Healthy ways to deal with negative thoughts

Negative thoughts are common for everyone occasionally. But for those with low self-esteem or depression, overcoming them can be challenging. Luckily, there are helpful techniques to shift from negative to positive thinking.

Having negative thoughts or being hard on yourself occasionally is normal. But if it persists and impacts your mental health, it’s crucial to take steps for your well-being.

Does everyone experience negative thoughts?

It’s normal to have negative thoughts occasionally. No one is positive all the time! Negative thoughts come and go without causing much concern. However, for individuals prone to depression, anxiety, or intense anger, letting go of these thoughts may be more challenging.

Thoughts might become “stuck,” leading to feelings of depression and anxiety. You don’t necessarily need a mental health diagnosis to experience this, but those with mental illness may be more prone to this negative thought pattern.

How negative thoughts affect your health

Traditionally, our society has viewed mental and physical health as separate entities. However, it’s crucial to recognize that mental well-being impacts physical health, and vice versa. Negative thoughts can materialize into physical sensations.

“When negative thoughts dominate our thinking, they can lead to ongoing health problems.”

The continuous cycle of cynicism, hopelessness, despair, or self-criticism can result in ongoing psychological suffering. This prolonged distress can affect your physical health. Physical symptoms can trigger more negative thoughts, perpetuating the cycle.

Types of negative thoughts

It’s essential to recognize that negative thoughts vary widely โ€” there isn’t just one type.

Here are some examples:

  1. Black-and-white thinking: Either I excel completely, or I’m a total failure.
  2. Catastrophizing: “If I board a plane, it will crash,” โ€” while a crash is plausible, what are the actual odds?
  3. Imposing “shoulds” and “musts”: These set unrealistic expectations. For instance, you might find yourself thinking, “I need to say yes whenever my friends ask for something,” or “I have to hide how I truly feel.”
  4. Emotional reasoning: “I feel like a bad parent, so I must be one.”

Have you caught yourself thinking like this? Let’s explore strategies for handling them and embracing healthier perspectives.

How to manage negative thoughts

Time for a mindset reset? Here are some effective ways to reframe negative thoughts.

1. Acknowledge them

The initial step is awareness! Rather than suppressing them, acknowledge and observe your thoughts without criticism. “Pay attention to your thoughts, especially during unpleasant moods.” In other words, if you’re feeling down, start monitoring your thoughts more consciously. What’s your inner dialogue like? Is it anxious or pessimistic?

2. Dig deep, identify the thought

Start by asking yourself: what’s bothering me the most? Pick one thought to focus on initially. If you catch it, write it down and set it aside for later reflection. It might feel challenging at first, but think of it like noticing a car you’ve been thinking about everywhere. With practice, becoming aware of your thoughts will get easier.

3. Evaluate the thought

Next, it’s time to break down the thought and question its validity. “Ask yourself: Is this thought really accurate?”

Consider this: if you’re having negative thoughts about your job, like “I’ll never grasp this part of my work,” take a closer look. What’s behind this thought? Is it a confidence issue? Feeling overwhelmed or unsupported?

Challenge the thought: Have you overcome difficult tasks before? Recall your past learning successes. Introduce logic and evidence into your thinking. Interrupt the negative pattern.

4. Replace the thought

Now it’s time to rewrite the story. Replace the negative thought with one that’s more accurate, realistic, or fair.

In the given scenario, rather than dwelling on your perceived incompetence due to difficulty in understanding a task, adopt a more realistic and encouraging perspective: “Despite the challenges I’m facing, I believe that with dedicated effort, I can make strides forward.”

5. Accept the Thought Without Analysis

“Can you just see the thought as it is?” It might sound like a riddle, but it’s about realizing that you have thousands of thoughts every day, and not all are true reflections of reality. “Simply acknowledge that it’s just a passing thought and remind yourself that thoughts come and go.” Ask yourself: will this matter in a year, five years, or ten years? Don’t automatically believe everything you think.

6. Interrupt the dwelling process

It’s possible that the negative thought mirrors your reality, such as experiencing a sad or painful event, like receiving criticism from your boss. Instead, acknowledge the feedback, accept the negative experience, and focus on moving forward.

7. Write down a plan

“Consider writing down negative thoughts and applying the steps we discussed.” You can try using a worksheet to break down your thoughts systematically. While this approach may not be effective for everyone, it’s worth experimenting to see if it helps your mindset.

8. Talk it Out

If you find yourself experiencing more negative thoughts than positive ones after going through these steps, consider reaching out to someone for support. Share your fears, worries, and emotions with someone you trust. Expressing yourself verbally can alleviate a significant burden and provide valuable perspective. Talking it out could be therapeutic and mark the beginning of a positive shift in your mindset.

9. Seek support

You don’t have to face these negative thoughts by yourself. If you’re finding it challenging to manage your mental health, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider. They can collaborate with you to create a personalized care plan suited to your specific requirements. This plan may include lifestyle adjustments, medication, or a referral to another mental health professional.

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