“There were many terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened.” - Montaigne
Whether you find yourself worrying about the world around you (the environment, politics, COVID-19), or the world inside you, telling yourself things like “I’m a failure”, “I’m a loser, or “I’ll never be enough,” or jumping to the worst conclusions possible in every scenario (e.g. “they don’t like me”, “I’ll never get the job”, “Nobody would want to date me”, negative thinking is a part of life at some point for almost everyone.
While negative thinking has been hard-wired into us as humans for self-protection, in today’s modern world it doesn’t serve us very well, as the quote above suggests. And while it can be protective in some very narrow cases, it’s mostly just isolating and keeps us from taking chances and living the life we desire.
A great deal of the negative thinking that is commonly experienced today is pointless and causes unneeded distress. The negative thoughts we have almost never come true.
But with all the uncertainty and turmoil going on in the world, it is not hard to understand the reason behind increased negativity and the fact that many people are feeling more stressed about the future than ever.
We’re dealing with environmental challenges, political challenges, social difficulties, health problems, and our own personal issues that occur in our daily lives and relationships – many of us deal with the transition of heading back to the office after more than two years at home.
It’s understandable that you might have many worries. But that doesn’t necessarily make them rational, and it doesn’t mean you have to live with them. Research studies have consistently shown that chronic and excessive negative thinking leads to reduced well-being, decreased immunity, greater feelings of disconnection, and lower satisfaction in relationships. And the link between negative thinking and increased risk of depression is likely not surprising.
Some of the most common types of Negative Thinking are:
Polarization: This is “Black and White” thinking. There’s no Grey. Things are either Right or Wrong, Yes or No.
Generalization: Taking an actual negative experience and inflating it’s significant as a reflection of your Self.
Jumping to Conclusions: Assuming the worst outcome before gathering adequate information.
Catastrophizing: Blowing events way out of proportion – the proverbial “creating a mountain out of a molehill”.
Personalization/Self-Blame: Assuming that all negative events are about you or directed towards you, and that you are at fault for them.
You do not have to live with these kinds of cognitive distortion. Here are 5 tips to overcome negative thinking, and start living a happier, healthier life:
1: Shift Your Attention
“What you focus on expands.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
You might not be able to get rid of your negative thought patterns, but you can consciously shift your focus away from them. Certain practices can help you redirect your attention to the present moment, and a more positive state of mind. Try any one of the following:
● Meditation – Helps quiet the mind and bring focus to your body. It takes practice!
● Mindfulness – Helps you to recognize and be more aware negative thought patterns. Studies also suggest it may help with depression and anxiety.
● Affirmations - Positive affirmations can help you counteract and shut down your negative thoughts.
● Gratitude + Kindness - Practicing gratitude and kindness can help you find the positives in your life, and create better connections with others.
● Movement - Doing some form of exercise and/or movement helps bring you to the present.
2: Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a system that helps people dismantle their irrational negative thoughts/beliefs and replace them with new, healthier beliefs. This process involves the following 3 steps:
● Step 1: Become Aware of your negative thoughts, and what you feel when thinking them
● Step 2: Understand how you Behave as a result of those feelings
● Step 3: Challenging the thought, and change them to be fact-based – not opinion-based
3: Change An External Situation
What we read, watch, surround ourselves with, and who we spend our time with also have a significant impact on how much negative thinking we do. Much of the news, some types of social media, and other negative people can cause us to have more negative thoughts. Research has shown that in a relationship where one person is more negative in their thinking and the other more positive, the negative thinker is more likely to have more influence on the positive thinker than vice versa. This is also why research shows it takes several positive comments to compensate for just one negative comment.
Take a break from social media and the news if you need to. Evaluate your social network; are they serving and nourishing you? Or are they weighing you down? Prune the circle of individuals you spend time with down to those who think more realistically and focus more on the good than bad.
Take a step back, analyze your situation, and figure out what external factors are within your control. From there, you can avoid or stray away from certain things to help yourself overcome your negative thinking.
Writing down how we feel and expressing ourselves on paper has been shown to be highly beneficial to our well-being and mindset. When you write regularly, over time journaling can help you manage your concerns, fears, and problems, keep track of how you feel on a day-to-day basis, help you identify patterns and themes in your negative thinking and how often they come up, and recognize the triggers and solutions for different negative thought patterns. You can use a prompted journal like the one we created (The Kindness Journal), or simply use a blank sheet of paper.
4: Get Lost in A Hobby
Sometimes we get so stuck in our negative thoughts that we find impossible to stop dwelling on them. Taking action to engage in a hobby (gardening, working out, playing an instrument, etc.) is not only a great way to enjoy yourself and forget about your worries, but several studies have found that hobbies:
● Reduce stress
● Improve mental health and well-being
● Decrease anxiety and depression with improved social connection
5: Talk it Out
Share your thoughts with a trusted friend or family member. They might be able to give you a different perspective. Be careful not to overload them with your worries – check in with them first. If you really find yourself struggling, talk to a therapist. A therapist is able to listen to your concerns without judgment, and more importantly, teach you how to challenge and reframe negative beliefs to more realistic or positive beliefs. A therapist can also help you develop coping strategies for when you feel overwhelmed by negative thinking.
At NKS Therapy, we offer a free 15-minute consultation with one of our psychotherapists. We also have a limited number of affordable sessions available (Student Therapist) at a significantly reduced rate of $80/session. Virtual counselling therapy is offered by secure video, telephone, and in-person counselling at 3 locations within the Toronto area. If you’re struggling with negative thinking and you feel overwhelmed, click here to book a free Meet and Greet session with one of our therapists today.
And remember, You Got This! “Humanity is an ocean. If a few drops are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” - Gandhi