How to Stop Negative Thoughts 2023 – Overcoming Negative Thinking
Negative thoughts can occur for a variety of reasons. They usually stem from past experiences, anxiety of the present, or fear of the future. These thoughts have the potential to cause an emotional reaction related to either depression and/or anxiety. The symptoms may be: sadness, worry, nervousness, adrenaline, increased heart rate etc.
Although these symptoms are not directly harmful, they can certainly affect our daily lives and those around you. Why so? You may seclude yourself from everyone or become overly aggressive.
Negative Thought: What Exactly Is It?
Humans can hyper focus on what they interpret to be negative about oneself or their surroundings. Subsequently, these negative thoughts can reflect on their behavior and even have negative physiological effects. Negative thought patterns do occur in everyone from time to time, but are more prevalent and debilitating in those individuals who present mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Causes of Negative Thinking
Some of the main causes of negative thinking include:
- Anticipatory Anxiety
- Anxiety about the past and present
- Shame of the past
- Fear of Fear
Anticipatory anxiety, formally known as the fear of the future is where individuals experience automatic negative thoughts about what could occur in future events. For example, some individuals may have driving anxiety due to a traumatic event that they have experienced, seen or heard about. Individuals who suffer from anticipatory anxiety draw the worst case scenarios like they may get into a fatal car accident. These individuals may experience spiraling negative thoughts just before driving which could cause severe anxiety symptoms or even panic attacks.
Anxiety About The Present Moment
Some people may experience unhelpful thinking patterns about the present that make them feel anxious. Subsequently, this may impact the way that they function during daily activities. From my observations, negative thoughts about the present moment are usually accompanied by negative self-talk. An example of anxiety about the present may be where an individual gets negative thoughts about how others may perceive them in the supermarket, where they may not even leave the car and request their spouse or friend to do the shopping.
Shame Of The Past
A Negative thought pattern is not only linked to what is happening or what is to come. Some individuals may experience negative thoughts and feel sad about past events and feel bouts of self embarrassment. For example, one may feel guilty about forgetting about their mothers birthday. I have personally even experienced similar negative thoughts about events that occurred years and years ago.
Fear Of Fear
A common phenomenon is the fear of fear. Some individuals fear the symptoms they could experience during anxiety, ie, adrenaline, sleep disturbances, shivers, feeling cold etc. Then their negative thinking ruminates around these symptoms. For this reason, these symptoms do actually occur, which just exacerbates the situation with more negative thinking. For example an individual may fear the symptom of adrenaline without understanding what it actually is, when the adrenaline kicks in, they may develop more negative feelings regarding their health, this can be classified as emotional reasoning.
Simple Ways To Cope With Negative Thoughts
We have included some simple ways that may help stop negative thoughts, but it is always advised to be assessed by a mental health professional i.e., a cognitive behavioral therapist who may be able to identify the treatment that suits you.
We coping strategies that we included are:
- Avoid Thought Stopping
- Replace Negative Thoughts
- Focus On Present And Future Rather Than Past
- Be inquisitive Rather Than Self-Critical
- Use A Diary To Track Negative Thoughts
Avoid Thought Stopping
Truth be told, it is near impossible to eliminate negative thoughts. If one attempts to stop negative thoughts altogether chances are you will rebound into the same negative thoughts. A better coping mechanism to gain control is mindfulness and acceptance of the thoughts for being just thoughts. You must reassure yourself that thoughts or even the physiological effects can not harm you. Once you are able to put less importance on negative thoughts, only then will you be able fully engage with reality.
Replace Negative Thoughts
As part of cognitive behavioral therapy, patients are guided on how to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts and adaptive responses. The idea is to identify your negative thoughts, then think back to another time where similar thoughts occurred, and then ask yourself if the negative thought came to reality. In most cases, the negative thoughts do not play out, therefore you can adapt a response to reassure yourself of this. This can diffuse the fear of the future or present. You are basically evaluating the evidence that supports or contradicts it.
