We all have negative thoughts from time to time, but when you become stuck in negative thought patterns, it can often lead to destructive results for your emotional and physical health. Whether we are irritated with someone at work or reprimand ourselves for eating too much, negative thoughts can lead us to feel dread, snap at our family members or feel physical pains due to worry. It can send us in a downward spiral of fear and further hard-wire our brains to think negative thoughts constantly. So, how do we get unstuck from negative thinking patterns? Here are 5 simple steps to break the vicious cycle of fearful, unhelpful thoughts.
1. Become aware of the negative thought and its source. The first step to dismantling a negative thought is to be aware of it and what exactly is causing it. Is it because of your new boss’ management style or a deeply held belief about yourself that stems from childhood? Whether it’s a situation, person or belief, simply identifying the source of your negative thought pattern and noticing the fears behind it will already lessen its power over your life. Uncovering past hurts can be a difficult process, and that is what therapy is there to help with. BetterHelp offers private, affordable and convenient online therapy to guide you on your journey to well-being and healing.
2. Ask yourself if there is any evidence or truth in the negative thought. Neurobiologically, we are wired to detect any threats around us and protect ourselves physically and emotionally for survivals sake. However, the mind doesn’t always differentiate between what threat is real and what is imagined. Ask yourself: Is there any evidence for this thought? Is it actually true? Some thoughts may be true, but some may only be partially or completely untrue. For example, you may think, “I hate my body,” when there are actually some parts of yourself that you love. This requires objective thinking and a careful dissection of your negative thought loop, but when you do this, you might just find yourself getting a bit more unstuck from its grip.
3. Give yourself empathy and compassion. Rather than berating or judging ourselves for having negative thoughts that may or may not true, we can instead treat ourselves with loving-kindness and compassion. Remember, your mind is wired to scan for any kind of psychological or physical danger, and it is only trying to protect you. With this understanding, you can say to your thoughts, “Thank you for sharing. I know you are trying to protect me and keep me safe, but I don’t need you right now.”
4. Create positive thoughts and affirmations. Now that you have identified the negative thought pattern, asked yourself if there is any truth in it and given yourself empathy, you can now replace negative thoughts with positive ones instead. These can come in the form of positive affirmations which you can repeat to yourself daily or whenever a negative thought rears its head again. A positive thought loop might look like this: “I show kindness toward myself and others. I radiate confidence and beauty. I love my body and am grateful for the energy that runs through it.”
5. Make positive changes. Your beliefs shape your life, and positive thoughts will inevitably lead to positive changes. Begin to take small actions everyday to create positive change. Set realistic and specific goals for yourself to ensure that your positive changes have lasting effects. Examples of this could be: 1. Drink at least 1.5 litres of water every day; 2. Say one thing I love about my body every morning; 3. Exercise 4 times a week for at least 20 minutes.
Psychologist Martin Seligman wrote in his book Authentic Happiness, “It is impossible to sustain a negative mood in the presence of a large number of positive memories, expectations and beliefs and it is impossible to sustain a positive mood in the presence of a large number of negative thoughts.” By using this process, you can begin to shift negative thoughts and replace them with more helpful, life-giving ones for a happier, healthier and more positive you.
Author Note: Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.