Tag Archives: negative thinking

How to manage negative thoughts

negative thinking photoPhoto by martinak15

 

How to manage negative thoughts

We have somewhere between 40 000 and 60 000 thoughts every day so it pays to be selective about the thoughts you decide to focus on.  In general, I have found that most of my clients tend to worry more when they have spare time. Rumination is the tendency to over think things without finding a solution. It is wasted energy and only serves as mental torture.

The best way to deal with negative thoughts is to remind yourself that thoughts are NOT facts. They are merely a representation of reality and are formed according to your existing ‘filters’ and experiences. This means they can often be distorted and unhelpful – creating anxiety and distress unnecessarily. Have you ever worried about something only to find out that you had made assumptions and all your worry was for nothing? Remember that there is ALWAYS another way to look at an event. Watch what you tell yourself and how you interpret things.

Thoughts affect emotions which in turn affect how we behave. THINK – FEEL – BEHAVE. This is the bottom line of cognitive behavioural therapy. Watch your thinking, challenge your negative thinking and immediately improve your quality of life.

We can all ‘catastrophise’ initially and think the worst. For example, I have had days when I have eaten junk all day and then had the thought “I am never going to be healthy, I may as well just give up”. This thought led me to feeling pretty low and annoyed at myself. I could also choose to think “I may have been undisciplined today but tomorrow I can start again”. The same event and two different thoughts which will in turn lead to two different emotions….the first negative thought will lead to negative emotions whereas the second thought will lead me to feeling more hopeful and optimistic. Watch what you feed yourself – I call it my ‘mental diet’ and I constantly work at talking to myself in an empowering way.

Ask yourself what you might tell a friend to help you think up another way to look at something.

Remind yourself that “this too shall pass”. One good thing about life is that there will always be change and although change isn’t always welcome, at times it can really be a good thing.

Accept that negative and intrusive thoughts are part of life. They will keep coming but you can train yourself to let the thoughts pass without really giving them attention. Distract yourself if necessary…another thought will soon be coming along.

Learn to choose the thoughts that work for you and empower you. You can choose your thoughts and beliefs.

Don’t compare yourself to others as you never truly know what is going on, Instead focus on yourself, your strengths and your goals.

If you find it really hard not to worry, schedule yourself some ‘worry time’, say half an hour in the evening and then don’t allow yourself to worry until then. Make sure that when worry time comes around, you do your best to be resolution focused rather than allowing your scary thoughts to ‘bully’ and scare you. Fear paralyses us and often there is no need for the fear in the first place.

Think of these three options: Change, accept or let go.

Decide on a plan of action and do it. Try not to allow thought to just keep running through your mind over and over. The more you worry, the more you lose time to be content and at peace.

Keeping negative thinking in check takes practise and the job will never be perfect but I work at it every day and I have definitely improved my happiness levels and ability to cope over time…a work in progress and you can do it too.

Mandy X

 

The curse of thought

 

thought photo

The curse of thought

Your thoughts and beliefs have the power to create heaven or hell for you. The thoughts you choose to listen to and focus on influence the quality of your life. The curse of thought is something we all have to manage. Thoughts will continue to enter your mind, some invited and some uninvited. You can’t control who knocks at your door but you can control and decide how long you wish to entertain them for. The same goes for your thoughts. We all have something like 70 000 thoughts whizzing through our minds daily. If we don’t manage our thoughts effectively, it will show in the form of chaotic lives. Show me an unhappy person, and I will show you at least 80% of the time, someone who has not learned how to become an effective thought manager. A positive thought is often just as valid as a negative thought. There is always a number of ways to look at a particular situation. Pessimistic, depressive personalities will tend to focus on the worrisome thoughts and believe the negative thoughts whereas optimists will tend to lean towards the more positive thoughts.

Here’s an example: When my son as very young, we went on holiday with my partner and his parents. When my son cried in the night, my mother-in-law would jump out of bed and take charge.

Neutral interpretation without emotional interpretation: my son is crying. my mother in law has gone to tend to my son.

Negative interpretation of neutral event (this was my intitial perception): She is so rude and she obviously feels she is more competent and soothing my son than I am. I felt put out an annoyed. A negaive appraisal and negative thinking led me to feeling unhappy and angry.

Another rational alternative: My mother in law is just trying to help. She is not necessarily trying to show me up to be an inferior parent. When she tends to my son it also means I can get more sleep. This interpretation leads to less and anger and a happier mood.

