Negative thoughts are often described as unwelcome weeds, unruly birds, sticky Velcro, or potent poison. All of these comparisons are correct depending on the thoughts and the person having them.
Most of us are not aware of the kind of destruction caused by negative thoughts in our minds. We treat them as unavoidable hazards and get along with life, suffering its consequences.
When negative thoughts become more than a nuisance and turn dangerous, it is time you sit up, take notice, and find ways to deal with them.
Controlling or eliminating negative thoughts is easier said than done. It is like catching an uncatchable bird or destroying overgrown weed.
But nothing is impossible if you really want it. It may be hard to accomplish, but achievable it is.
With patience, perseverance, persistence, and practice you can uproot and banish them forever. Prevent them from coming back to haunt you anymore.
Follow the steps to stop negative thinking from holding you hostage in your own body.
Why do we have negative thoughts?
How often have you found yourself pondering on the bad happenings of the day? Mistakes, insults, criticisms, and other traumatic experiences have a greater impact on our minds than happy and positive events. Psychologists call this negativity bias. We are hardwired for negative thinking.
Despite having and entertaining negative thoughts all through the day, the positivity in our lives stems from this. It depends on how we deal with these negative thoughts. If you do nothing to ward off these unwelcome thoughts, they would drag you down and make you depressed and miserable.
Some of the common causes for negative thinking are:
- Worry about the present
- Concern about future
- Embarrassment or shame about past actions
- Personality disorders
- Substance abuse
What are the types of negative thoughts?
Negativity can manifest in many ways in our lives. Some of the most common ones are:
- Cynicism: A feeling of distrust and suspicion of the motives of others.
- Filtering: Picking out and focusing only bad happenings and ignoring all the positive experiences.
- Hostility: Unfriendly disposition toward others and unwillingness to form relationships.
- Black and white labeling: If someone or something is not perfect, it can only be dreadful and repulsive. A person with polarized thinking cannot see things in shades of gray.
- Overgeneralizing: Unable to treat each event as separate and value it based on merits and circumstances. A couple of losses means always a loser.
- Jumping to conclusions: Making judgments without considering all aspects, often choosing only the negative ones.
- Ignoring the positives: Downplaying the positive experiences by undervaluing their significance. Inability to see the goodness in life.
- Catastrophizing: The belief that there is no escape from catastrophic events. Or that all future events are going to end in disaster and it is inevitable.
- Emotional reasoning: Use negativity as proof of negative happenings in life. Assume your emotions define the real state of affairs.
- Blaming self and/or others: Distorted perception results in blaming self for something beyond one’s control. The blame may also be directed at others for one’s own predicament, discounting one’s own contribution to the dilemma.
- Illusion about change in circumstances: The misconstrued notion that a change in circumstance will make you happy and positive.
- Delusion about reward: The assumption that dedication, hard work, and sacrifice will always be rewarded. When the reward doesn’t materialize as expected, turns delusional, depressed, and bitter.
How can negative thinking harm us?
Negative thinking is a natural part of our lives. Every one of us experiences multiple negative thoughts during a day. They are our normal responses to failures and despair. As long as we deal with them the right way and eliminate their adverse effects, negative thoughts remain harmless.
Negative thinking turns deadly when ignored or allowed to do its dirty tricks on our minds. Prolonged bouts of negative thinking can pose serious mental as well as physical health problems, affecting the overall wellbeing of the person.
When you succumb to extended periods of negative thinking, the stress levels in your body go up as it gets into a “fight or flight” mode. The body’s coping mechanism for stress gets activated by releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This makes you more alert and focused.
Stress within limits can be helpful and not detrimental to health. When it goes beyond this stage, stress can wreak havoc with the mental and physical balance. The body’s reaction to cope with stress leads to numerous ailments such as lowered immune system and malfunctioning of the digestive system.
