How to Combat Negative Thinking
We can't always control what we are thinking but we can learn to identify when certain thoughts may lead us towards a downward spiral of negative thinking. If gone unchecked for long periods of time, negative thinking can lead to depression and anxiety, and create chronic stress on the body that can affect us both physically and mentally. Its an issue that both men and women, young and old struggle with, but is also one that can be combated.
By partaking in grounding practices such as meditation, journaling, walking, and prayer we have the opportunity to become more aware of our thoughts and how they are affecting us. We begin to notice patterns in our word choices, reactions, and triggers. For example, I have a natural sweet tooth and enjoy having a couple of "treats" every week. There is no harm in indulging in a treat or two per week as it allows me to satisfy my craving in a healthy manner however sometimes there are weeks where I partake in a "treat" every day. I've found that what triggers this pattern is an increase in stress, boredom, and loneliness. This pattern then leads to guilt and negative self-talk. I reproach myself for not having enough control and for falling into this pattern once again. Over time, I've been able to minimize this pattern in my life by spending time reflecting and identifying when I might be falling back into it. When I begin to experience feelings of stress and of loneliness, instead of grabbing a box of cupcakes I take a few minutes to sit and breath through the feelings, and then I release them. I recall previous times where I experienced stress, and remember how I was able to get through those times with grace, confidence and skill. By developing this habit I can honestly say that there are many things in my life which used to cause me stress that no longer do. A lot of this is because of my new-found peace; but can also be attributed to the change in patterns of the neural connections in my brain. What we think we become. When we begin to be aware of our thoughts and to react from a grounded place, our brain takes note and changes the way that it is wired.
3 Negative Thought Patterns To Avoid & What To Do Instead:
1.) Negative Rumination | Reflection is something that should be a part of everyone's weekly practice however when we begin to excessively reflect on negative thoughts reflection becomes problematic. The issue with negative rumination is that it doesn't solve anything. It's like a car stuck in the mud that continues to put on the gas, causing the car to just spin its wheels and not go anywhere. Negative Rumination leads us to get deeper and deeper into our heads, as we over-analyze our problem. Before we know it this can lead to us having more negative thoughts, anxiety and depression.
- What to Do Instead | When you find yourself have negative ruminative thoughts, get up and go outside. Literally! Grab a friend and hit the gym, go for a walk, or go get a smoothie - do something to get out of you current negative state. Have a problem-solving focus instead of just spinning your wheels.
2.) Overthinking | Overthinking is when we go over and over and over a choice in our head and all of the possible outcomes that it could have. We are putting an excessive amount of pressure on our choice and how it will affect the future. We are focused on avoiding mistakes and risk. While its wise to give thought to our actions when we become excessive and controlling, issues arise - this is simply not a healthy or practical way to live. No one can control the future. Living like you can will only bring you stress and take away from the joy of life.
- What to Do Instead | Consider your options and research a few of them, but not all of them. Give yourself a deadline when making decisions, even if it feels uncomfortable. Remember that you are human and are going to make mistakes but that that is okay! When feelings of anxiety begin to arise take a step back and go for a walk outside.
3.) Cynical Hostility | Cynical hostility is a way of thinking and reacting to people with a general feeling of angry mistrust. You see people as threats who are likely to deceive you, take advantage of you, and let you down. Cynical hostility can ruin relationships, lead to a rise in blood pressure and is associated with heart disease.
- What to Do Instead | Get in touch with your thoughts and notice when feelings of cynical hostility arise. Consider less toxic motives people may have for their actions such as: their having a rough day (i.e their dog died or their husband was just diagnosed with cancer), they don't know any better (i.e. their new to the area, their elderly and are trying their best, etc.), their tired (i.e. because they are working two full-time jobs to support their family). Give people some grace.
Tips for Combating Negative Thinking from the Making Room for Peace Community:
"One of the ways that I've started to combat negative thinking is to make a list of some of the major prayer requests that I have made to God over the past few weeks, months, and year. I then take some time to quiet myself and to write down and reflect on all of the ways in which my God has answered me. It's amazing and powerful to look back and see all of the times that God has came through and answered not only some of my prayers but also the hidden desires of my heart. It encourages me to know that God sees me, and hears me, and loves me. That He's with me right now, as I'm walking through the situation in and the thoughts that I am dealing with."
- Anna Beth
"The best methods I have found for dealing with negative thinking is to 1) pray (of course) for God to take away my irrational fears and 2) to journal. My therapist suggested doing this a while back, and it does really help to document those negative thoughts and feelings that pop up. When you get through that 'episode', reflecting on the journal helps you realize how irrational the thought really was, or to pinpoint what might be triggering those thoughts based on the time of day or external factors (stress, etc)."
"I sat down and wrote down every negative thought and then dug through scripture to combat each and every lie. It was amazing to see how opposite God's truth is to some of the thoughts I've had. I learned that the world tells us that people who experienced tragedy have deep wounds that alter their character in negative ways. They may never heal. God's word tells us the trials of this world produce in us perseverance and makes us perfect, lacking nothing! (James 1) He also binds up the broken-hearted! When I felt like God's love is distant I read that Jesus wept when he saw the Jews mourning the death of Lazarus (John 11). When I feel my hopes have been crushed I read that my reward will be great and won't even compare to the troubles of this world! Over and over again I find that God's Word is just the word I need to win this battle."
Greenberg PhD, Melanie. 3 Negative Thinking Patterns to Avoid - What to Do Instead. Psychology Today, 2017.