Cognitive behavioural therapy states that it isn’t what happens to you but rather your perception of what happens that leads to emotions and the further behaviour in line with that feeling. So if we nip the thinking in the bud and get into the habit of looking for rational alternatives, we increase the likelihood that we can see things in a more positive light and therefore feel happier in life.

Thinking and beliefs can make or break a person. We have much more choice about what we choose to believe. Clients resist this idea but it’s true. Clients tell me that they cannot help the anger or the resentment and that they will never be able to see things differently because it is reality BUT there are MANY versions of your reality. I know which version of reality I would prefer to believe….

Mandy X

Do you hold dysfunctional attitudes?

 

crazy

Do you hold dysfunctional attitudes?

It’s safe to say that we probably all hold some type of dysfunctional attitude at some time in our lives. Dysfunctional attitudes are also called “rules for living” by therapists and usually take the form of “if this…then that”.  Many of us hold rules for living that we don’t consciously acknowledge, yet these ‘rules’ impact upon what we do immensely.

  1. Dysfunctional attitudes lack flexibility

Dysfunctional attitudes are often rigid and generalised and involve concepts like “always, never, must, should, have to, need to…”.

2. Dysfunctional attitudes are self limiting

When you ‘buy into’ dysfunctional thinking, it becomes harder to reach your goals. For example: thinking along the lines of: “I believe that I must never fail so I withdraw and don’t try at all” will ultimately allow self limiting thoughts to override potential opportunities.

3. Often focused on approval

Dysfunctional attitudes often focus on approval from others, achievement or/and control. Many of the situations we cannot control in life lead us to developing dysfunctional attitudes when we would be far better off accepting the status quo. For example – we may have romantic feelings for someone and feel insecure about how they feel about us. Instead of dealing with the situation and asking the person directly, which takes bravery, we tell ourselves they don’t care and we pull away or we tell ourselves they do care and behave inappropriately.

4. Often related to various roles

Eg: I must be perfect, I must get it right every time, I must be loved, I must be accepted, I must gain respect.  Ask yourself WHY you “must”?? Who says? Where’s the rule book stating this? Challenge this type of attitude as it only serves to create personal pressure and stress. Replace must and should with “could”.

5. Dysfunctional attitudes are linked to self experience

Sometimes we have a rule for living such as: I feel bad if a rule is broken but good if successful. This rule for living ensures that our pleasure comes from an external source and this is a precarious way for us to feel good about ourselves. When we receive approval from others, it feels good and makes us feel successful but the best strategy to use is to find ways to feel good about yourself without approval from others. Approval from others should be a bonus, not a necessity. Dysfunctional attitudes begin to form when we are very young and become reinforced over time due to our childhood experiences and subsequent life experience.

6. They are linked to basic hopes in the future

Example: If I am loved then I will be happy; If I am successful then I will be worthy – a somebody rather than a nobody.

7. Often culturally reinforced

Example: We should be individualistic and achieve; women should always be loving and caring.

Further common examples of dysfunctional attitudes:

People will probably think less of me if I make a mistake (mind reading – there is no evidence for this thought)

If a person asks for help, it’s a sign of weakness (this is not a fact)

If other people know what you are really like they will think less of you. (there is no concrete evidence for this and no doubt there will be at least one example in your life of someone knowing you well who still loves and cares for you).

I cannot trust other people because they might be cruel to me (over generalised).

To be happy I must be admired, respected. I must show others that I am competent.

I must always try hard. I must avoid making mistakes and never be seen to fail.

I have to achieve things to maintain my sense of self worth.

To feel good about myself I have to have others’ admiring attention.

You are more likely to have dysfunctional attitudes if you have not received recognition from your parents, have been made to feel less than or not good enough in some way ( a common cause is from parents who offer conditional love to children – eg. only when they gt good grades at school, uni etc)

How to challenge dysfunctional attitudes:

Remember that thoughts aren’t facts – learn to challenge your thinking and look for the evidence.

Look for other ways to view a situation. What would a friend say?

Look at the advantages and disadvantages of possessing a dysfunctional attitude.

Work on loving and accepting yourself. You are worthy just being you, you don’t need to DO anything to be valuable.

Mandy X

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Ways to challenge negative thinking

 

negative thinking

negative thinking

4 Ways to challenge negative thinking

We all have constant inner dialogue running through our minds. We pay attention to some of it, but other thoughts are so automatic that we don’t even realise that we think them. They occur on an unconscious level and can affect the way we see ourselves and the world. Our inner dialogue affects what we feel we are capable of, what we feel is possible for us in our lives and can make a life successful or a complete failure. Yup – your thoughts really are that powerful so it is a very good idea to watch what you are telling yourself day after day and filter out the stuff that is no longer useful, valuable or working for you.