Some of the common consequences of negative thoughts are:
- Withdrawal from social life
- Chest pain
- Slowing down of metabolism
As a result of long periods of negative thinking, we tend to fall sick more often and take longer to recover from them. Moreover, it can lower the mental health of the person and drive them to smoke, drink, and/or substance abuse as a coping mechanism.
Can negative thoughts be stopped?
The hold negative thinking has over its victims makes getting rid of them easier said than done. The more you try not to think about something, the more it stays in your mind, and the harder it is to get rid of. Rumination or rehashing of negative thoughts is not merely an unpleasant experience, it can lead to more frustration and anger and even turn to clinical depression.
Negative thoughts are often compared to a needle moving in a groove. The longer the needle moves in the groove, the deeper the groove becomes and the harder it is for the needle to get out of it. Pondering on negativity for long will make the task of eliminating it all the more difficult.
The trick is to act fast. Tackle the issue as early as possible and not allow negative thoughts to take root in your mind. There are many techniques available for achieving this. These techniques are tailored to help you stop dwelling on negative thoughts and change your attention to more positive thoughts. Some of the common methods used to accomplish this are distraction and mental realignment.
With patience, perseverance, and practice, anything is achievable, even the most difficult and improbable ones. Our thoughts, both positive and negative, influence our consciousness and thereby our body by creating neural pathways in the brain. Overcoming negative thinking is all about letting positive thoughts enter our minds and do their work.
Usually, you need to work with therapists to make this possible. However, if your mental malady is in the beginning stages and has not become deep-rooted in your subconscious, you may be able to achieve this by yourself.
How to overcome negative thinking?
The key to tackling negative thinking is to gain a thorough understanding of the functioning of the mind. The way it works will give you a clue to the resulting problems and methods to eliminate them. Armed with this knowledge, you will be better equipped to use these strategies to alter the way you think or at least make it less devastating.
There are two ways of dealing with negative thoughts – avoiding them and managing them.
How to avoid negative thinking?
1. Accept the existence of good and bad
Recognize that the world is not perfect; it is not a place only for the good, bad coexists. The acceptance of this worldly truth can help you become a realistic optimist, a step up from an idealist. The more you understand the workings of the world, the better off you would be and the more focused, productive, and happier you would be.
2. Keep positive company
Surround yourself with happy, positive people. Their cheerful company would rub off on you and keep your mind from straying into negative territory. Negative thoughts are known to be contagious. Be careful about catching it from someone else. Spending time with people who love and care for you can do you a world of good.
3. Practice positivity
Being positive is a habit that can be developed with persistent practice. Learn to view things and people through the lens of positivity. Participating in activities that elevate your mood such as hobbies, meditation, and family time are found to be helpful. Take care to engage in positive conversations and watch movies and media with positive content.
4. Live in the moment
That is one of the most important pieces of advice for those struggling with negative thoughts. Ruminating on negative happenings is a regular pastime of such people, thus making matters worse. By living in the moment, they can focus on the task at hand without being distracted by past errors and fears and worries about the future.
5. Practice gratitude
When your mind is filled with the feeling of gratitude, you will be overflowing with joy and positive thoughts. There will be no room left for negative thinking.
6. Practice forgiveness
Often your negative thoughts are linked to the injustice meted out to you by someone. Filling your mind with negative thoughts about the unfairness of the whole episode is going to pull you down further. Instead, if you can forgive the person and learn to move on, you can prevent further damage to yourself. Remember that forgiveness benefits the forgiver more.
We are our own worst critics. We examine our failures minutely and analyze them forever. What exactly do we achieve with that? Instead, learn from the failures and move on. Do not crucify yourself for your mistakes. Learn to forgive yourself.
7. Help others
There is nothing better to improve your positive energy than engage in voluntary service. Helping others without expecting anything in return can fill you up with abounding happiness. The selfless act improves your self-worth and offers you distraction from your worries. The act of helping others benefits you more than the recipient of your largesse.
