We’ve probably all had them at some point in our lives. They can creep in when we least expect it. And they can be absent when we expect them most. Usually our negative thoughts will turn up like an unwanted guest when our mood takes a dip.
For myself, when I experience seriously low mood that’s when the thoughts are worst. Most often the thoughts are self-critical and blaming. They have a massive impact on my self-esteem and convince me that I’m the worst person in the world. But not all negative thoughts take this form. These are the ones I personally recognize. We will all experience these thoughts in different ways and at different times. Some of us will notice them more than others. And whilst it may not be possible to erase these negative thoughts completely. We may be able to employ mechanisms and strategies to help us rethink or reframe them. And, with time, lessen their impact.
For How Gratitude Boosted My Mental Health read here.
Where Do Negative Thoughts Come From?
Negative thought patterns are part of our in-built negativity bias. In short, our brains expect the worst to protect us from possible threat. Our brains are always scanning for threat to our environment. It’s the reason why if a car comes speeding around the corner and we jump back. We may say “I didn’t even see it coming”. We didn’t see it coming visually. But our body detected it none the less and automatically reacted to keep us safe. Whilst this can be helpful in life threatening situations. In our day to day lives, it can mean that we jump to worst case scenarios or experience negative thoughts because of this negativity bias.
Negative thoughts can also be experienced as part of a mental health condition. We may associate negative thoughts with experiences of depression in particular. Often when it comes to the relationship between negative thoughts and mental ill health it’s a bit of a vicious circle. Negative thoughts can be a contributing factor to the development of a mental health problem. And likewise they can also be a symptom of distress.
Things to Be Aware Of
It can be helpful if we know where our negative thoughts come from. But we can still learn to manage them whether we do or not. If negative thoughts are having a huge impact on our lives then we may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional who can support us. By helping us find ways to reframe these thoughts which we may be unable to do by ourselves. Often the negative thoughts are embedded and may be based on past experiences. It’s important in these cases to seek support from someone who has the training to help us. Self-care tips can only take us so far. And deeply reflective activities may not be safe to practise ourselves as they may negatively impact our mental health or could trigger us.
For 4 Ways to Reframe Anxiety read here.
How to Rethink & Reframe Negative Thoughts
The focus behind rethinking and reframing isn’t the erasure of negative thoughts. But the ability to think of them in a different way. Aiming to remove the sting that makes them so damaging to us. We know that our brains have neuroplasticity. This means that our brains can be retrained. This is why practise makes perfect. However, it can take a lot of time for these new practises to become embedded. So be prepared to put in the effort here. And remember things don’t always work immediately. And different things will work for different people. So we may have to chop and change before we find what works for us.
A good first step is to start by acknowledging and noticing when negative thoughts appear. This might not seem like a big deal. But by noticing them we create a break in our thinking. And make it less likely that they will impact or mood or we will be trapped in a negative thought spiral. Likewise, merely acknowledging the thoughts can create a sense of distance from them. When we have achieved some distance from these thoughts. We are in a better place to try and rethink them.
We can take this next step by questioning these thoughts. This often takes a logical approach. And it is harder to be logical when our emotions are involved; as they so often are when it comes to negative thoughts. We can start to question these thoughts by asking ourselves where these voices are coming from. And whether there is any proof or evidence to them? Often we may find that the proof isn’t there. We can always try and remind ourselves that these thoughts are opinion. They are not truths. And the more we realise the evidence isn’t there to back them up. The more we will see them for what they are.
For 4 Ways to Check In with Your Mental Health read here.
Reframing our Language & Other Supports
We can also think about the language we use around our negative thoughts. Can we pause and change the words we use? For example, instead of thinking “I am stupid”, we can reframe to “I’m having the thought that I am stupid”. This may not seem like a big difference. But the first makes it sound true, and the second creates distance and helps us notice and acknowledge. Without buying into the idea as something we must believe. Another example is negative thoughts that include ‘should’. The word should can imply blame or guilt. If our thought is “I should have finished all my chores” or “I should have gone to the gym”. Replace should with could. It prevents the guilt and blame. And frames the statements as opportunities instead.
If we find that we are struggling to reframe our thoughts. Or we need a break from it. We can try and approach the negative thoughts in a different way. Channelling the thoughts creatively via writing, art or music. Or other artistic or creative pursuits which can be really cathartic. It can help us get the thoughts out of our head. Talking to someone we trust can have a similar effect. Sometimes we may need a break from our thoughts. Taking a mindful moment, doing some exercise, getting outside for a walk or doing something we enjoy can also help give us a break. But trying to embed these processes whenever we have a negative thought. In time, our brains will learn that these negative thoughts are untrue. They will be easier to reframe. And may occur less frequently.
What are your experiences of negative thoughts? How do you help manage them? Let us know in the comments below.