The human brain is a complex organ that serves many functions. However, there are times when our brain and its thought-processing function do not serve us in the most productive way. Our mind can sometimes play tricks on us, and it can emotionally and mentally wear us out to the point of exhaustion if we let it. We oftentimes fall into the negative thought trap, where we start having one negative thought and then it transitions into a downward spiral of negative thought after negative thought. If you have experienced this before, you know that this downward spiral leads to anxiety, depression, and maybe even a mental breakdown. One of the reasons why it’s difficult to stop negative thinking is because it’s automatic. Without noticing it, there could be a trigger in your environment that sparks an automatic negative thought — this is how the downward spiral begins. This blog post will explore various aspects of negative thinking and how to overcome it.
When dealing with negative thoughts and trying to overcome them, a good place to start is to first identify your negative thoughts. Take time to reflect on the negative thinking that you engage in and ask yourself “what are my specific negative thoughts?”. Do you constantly criticize yourself? Do you tell yourself that you are not good enough? Do you have negative thoughts about your body or physical appearance? One negative thought that I hear of people engaging in often is comparisons. This can be a detrimental thought process to partake in because it leaves us feeling like we will never measure up. Another negative thought is “blaming”. We have the ability to blame ourselves, or to blame other people, or situations. This is not a healthy thinking pattern because it removes accountability, it does not focus on a positive solution, and it only adds more stress to the situation. Regardless of what type of negative thought processes you engage in, it’s good to first identify them. After you identify them, you can work towards stopping them.
Now that you have identified your negative thoughts, the next step in overcoming them would be to explore what is triggering your negative thoughts. A trigger is something (event, memory, stimuli) that brings up a memory or flashback of a previous trauma. Identifying triggers can be a bit more difficult. It may be helpful to track or journal different experiences that you have throughout the week and identify different events or situations that then led to your negative thinking. Triggers spark negative thoughts because they are typically distressful and they take us back to unpleasant experiences. Furthermore, these unpleasant experiences may have shaped the way we perceive and respond to things, which explains why negative thoughts can stem from triggers and trauma. Exploring triggers through journaling or recording is a helpful way to understand how they influence your negative thinking.
The next step for overcoming negative thoughts is to challenge them. Challenging your negative thoughts is an efficient way to tackle them and shift your thinking. First, notice your negative thought happening in the moment and notice any feelings associated with the thought. Realize that the thought is not serving you. Challenge the thought by reminding yourself that this negative self-talk does not have any validity or purpose, and create a positive-opposite thought. For example, if you have a negative thought such as “I did a horrible job on my presentation at work today”, the positive-opposite thought would be “I did the best I could with the short amount of time and resources that I had. I feel good about my presentation and others seemed to give me good feedback on it”. This more compassionate thinking and attitude towards yourself will have a much more positive impact on your mental health than if you were to stay stuck in a negative thought cycle.
Identifying triggers and negative thoughts can be difficult. If you feel that you struggle with negative thinking and have difficulty overcoming it on your own, therapy may be beneficial. Contact Symmetry Counseling to get connected with one of our talented clinicians!