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Last Updated on November 26, 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 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.

    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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    Last Updated on March 2, 2021

    10 Negative Thoughts We All Have and What to Think Instead

    10 Negative Thoughts We All Have and What to Think Instead

    I’ll never forget the first time I heard that the way I was talking to myself, realizing how it directly influenced every aspect of my life. We can be our own worst enemy at times and our internal conversation and negative thoughts can be extremely limiting. Like most people, I was blind to this somewhat obvious piece of information.

    Eventually, I realized that the negative thoughts I had weren’t facts at all, but instead self imposed limitations that I was putting on myself, which I also had the power to remove. Over the last decade, it has become very clear to me that most of us actually have very similar negative thoughts. Here are some of the most common negative thoughts we all have and what we should think instead.

    1. I Am Not Good Enough

    Have you ever thought that you weren’t good enough? When we feel that we aren’t good enough, we tend to drown in this emotion of self-doubt and pity. It can be a symptom of low self-esteem, but the truth is that every one is good enough.

    You might not have the skills or tools to achieve what you want now, but you are certainly good enough and worthy of receiving what you want in life. If you have a $10 bill, and it falls on the ground into a puddle of mud, does that $10 lose its value? Of course not! So why do you feel that you lose value based on what you have done in life?

    What to Think Instead

    Instead of saying, “I am not good enough,” tell yourself that you are worthy of all you desire in this life, just like everyone else[1]. Focus on the things you like about yourself in this moment. You can even make a written list and post it nearby if it helps you to see it each day[2]

    Practice Loving Yourself to Overcome Negative Thoughts

      2. I Can’t Do It

      “Can’t” is one of the most limiting words that you can tell yourself. Henry Ford once said,

      “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.”

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      If you tell yourself that you can’t, you are sending messages to your mind and brain that you can’t, and so that will be your experience. Your mind won’t try if you have already told it that something is impossible. 

      What to Think Instead

      Instead of focusing your negative thoughts on what you think you can’t do, tell yourself, “I can do whatever I put my mind to.” While we all do have limitations, believing in your abilities in the first step to achieving your short and long term goals in life. 

      And sometimes, you may just need a little motivation boost. Get the Instant Motivation Boost Worksheet, it’s a free worksheet that will guide you to do the little things for an instant boost of motivation. Grab the free worksheet here.

      3. I’m Not as Lucky as Other People

      This thought normally comes from holding an illusion that other people’s lives are better and they are luckier, and that is what separates you from them. “Perfect” doesn’t exist, and there is often a lot of effort that goes behind that perceived “luck.”

      It is very disempowering to think that life will never offer you good things; the truth is that if you tap into some gratitude, you’ll see that you already have good things all around you. 

      What to Think Instead

      Instead of focusing on all the luck others seem to have, tell yourself, “Good things can and will happen to me.” Use a sense of gratitude to begin to notice all of the good things you would normally never notice. For example, when was the last time you felt grateful for the roof over your head, the food in your fridge, or your comfy bed?

      4. I Don’t Think I’ll Ever…

      Whatever you believe will become your reality, this is true. You shape your future every day by the choices you make and your habits. You can sabotage your opportunities by limiting yourself with negative thoughts.

      What would it be like if you believed that you could do what you really desired and have the experiences you wished instead? It is not about getting it right the first time, but trying. Don’t stop yourself before you have even given yourself a chance.

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      What to Think Instead

      Don’t limit yourself with negative thought patterns that tell you you’ll never do something. Instead, tell yourself, “I am confident I will…” Even if you don’t feel confident in this moment, feeding your brain positive thoughts will slowly build confidence over time. 

      5. I Should Be Better Than I Am

      Using the word “should” in this context makes this a truly negative thought and makes one feel less than they are. How often do you find yourself saying “I should be more clever, more disciplined, more productive, etc. than I am”? Remember how you feel immediately afterwards?

      What to Think Instead

      Tell yourself, “I am making an effort to change what I don’t like.” Everyone has parts of themselves that they hope to improve, and this is certainly possible, but it requires approaching these things with a sense of self-love and patience. 

      Set yourself goals for the things you are not happy with instead of telling yourself what you “should” be like or be doing. Take action the things you wish to change and remove limiting modals from your vocabulary.

      Here are some ways you can start to improve yourself.

      6. I Am Not Strong Enough

      It’s normal to feel that you are not strong enough at times[3]. We are all human, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel weak at times. What is important though, is the conversation you have with yourself afterwards. If you keep reinforcing the fact that you don’t feel strong with negative thoughts, how can you expect to feel?

      What to Think Instead

      Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, tell yourself that you are strong enough to deal with the challenges in front of you, and support yourself in finding the strength you need in that moment.

      7. Nobody Cares

      It might feel that you are alone at times and that nobody cares, but I am convinced that there are people thinking about you that you don’t even know of. People do care; not everyone expresses their emotions in the same way. It isn’t nice feeling that nobody cares, so stop focusing on that and assuming what other people feel when you don’t actually know. Change your focus to something that makes you feel better instead.

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      What to Think Instead

      Instead of assuming that no one cares about you, remind yourself that there are people in your life who do, in fact, care very much. Do your best to cultivate those relationships and accept the love others are willing to give in order to combat your negative thoughts. 

      8. I Am Not Smart Enough

      This is a very general statement, yet many people tend to say it often and then feel bad about themselves afterwards. What are you not smart at specifically? I bet that if I asked you to identify some areas that you are smart in, you could if you really tried.

      Not everybody is clever and perfect in every area, and this is what makes us all unique. If you feel that you are lacking in a certain area of knowledge, instead of producing negative thoughts, make time to study and learn whatever it is that you want so that you don’t feel this way any more.

      What to Think Instead

      Instead of believing that you’re not intelligent, remind yourself that you are smart in a unique way and that you are capable of improving your knowledge in any area you choose. Lifelong learning can be a goal you constantly work toward.

      9. If I Don’t Do Well, I’m a Failure

      Holding high expectations for yourself and having conditions attached to your self worth on your performance isn’t fair. You need to take chances in life if you want to get different results. Don’t be scared of failing; the real failure lies in never having tried.

      What to Think Instead

      When facing a challenging situation or possible risk, tell yourself, “I am going to try; I am not scared of failing; that is not what is important.” Even if you “fail,” you will learn something about the world and yourself, and as long as that’s the case, nothing is ever a true failure. 

      10. Bad Things Will Happen

      Thinking negatively in general is thinking that whatever happens, it is most likely going to be the worst case scenario. What would it be like if you imagined the best case scenario instead? Our positive and negative thoughts are very powerful, and it’s common to use visualization as a technique to imagine the best case scenario.

      Whether you imagine the worst or the best case scenario, you are influencing your results. Stop focusing on what you don’t want to happen and rather on what you want to happen.

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      What to Think Instead

      Instead of thinking that bad things will happen when you try something, try thinking that the best will happen. This way, you’ll aim high, and even if you fall a little short, you’ll still get farther than you were before. 

      Final Thoughts

      We all have negative thoughts from time to time. However, when the majority of your thoughts are negative, you are undermining your happiness at the end of the day. Our thoughts directly affect how we feel and, therefore, what we do in life.

      If you’re feeling sad and are overwhelmed with negative thoughts, you can consider contacting a mental health professional to give your mental health a boost and get you back on track toward positivity.

      Don’t limit yourself or what is possible for you. Master your thoughts and change your results. 

      More on How to Stop Negative Thoughts

       

      Featured photo credit: arash payam via unsplash.com

      Reference

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