8. Assume responsibility
Taking on the role of the victim may work well in the short term but it will ultimately cause irreparable harm. The victim mentality breeds negativity and hence needs to be stopped. Take charge of your thoughts, words, and actions. Focus on things that you can control. Remember that your happiness lies in your hands.
9. Physical exercise
Exercising releases endorphins, a neurochemical associated with the “feel good” mental state. They are known to improve mental health in addition to making you healthier and fitter. The improved physical fitness can also act as a morale booster and adds to the sentiments of happiness and self-worth.
10. Eat balanced meals
What we eat is known to contribute substantially to our physical as well as mental health. To develop a positive attitude and to keep negative thoughts at bay, it is important to adopt a balanced diet. Minimize intake of wrong food groups such as sugar, salt, refined grains, fried and fatty foods. Include healthier options like vegetables, fruits, lean meat, fish, eggs, whole grains, and milk products.
How to manage negative thoughts?
1. Stop the chatter
Are you aware of the incessant conversation going on in your head? In a person prone to negative thinking, this chatter would be overwhelmingly negative in tone. If allowed to continue, these thoughts will take over the working of the mind and create havoc. Nipping them in the bud is the need of the hour.
Turning tables on negative thoughts is easier said than done. The idea is to look at them from a positive perspective. For example, instead of “I am not good enough”, change it into “I will try to improve myself”. In the initial stages, you will find this exercise taxing but with time, it becomes a habit.
2. Physically destroy them
This may sound superfluous and crazy but is found to be a highly effective strategy. It involves writing down the negative thought you want to eliminate on a piece of paper and flushing it down the toilet or burning it up. Or even tossing them in the trash. Studies have proved that this has a profound effect on the mind. However, writing them down and keeping them doesn’t get you the same result.
If you do not want to waste paper, you may type them out in a document and click and drag them to a virtual trash can.
3. Distract yourself
Distraction is a very effective technique to deflect potential negative thoughts. However, not anything can act as a distractor. You need to find compelling activities that demand your full attention. It should be able to engage you in such a way that your thoughts won’t stray in the wrong direction.
Regularly, developing interesting hobbies would do the trick. For occasional distraction, you can place yourself in the right company or go shopping.
4. Take a walk in the park
This has multiple benefits. A change of scene can help in stopping the negative thoughts in the short term. Getting close to nature and observing its wonders provide a good distraction besides elevating your mood.
If you live alone, that can be a contributing factor to negative thinking. A stroll in the park brings you closer to the human company even if you do not interact with others. It will give you a sense of belonging and helps you realize that you are not alone.
Meditation involves focusing your mind on your breathing and observing the thoughts as they pass through your mind. As you are concentrating on your inhalation and exhalation, you learn to observe your mind from the outside. This third-party perspective gives you near superhuman powers over the mind.
Gaining control over the mind means impartially dealing with thoughts, without involving emotions. When you gain the ability to detach yourself from your thoughts, you get to deliberately observe and understand them. Then you are in a powerful position to analyze, eliminate or change them as you wish.
Mindfulness puts you in the driver’s seat as it gives you the power to destroy negative thoughts before they can wreak havoc.
All the strategies listed above are effective in getting rid of negative thoughts. However, none of them are easy to practice or to make part of your daily routine. Inexhaustible patience, unflinching perseverance, and unlimited desire to banish negative thoughts from your life and get better are the basic requirements to achieve this.
The harmful effects of negative thinking cannot be emphasized enough. It can destroy the person as well as those around. There is no doubt that this malady needs urgent attention. Even after trying out these strategies to deal with them, if you are unable to find sufficient relief or cannot see perceivable changes in yourself, you need to approach a professional for help.
Sharing your innermost thoughts and insecurities with a mental health professional is neither easy nor fun. However, this is an inevitable exercise to regain control of the mind. Only then the mental experts can assess the reason for your distress and help in making it more positive and healthier.
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