Tag Archives for " negative thoughts "
In this episode Jo talks to Zoe Hinett, a Counsellor in private practice at Sticks And Stones Counselling based in South East London. Zoe works with a lot of people who have difficulties with negative thought patterns and works with them to develop ways of managing them more effectively. Zoe also writes blog posts on this subject.
For people who struggle with anxiety, they may or may not be aware when they’re having unhelpful negative thoughts. If they can catch the unhelpful thoughts when they’re happening, they can potentially help to reduce their anxiety.
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In a previous post, we explored an analogy of the process of negative thinking and how, once one negative thought presents itself a whole host of other negative thoughts can follow. In this post we talk about how to manage negative thinking to reduce its impact on how you feel and what you do.
One of the simplest things to do is stop thinking! Yes, I know you're probably going to say "But we're always thinking; how can we just stop??"
We're talking about us stopping our unhelpful thinking. If you have a worry, then focusing on that worry will only make it bigger and generate more worrying thoughts. At this point we may also start to make assumptions about the thing we're worrying about.
To put it more simply, a lot of us spend a lot of time thinking in unhelpful ways.
The place to start is that everyone thinks. It's what our minds do, but how we think is what will influence how we feel and what we do. So here's some ideas for how to manage negative thinking in ways which work for our benefit.
It might be helpful to try and recognise your negative thinking patterns. Start to look out for when you're turning a small worry into a bigger one. If you can start to see the tipping point you'll become more aware of your thought processes and stop them before they spiral. You can find out more about negative thinking patterns here.
Imagine you're in debt, and through no fault of your own you find you're no longer able to make the repayments. Your thoughts may focus on the consequences of owing so much money and being unable to pay it back.
Instead of looking to find a solution you may go into panic mode, hiding unopened debt demands, not answering phone calls, and peeking through the curtains every time there's a knock at the door. When you avoid the situation that's causing the worry, your level of anxiety will be highly likely to increase.
So, to reduce your worry you need to take action. You could do things like contacting the Citizen's Advice Bureau and your lenders to explain your situation. You may be able to get your repayments reduced, which will lessen your worries about falling deeper into debt. The worry of the debt hasn't gone away, but you've reduced it by thinking of potential solutions and acting on them.
An example of this might be that you always delay completing academic essays/work projects until the last minute, which leaves you feeling anxious and stressed.
Effectively, you're creating your own anxiety and the only person that can change that is you! The key then, is to reduce this stress and anxiety. A simple solution would be to do chunks of your work throughout the week if you can't face doing it all in one go. This way you'll find your work completed before the deadline, often with time to review it, plus you'll more than likely have lower levels of stress and anxiety.
Sometimes there's nothing we can do to lessen or reduce a worry, so we need to try and accept it. Normally, these worries are completely out of our control and thinking about them will provide no answers.
Someone we know told us that their partner had gone for tests at the hospital regarding their health. Their thoughts had already turned to the worse case scenario and they were making all sorts of assumptions about the outcome. Whilst their fears may very well come true, equally they may not. The bottom line is that worrying about such a situation will not change it, so accepting the situation as it is in the 'here and now', although difficult, is sometimes all we can do.
One of the easiest ways to stop yourself from getting into negative thinking is to distract yourself from it and focus on activities which take you away from your negative thoughts.
You can use any activity you want as a distraction technique (as long as it's legal and not harming anyone else, of course!). As long as it works for you, that's the important thing.
To get you started we have a FREE eBook for you to download!
As you can see negative thinking has the power not only to make us feel anxious, but it can prevent us from taking action to try and reduce our worry.
Equally, there may be times when there really is nothing we can do and that calls for a level of acceptance, although we appreciate that this is easier said than done.
Have you got any other suggestions for how to manage negative thinking? Let us know in the comments 🙂
Negative thoughts can be tied to many things; our core belief, our past experiences, thoughts about the future, body image, going to new places, meeting new people and so on. We’re very good at focusing on the negatives, whether real or perceived.
We've used this analogy with our clients:
Imagine you’re sitting in a small row boat, floating on an ocean of negative thoughts. The thoughts are swirling all around the boat, making it bob up and down.
You cast your fishing rod over the side of the boat, and seconds later you have your first bite. You find the negative thought provides very little in the way of fight as you haul it into your boat.
As you examine the negative thought it seems to grow; getting bigger and bigger. Not only that, but more negative thoughts are now jumping onto the boat of their own accord. The more negative thoughts you explore, the more the others seem to launch themselves from the ocean.
Your boat is now heavily laden with negative thoughts, riding low in the water, and still the thoughts jump on board. In no time at all the boat starts to sink and you find yourself floating in the ocean.
Each negative thought you grasp to stay afloat takes you deeper down and you start being pulled towards the bottom of the ocean.
