s concerns fester. Help direct reports surface and let go of what’s overwhelming them.
  • Put things in perspective. Know what matters most. And don’t define yourself by just one area of life. Besides your career, what do you care about?
  • Quiet your mind. Even amid the noise of the workplace, learn to focus your attention and avoid ruminating.


Learn how to build a resilient mind for lasting success.

Want to cut the stress out of your life? Learn how to stay calm, focused, and in control with Nick Petrie’s new book, Work without Stress.

Price: $30

Buy Now


Learn more about our resiliency research and how you can benefit from it or check out our Leadership Development Program that teaches you resiliency skills and other ways to live a happier, healthier, and more productive life.

7 thoughts on “Banish Stress from Your Life: Stop Ruminating

  1. Incredible in the method’s perspective, ease of application, and effectiveness. Many thanks to Nick. This is worth gold not just to senior leaders in business, but literally everyone. Thank you.

    1. Lauren McSwain-Starrett says:

      Thanks for commenting, so glad you found this valuable!

    2. Nick Petrie says:

      Rick – Great that you can see that this work goes beyond work. Thanks for your support.

  2. So helpful. I’m going to heed this advice and share the article with my coworkers and my teenage children today.

  3. Bill Heaps says:

    Invaluable precis on how to manage and move away from difficult emotions and situations

  4. Laura Edwards says:

    This article was literally lifechanging for me. It resonated so deeply, and I immediately began to practice the recommended techniques. Simple, accurate, timely and much needed words of wisdom that have already made a huge difference in my stress. Only wish I’d joined the anti-rumination club sooner. Thank you!

  5. kathi says:

    I disagree. Sometimes rumination is the only thing that keeps some people focused and grounded. my stress comes from the commute to work, traffic and the hour long drive. This has affected my down-time away from work and my family time for dinner and my well-being.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Start typing and press Enter to search