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Dealing with Negative Thoughts in a Healthy Way

written by Kathryn Sandford May 14, 2020
Dealing with Negative Thoughts in a Healthy Way

When I think back to all the unhappy and frustrating times in my life, I realize now that I prolonged these experiences because I spent too much time in my head. I was either worrying about the future or thinking about past mistakes, missed opportunities, and all the other events in my life where I felt dissatisfied and frustrated. I didn’t even realize how much impact negative thinking had on my life,

Then one day, I read an article that said that we have between 40,000-80,000 thoughts every day. I realized then that the thousands of negative thoughts I was having on a daily basis were preventing me from not only enjoying life experiences but were draining my energy and distracting me from focusing on what was important in my life. It had to stop and the only person who could do this was me.

In this article, you will understand why you have negative thoughts and how to deal with them.

What Causes Your Negative Thinking?

The first thing I decided to do was to find the why — what triggers set off my negative thinking? If I could find the answer as to why I was constantly having so many negative thoughts, then I would be one step closer to better managing the impact that negative thinking was having on my life.

Mental Health Conditions

Negative thinking has many different causes and these causes can differ for everyone. The most excessive cause of negative thinking can be as a result of mental health conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Depression is also a factor that contributes to negative thinking and at times in my life, I had the symptoms of depression. While negative thinking can be a sign of mental illness, it can also be a regular part of life.

Rumination

Everyone has negative thoughts and that is a normal part of our lives. The danger for us, however, is when we keep having these negative thoughts going over and over in our minds.

Scientists call this “rumination.” A habit of rumination can be dangerous to our mental health, as it can prolong or intensify depression as well as impair our ability to think and process emotions.

The Cortisol Effect

Cortisol is a hormone that is mainly released at times of stress and has many important functions in our body. Having the right cortisol balance is essential for human health, and you can have problems if your adrenal gland releases too much or too little cortisol.

Our brain loves cortisol, as it is there to warn us about imminent danger, and that can be very helpful.[1] The problem is that when we are constantly putting our bodies and our minds in situations of high stress and negative thinking, the cortisol starts to overload. Our brain starts to develop patterns of negative thinking and we start to normalize our thought patterns.

We train our brains to think we are no longer in imminent danger – this is our new normal, but our cortisol levels become dangerously high. The body, over time, will start to show signs of wear and tear – heart attacks, depression, anxiety, mental illness, and the list goes on.

If you don’t keep your negative thinking under control, you will eventually have to deal with serious health issues.

Holding onto Fears and Regrets

Martin Seligman, an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books, is a strong promoter within the scientific community of his theories of positive psychology and well-being.

He says that the three leading causes of negative thoughts for most people are:
  • Fear of the future – people can fear the unknown, and, as a result, they start thinking that the worst things can happen – such as failure and disaster. The future hasn’t happened and so people who fear it are distracted from living in the present, which is where they have more control over how they live their lives.
  • Anxiety about the present – many of us, however, do worry about what others think of us, what the traffic will be like going home, or if we are doing a good job. If we are in a toxic environment or relationship, we are more susceptible to negative thoughts.
  • Regret about the past – everyone does things that they are embarrassed or ashamed of. People who are prone to negative thinking tend to dwell on past mistakes and failures more than others.

No matter what causes your negative thoughts, you can manage them with some strategies. Start dealing with your negative thinking as soon as you recognize that negative thinking is about to become a big problem in your life.

5 Steps to Manage Your Negative Thinking

I don’t believe you can stop your negative thinking once and for all. That is an impossible task to achieve.

A more realistic and achievable approach and one more sustainable is to learn strategies on how to manage your negative thinking so that you have control over how you want to live your life – not handing control over to your negative thoughts.

1. Challenge your negative thoughts.

Applying this strategy takes time and practice – you will not have control of your thoughts overnight. So be prepared and committed to practicing this strategy on a daily basis.

This strategy is all about teaching yourself how to counter negate your negative thoughts. There are 5 questions you can ask yourself either in your head or, as I prefer, writing my answers down in my journal:

  1. Is this thought true? Is there a basis for this negative belief?
  2. Is this thought giving your power or is it taking away your power?
  3. Can you put a positive spin on this thought or learn from it?
  4. What would it be like if you didn’t have these negative thoughts?
  5. Is this negative thought hiding you from issues you need to address?
2. Distract your negative thoughts by focusing on something else.

Visualization is a useful strategy to help you distract yourself from your negative thoughts. Try to picture yourself doing an activity that you love to do – for example shopping, reading books, listening to music, etc. The key is to train your brain to think about something completely different for at least 30 seconds.

Be disciplined in trying this technique. Over time, you will have trained your brain to go in a different direction every time your negative thoughts come up.

3. The balloon exercise: Throw away your negative thoughts.

I love this strategy the most. Essentially, what you are doing here is throwing your negative thoughts away.

Clearing your head of negative thoughts by writing them down and letting them go physically releases you from a lot of negative energy. Some people write down their negative thoughts on a piece of paper, screw the paper up, and throw it in the rubbish bin.

I like to write my negative thoughts fears and regrets on an inflated balloon and then release it into the sky. At the same time, you are saying (yelling out loud) goodbye to your fears, regrets, and negative thoughts!

4. Surround yourself with positive people.

Surround yourself with really good people. I think that’s an important thing. Because the people you surround yourself are a reflection of you. — Aaron Rodgers

This quote from Aaron Rodgers illustrates why it is important to have great people in your life. The people that you spend your time with have a huge influence on how you live your life.

If you want to better manage your negative thoughts, then spend time with a friend who has positive energy, a positive outlook on life, and who is willing to listen to you share your thoughts and feelings – though they won’t let you get away with dwelling on the negative for too long!

5. The power of positive thinking: Reframe your thoughts.

Positive thinking evokes, more Energy, more Initiative and more Happiness – Unknown

Our mind has this amazing ability to convince us of something that isn’t really true. These untrue and inaccurate thoughts reinforce our negative thinking.

The next time you are thinking that you are to blame for everything that is going wrong – stop it. What you are doing is assuming and personalizing your thoughts and reinforcing this with negative thinking.

Take a few minutes out to acknowledge the great things you do, write these down and say these wonderful things out loud to yourself. Another strategy you could do is to challenge these thoughts with the questions outlined in Step One.

Final Thoughts

The key to happiness – or that even more desired thing, calmness – lies not in always thinking happy thoughts. No. That is impossible. No mind on earth with any kind of intelligence could spend a lifetime enjoying only happy thoughts. The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them. — Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive

Negative thinking does not lead you to live a happy and successful life. With dedicated practice and commitment, you can replace negative thinking patterns with thoughts that actually help. This can make a huge difference in your day-to-day happiness. There is no doubt that the more positive thoughts you have the more positive results you will achieve in life.

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