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How to Deal With Negative Thoughts (the Healthy Way)

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How to Deal With Negative Thoughts (the 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 thoughts 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 draining my energy and distracting me from focusing on what was important in my life.

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

What Causes Negative Thoughts?

The first thing to do is to find the why — what triggers set off your negative thinking? If you can find the answer as to why you are constantly having so many negative thoughts, then you will be one step closer to better managing the impact that negative thinking is having on your life.

Mental Health Conditions

Negative thoughts have 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 Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Depression is also a factor that contributes to negative thoughts. If you feel that you may be struggling with a mental illness, contact a mental health professional to get medical advice.

Rumination

Everyone has negative thoughts from time to time; it’s a natural part of life to feel sad or down. The danger for us, however, is when these negative thoughts are replaying over and over in our minds.

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Scientists call this rumination[1]. 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, which 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.[2] The problem occurs when we constantly put our bodies and minds in situations of high stress and negative thinking, as this causes cortisol 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. Over time, the body will start to show signs of wear and tear – heart attacks, depression, anxiety, mental illness, etc.

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

Holding on to 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 on 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 or disaster. The future hasn’t happened, 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.

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Anxiety About the Present

Many of us 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 thoughts as soon as you recognize that they are about to become a big problem in your life.

5 Steps to Manage Your Negative Thoughts

It is unrealistic to think that you will be able to eliminate all negative thoughts. A more realistic and sustainable approach is to learn strategies to manage your negative thinking so that you have control over how you want to live your life.

1. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts

This step-by-step strategy takes time and practice; you will not have control of your thoughts overnight. Be prepared and committed to practicing this strategy on a daily basis.

This strategy is all about teaching yourself how to counter your negative thoughts. There are 5 questions you can ask yourself:

  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.

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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.

You can learn more visualization techniques in this article.

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 in a physical way releases you from a lot of negative energy. Some people write down their negative thoughts on a piece of paper and throw 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. Find the technique that feels best for you.

4.Surround Yourself With Positive People

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 is willing to listen to you share your thoughts and feelings.

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5. Reframe Your Thoughts

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. What you are doing is assuming and personalizing your thoughts and reinforcing this with negative thinking.

Take a few minutes 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 1.

Use positivity to overcome negative thoughts

    You can also take a look at these tips on How to Practice Positive Thinking And Change Your Life.

    Final Thoughts

    “The key to happiness – or that even more desired thing, calmness – lies not in always thinking happy thoughts…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

    With dedicated practice and commitment, you can replace negative thought patterns with thoughts that will actually help you achieve happiness and a sense of calm acceptance. There is no doubt that the more positive thoughts you have the more positive results you will achieve in life, so get started today.

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    More Tips on Overcoming Negative Thoughts

    Featured photo credit: Danilo Batista via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] BBC: Rumination: The danger of dwelling
    [2] Healthline: High Cortisol Symptoms: What Do They Mean?

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    Kathryn Sandford

    Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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