It might sound like a dark analogy, but it holds a certain truth in how a lot of us think. A negative thought enters our mind and instead of merely acknowledging it and letting it pass, we hook into and start analysing it.
This process of analysing only serves to create more negative thoughts. It enables “what if” thoughts to form, and then we start making assumptions. Some of these assumptions may be based on past experiences, while others may just be things we've concocted during the analysing process.
It's rare that any thoughts within this style of thinking are based upon actual facts. Let’s face it, our mind lies and creates infinite possibilities. It thinks of worse-case scenarios, magnifies situations to make them seem worse, and disables our ability to think clearly, rationally, and be pro-active in taking action.
Like the 'boat' example, you may have a worry which initially starts as a small, niggling worry. As you explore this worry it opens up a map of possible destinations, all of which become increasingly worse in their outcome. You start feeling more stressed and anxious, and as you turn the worry over and over in your mind more worries come to the surface.
Can you see the problem with this style of thinking? When we concentrate on the worry, it makes it increasingly bigger. A small worry may be a real worry which therefore needs attention, but ruminating over it will not resolve the problem.
So what can you do instead? What might help your thinking or your situation? The next blog post will address this. See you then!
Can you relate to the analogy of negative thoughts above? Let us know in the comments 🙂
Our brains are wired to look for danger and threats; it's a remnant from our caveman days. Luckily for us we no longer have to contend with Sabre-Tooth Tigers or the odd T-Rex, which is why it's important to know how to challenge negative anxious thoughts.
We can certainly relate to getting wrapped up in negative thought patterns. Are you someone who experiences them on a regular basis? Do you find that you can start off with a seemingly small negative thought about a situation, and it quickly spirals out of control into something resembling a disaster movie? We've been there too.
There are a number of unhelpful thinking patterns which people may use when faced with certain situations. Different people may use different thinking patterns, but from our experience here are the more common ones:
If you're worried about something, you may spend a lot of time running it round in your mind. You can end up thinking about the future and predicting what you think is going to happen, and often you believe it'll be a negative outcome. For example, "If I don't get this report done I'll lose my job".
This thinking pattern might also be known as 'mind reading'. You assume you know what someone else is thinking. You might make assumptions about why a person says or does certain things, and you may wrongly assume that you're the focus of what other people say/do. One example might be "My friend hasn't rung me back, so she must be angry with me".
You may dismiss the positive aspects of situations and/or relationships and focus only on the negatives. This could lead to you losing your self-confidence or even avoiding certain situations or people. So you might beat yourself up over an activity you're not very good at, whilst dismissing all the skills you do have.
You might think in 'all or nothing' terms. So, something is either "all good" or "all bad", but when you think like this you potentially miss all the grey areas in-between. You may be overly-critical of yourself or others, when what's often needed is some self-compassion and empathy towards the situations of others.
With this thinking pattern you might have a negative experience, but then label all future events as being negative as well. For example, you fail an exam so you then believe that you'll fail at everything else you do.
Whilst our brains are wired to pick up on threats, it IS possible to challenge negative anxious thoughts and re-frame them into more balanced ones. Here are some questions to ask yourself if those negative thoughts come knocking on your door:
One of the most useful phrases I heard was "Thoughts are not facts". This is so true, yet we often believe thoughts as readily as if the evidence had been physically placed in front of us.
What evidence do you have for your negative thought? Is it based on fact or something you 'believe' to be true? If it's the latter, then you're probably giving too much weight to something which may not even be true.
Are you assuming something about someone or a given situation?
Jumping to conclusions can come from us basing what we think on poor evidence, or 'beliefs'. For example, you might think certain people are talking about you, but where is the evidence? Unless you know for sure, you cannot know.
Would you have viewed the situation differently a few months' ago when you were perhaps feeling better? Our frame of mind at any given time can really impact upon the way we perceive a situation.
How do you think would someone else view the same situation? Why not ask them?
Be realistic and assess whether your thoughts are helping you or getting in your way. What impact are they having on your life? Are they getting in the way of things like relationships or work?
If they're doing more harm than good, then it's time to challenge them.
As odd as it sounds, there might be some benefits (albeit in the short-term) to thinking negatively. For example, perhaps you're worried about being hurt in relationships and while negative thinking might keep people at arm's length it also protects you.
However, ask yourself whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? In the long-term, would your negative thinking stop you from forming potentially positive relationships with others?
It can be hard to accept when the past can't be undone. It's natural to wish that certain events hadn't happened, but tying yourself up in mental knots when the situation cannot be changed will only have a negative impact on your well-being.
If you can get the answers to your questions then that's great, but take the time to recognise when it's time to walk away and let go of those questions in order to look after yourself.
We hope you've found these suggestions for how to challenge negative thoughts helpful.
Do you have any other ideas for how you can deal with them? Let us know in the comments.