Sometimes life throws lemons at us, and it can be hard to look on the bright side or see the silver lining. We all experience negative thoughts now and again, but if it begins to seriously affect the way that you think about yourself and your life, or gets in the way of your work and relationships, it could be a sign that it would be useful to get some help.
How we think about ourselves and the events and people in our lives can have a dramatic impact on our mood and behaviour. Prolonged negative thinking and reactions can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem or depression. While it is just not possible to control what pops in to our heads, we can notice how we react to our thoughts, become more aware of when we are being pulled into unhelpful thinking patterns, and try reframe our thoughts in a more constructive way. Over time, we can learn to let go more easily when we get ‘hooked in’ to our critical or catastrophizing inner commentaries.
It can be hard to appreciate how easily we ‘buy in to’ negative thinking. Our negative thoughts can feel like the absolute truth and can flow so quickly that we don’t really stop to question them. When we are worried about something, going over and over things can perhaps feel like the right way to deal with the problem, but often over-analysing can lead to more worry and can drain us physically and emotionally.
It is helpful and natural to spend time thinking, but when our thoughts are consistently negative, extreme and unhelpfully repetitive, it can cause real problems. When we dwell or ruminate on things, we end up going around in circles and just feel stuck. It can make us feel increasingly anxious or low, as we keep returning to unhelpful judgements or predictions that seem like facts, but are often just opinions or possibilities. Before we know it, we lose interest, confidence, enjoyment and motivation.
When our negative thoughts are critical and directed at ourselves, we can feel down or perhaps ashamed. Sometimes our negative thoughts are directed at others and we become hostile or resentful. Either way, if these thoughts are frequent it can be a major knock to our mood and can interfere with our relationships.
If you can become more aware of when your thoughts are becoming negative or repetitive you can try to break the cycle and do something different. Distract yourself, get up and go for a walk, try some mindfulness, contact someone who you care about and talk about something else, or talk with them about possible solutions rather than continuing to dwell on the issue. For some people, setting a limit on how long they allow themselves to think about a problem can be really helpful. It is also important to ask yourself whether you would talk to your best friend in the way that you talk to yourself. If the answer is no, then you might need to give yourself a break. You’re not perfect, but who is? You made a mistake but it’s not the end of the world.
I have helped many people to overcome their negative thinking by helping them to be more aware of when it is happening, and to understand how they respond to negative thinking and what the consequences are. By taking a different perspective and reminding yourself that there could be many different ways to make sense of the same situation, you can get some distance from your judging thoughts and choose how you want to respond rather than act out of habit. When people understand their thinking patterns, they can let go of unhelpful thinking more easily.
For more information about how to address negative thinking, contact Dr Alex.