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Published on March 24, 2020

How to Deal with Negative Thoughts (The Healthy Way)

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 spend 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 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 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.

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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 the 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 normalise 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 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 of positive psychology and of 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 an environment or in a relationship that is toxic 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.

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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

This strategy to apply takes time and practice – you will not have control of your thoughts overnight. So be prepared and committed to practising 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 in a physical way 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 in the rubbish bin.

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I like to write my negative thoughts fears and regrets on an inflated balloon and then release them 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 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.

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Take a few minutes out to acknowledge the great things you do, write these down and say these wonderful things out loud to you. Another strategy you could do is to challenge these thoughts with the questions outlined in Step 1.

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. 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.

More Tips About Positive Thinking

Featured photo credit: Danilo Batista via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

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

8 Powerful Mood Boosters to Lift Your Mood And Energy How to Persevere (And Get Ahead!) When the Going Gets Tough How to Stop Self-Sabotaging and Be Positive Again 10 Things You Can Do Now to Change Your Life Forever 7 Things To Remember When You Feel Broken Inside

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Published on September 25, 2020

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

Stress doesn’t discriminate. It affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, I think we can all agree that it’s present. When it does show up, it takes over the show. It then becomes difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion. This is probably when self-care finally comes to our mind.

How Does Stress Show Up?

On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response. According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

Why is this important? While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios. Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as dire, and essentially locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

On a mental and emotional scale, according to the Mayo Clinic, “Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior.” Everything is interconnected. When our physical body takes a toll due to stress, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

How to Combat Stress?

Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

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1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being. Stress is just brewing!

One exercise to get this under control is called a Brain Dump, and it’s exactly how it sounds. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up. Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph. Don’t think too much of how it looks. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are — they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

2. Sweat It Out

There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body! If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America,[3]

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“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why having a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

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Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution.

Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice).

4. Interrupt Your Day

This may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also de-stress your day.

As I said in the earlier tip, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing.

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5. Get Some Energy Work Done

Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture. As I said in a previous tip, moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional. In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment. It’s a beautiful way to self-care!

Final Thoughts

Stress is unfortunately a common part of our life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state. This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed, but they will help you manage it better.

More Self-Care Ideas

Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
[2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress

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