For example, I had a friend who had negative thoughts that resolved around plane journeys, he would come up with the worst possible outcome, like a plane crash. When this individual finally gained the courage to take the plane journey, nothing of the sort had occurred. In the future, if this individual has similar thoughts, he could reassure himself that a plane crash will probably not occur with a positive thought about a safe journey.
Focus on The Present and Future Rather Than The Past
Negative thoughts about the past can cause symptoms of depression and low mood. In turn, this can affect your behavior in the present and even affect your future. You may become sad, frustrated, angry and even develop low self esteem. These behavioral changes affect the relationships with those around you.
Those who experience shame of the past, should acknowledge the past as the past, and come to terms that it can not be changed instead of dwelling on it. Try to live in the moment and work towards a better future, ensuring that you do not make the same mistakes that caused recurring negative thoughts.
Be Inquisitive Rather than Self-critical
Wrongdoings and mistakes can cause one to be self-critical. Unhelpful thoughts can bring about symptoms of depression and low mood that we have already touched on. Instead of being critical about your mistakes, try to be inquisitive and learn how you would not make the same mistake again.
For example, an individual may have failed an exam from a lack of preparation, instead of dwelling on it and being self critical, one could learn how to set revision schedules and proper methods of study revision.
Use A Diary To Track Negative Thoughts
Collating a thought diary is a simple strategy, used to identify negative thinking patterns, thus allowing you to gain a thorough understanding about how thoughts can influence your mood or emotional reactions. You could write down an activating event, your beliefs/automatic negative thoughts.
These diaries can allow you to come to the realization that the problem is the automatic negative thoughts and not the environment. You can then modify your thoughts to make them less negatively biased, which can balance our moods, emotions and feelings.
A brief example of a thought diary log could be, you got an email from your boss in the morning (Event). You may then get automatic thoughts like “what did i do wrong?” “What if I’m in trouble?” “what if i get fired?” (Belief). The next step is to write down the emotion or reaction this caused i.e., nervous, anxious, worried etc (emotion).
Once you have identified this pattern, you can try and change the belief for future events. The belief could become “my boss is emailing me about arranging next week’s work schedule”.
The Impact of Negative Thoughts
There are many ways that negative thoughts could impact us. We included:
- Mental Health Conditions
- Instant Anxiety And Panic Attack
- Impacting Relationships
- Loss of Motivation
Mental Health Conditions
A Classic 2013 study by Kinderman et al. found that negative thinking and self-blaming about past events increased the risk of developing mental health conditions, especially in those who have a genetic predisposition (mental health in genes).
Anxiety or Panic Attack
Negative thinking can spiral into symptoms of anxiety or panic. For example, you may experience negative thoughts about driving your car on the freeway, where you have had a traumatic experience in the past. Your brain may signal this to be a threat, where you release adrenaline and become highly anxious. Although you are not experiencing the event the brain has already interpreted it.
There are many ways in which negative thinking could impact relationships. Firstly, you may become more aggressive, which can cause an element of detachment. For example, you may begin to shout at your friends, where they may no longer want to be around you anymore. Secondly, negative self talk may put you into a depressed state, where you may seclude yourself from those around you. This would reduce relationship bonds overtime.
Thirdly, negative self talk could make you more insecure, where you may become more needy and lose a lot of natural character. This could change the way people think of you and if they want to associate themselves with you.
Loss of Motivation
You may ruminate so much around your negative thoughts it may be difficult to focus or see the value in other areas of life. Not to mention the increased stress and lowered self-esteem for certain tasks.
We now know that negative thinking is us hyperfocusing on what we think is “bad”. These thoughts can be caused by the past, present, future or fear itself.
There are many ways to cope with negative thinking, but we have covered 5 of them, which you may want to try.
Some of the ways in which negative thinking can impact up is though: our mental health, relationships, and motivational levels.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ones like “i am a jerk” “I am a loser” “I never do anything right” “No one would ever like me”.
You have the option to help at any time. If you feel that your thoughts may influence you to harm yourself or those around you, then it is crucial to seek professional help.
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