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To say "the noise outside shook her from her reverie" implies she was lost in pleasant daydreams.

What if she was lost in worry or unpleasant thoughts? Is there an equivalent term (single word or short phrase)?

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It's often called a dark study in literature. One may be lost in reverie or lost in a dark study. Note that reverie is a mass noun, while the phrase a dark study is an indefinite count nounand requires an indefinite article. Even though study can often be used as a mass noun, even with lost: He was lost in study/his studies. Of course, in that case it refers to actual studying, not unpleasant thought. – John Lawler Jul 29 '14 at 17:22
The expression 'Black Dog' has been used to describe various forms of depression. Churchill used to talk of being overcome with the 'Black Dog'. Try looking at some of Shakespeare's dark sonnets, or plays such as Macbeth. I feel sure you will find something there. – WS2 Jul 29 '14 at 17:39

11 Answers 11

up vote 27 down vote accepted

In psychology, what you are describing would be called rumination. It is where a depressed person gets caught up in their depressed thoughts. To quote the Wikipedia article:

Rumination is defined as the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.

The part about it being "compulsive" refers to the part about getting stuck.

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"The outside noise shook her from her rumination" is perfect. Rather better than "The outside noise shook her from her brooding", though the latter kind of passes as well. – GreenAsJade Jul 30 '14 at 12:36
Brooding and rumination both seem to fit, but somehow rumination feels more appropriate as the counterpart to reverie. – Doktor J Jul 30 '14 at 19:04
@DoktorJ The alliteration probably helps. – trlkly Jul 30 '14 at 22:57
@GreenAsJade Although I voted up brood, I agree that it works better as a verb. – trlkly Jul 30 '14 at 22:59
@Vector I don't mind you downvoting my answer (as I admit it only has a Wikipedia source), but the idea that rumination refers only to cud chewing is just false. That is one definition of the term, but not the most common. It is simply the earliest. Just "Google" the term, and while you will find the cud-chewing definition in dictionaries, actual use seems more likely to refer to the psychological phenomenon. A psychological definition is not necessarily "clinical" or not part of the vernacular. I would even go so far as to guess that most people don't know the physiological definition. – trlkly Jul 31 '14 at 6:38

When I wish to increase my unhappiness, I brood on things. Oxford dictionary:

Think deeply about something that makes one unhappy

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+1 So brooding for the noun? – bib Jul 30 '14 at 0:14
+1 - This is the right answer. Accepted answer is incorrect IMO, as per my comment there. – Vector Jul 31 '14 at 6:00
@bib "Broodings" would be appropriate in the example sentence: "the noise outside shook her from her broodings" – Vector Aug 1 '14 at 1:05

You might have a look at dysphoria.

dysphoria n. a state of dissatisfaction, anxiety, restlessness, or fidgeting.

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Dysphoria seems to refer to a general or subconscious state of being, whereas reverie/rumination refer more to one who is actively thinking on pleasant/unpleasant (respectively) matters. It's likely that one who ruminates excessively could be considered to be experiencing dysphoria, but one who is experiencing dysphoria may not necessarily be ruminating at any given moment. – Doktor J Jul 30 '14 at 19:01
@Did: I don't see where the OP made any specific request regarding active vs. unprompted thoughts. As it is, you seem to be judging this response by the "standard" of rumination, an opinion I don't share. – Robusto Aug 5 '14 at 21:39

"Reverie" is usually used for a pleasant state, but it is essentially neutral. The OED quotes this from Washington Irving:

1820 W. Irving Sketch Bk. I. 145 Walking about in a sad reverie,..unconscious of the world around her.

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I've usually used "in a funk", though now Wiktionary is telling me that that specifically means "to be in a depressed mood" rather than "being caught up or preoccupied with dark thoughts", which is how I've always meant it.

It also tells me it's shortened from "in a blue funk", which I didn't know, but has a nice consonance with @Malvolio's "in a brown study".

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I have always liked brown study. It means exactly what you want, but Wiktionary denounces it as "dated".

Time to revive it!

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Brown study is an alternative to dark. But note it's also a count noun phrase. – John Lawler Jul 29 '14 at 17:23
I had never heard the expression "dark study". Wiktionary doesn't have it, and Google returns only 22K hits, mostly about ill-lit rooms and scientific studies of darkness. – Malvolio Jul 29 '14 at 17:29
I (college educated native US English speaker) have no idea what a "brown study" or "dark study" is other than a room in a large house. I would be totally confused by its use in this context. – Old Pro Jul 30 '14 at 19:32

I would use angst.

It implies a partial loss of control over one’s mood, as does reverie, with the opposite mood indicated.

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However, Wiktionary omits the depression/despondency aspect and says just “the state of boredom, malaise, apathy or lack of interest; a state of listlessness; ennui, or tedium”.

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Melancholy - Having a feeling of melancholy; sad and pensive.

"the noise outside shook her from her melancholy"

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This was the word that came to my mind first. – Barmar Aug 4 '14 at 20:28

Though it can be a little awkward depending on the context, daymare is the closest word I know to what you are asking. It means literally "bad daydream."

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A flashback is an involuntary and unpleasant reliving of painful or stressful memories.

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Flashbacks aren't necessarily unpleasant, painful, or stressful. They're involuntarily re-experienced memories triggered by an environmental stimulus. Enjoyable or even simply unremarkable memories are just as likely to be triggered. For example, the scent of food can often lead to flashbacks of the last or most memorable time the food was eaten. – talrnu Jul 30 '14 at 16:23

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