Inner dialogue is influenced by our upbringings and past experience and tends to be more negative in an effort to keep us safe. Thing is, we are far safer than our brains would have us believe. We no longer face the harsh reality of life outdoors, roaming the plains for food and avoiding predators as our ancestors did. Our brains however, interpret modern day stress in the same way as it used to – it sees a threat as a threat no matter whether is it a lion in front of us (our ancestors) or a pile of unpaid bills (modern day stress). The same parts of the brain are activated leading to defensive, anxious behaviour. Old messages from our parents or teachers etc may have become so automatic that we have taken on their opinions of us as fact and carry these ideas around with us, allowing them to define us when they don’t have to.

Learn to be more aware of your inner dialogue. You can learn to find alternatives to negative thoughts by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What are the facts?

What evidence do you have to support what you think? What evidence is there against it? The fact that you think something doesn’t make it true. Are there any small things you are ignoring as not very important?

2. What possible alternatives are there?

What would you think if you were more confident? Or what did you think at a time when you were more positive? How might someone else view the situation? What would you say to another person who was thinking in this sort of way? When you aren’t feeling this way. do you think about the situation differently?

3. What is the worst thing that could happen?

What is the best thing that could happen or the best way of seeing things? What is the most realistic or most likely to be right? If the thought is true, will it still matter in five years from now?

4. What errors are you making in your thinking?

Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you condemning yourself on the basis of one event? Are you concentrating on your weaknesses and forgetting your strengths? Are you thinking in all or nothing terms? Are you taking responsibility for something that is not your fault? Are you trying to mind read what others are thinking?

Use the above 4 questions to help you challenge your negative thinking. They are a great way to level out your thinking and add perspective. The more you do this, the more contented you will be!

Mandy X

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

 

thoughts photo

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?

Past events and our upbringings shape the way we think. As we progress through life we begin to make assumptions about ourselves and others – some of these thoughts will be helpful and others will be unhelpful. In the same way, some assumptions/thoughts will be accurate and some will be inaccurate. The longer we have thought in a certain way, the harder it is to shift and change. We end up over time having core beliefs about ourselves and the world, also referred to as “rules for living”.

Rules for living often take the form of “if this…then that”. For example: If I go out and socialise I will end up making a fool of myself. Or…if I get into another relationship I will get hurt or – If I don’t please others I will be disliked and rejected. Core beliefs are often in the form of:

“I am not good enough”; “I am a failure” and so on.

So, our past experiences create our beliefs and assumptions about the world which appear as “if this ..then that” thoughts or “must and should” statements.

Becoming more aware of your “must and should” statements is one key way to begin uncovering your rules for living. We can’t change the past but we CAN update our beliefs about the worldand ourselves as many of the core beliefs we hold are often outdated and incorrect.

We learn false beliefs from other, especially our parents and we internalise these thought. If your parents were critical, we begin to see ourselves in the same way (eg. I am stupid, fat, ugly, etc) and we act in accordance with these thoughts by withdrawing, avoiding or finding ways to hide our assumed failings and inadequacies.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a brilliant way to identify inaccurate thoughts and start to replace them with healthier, more helpful thoughts. CBT also involves setting up behavioural experiments to test  out our faulty assumptions to show us how they aren’t true.

If you find yourself repeating negative patterns of behaviour, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) might work for you. CBT is available in many areas and most CBT therapists offer skype sessions too – so it can be offered from anywhere in the world.

I offer CBT online and if I cannot help you I can refer to another CBT therapist who can.

Mandy X

 

How to deal with negative thoughts

 

sad person photo

How to deal with negative thoughts

Negative thoughts live in everyone’s mind and they have several characteristics:

1) They are automatic-they pop up without any effort on your part

2) They are distorted-they rarely fit reality

3) Negative thoughts are unhelpful-they keep you depressed and make it difficult to change

4) Negative thoughts are plausible-it does not occur to you to question them

5) They are involuntary-they can be very difficult to switch off or ignore

The more depressed you are thoughts you will have and the more you believe them, the more depressed they make you.

Cognitive behavioural therapy involves learning to recognise when you’re thinking negatively and to look for positive and realistic ways of viewing your experiences as well as testing these out.

At first, you may not find it easy to catch your thoughts but with regular practice it will come more naturally to you. Challenging negative thoughts is like any other skill-it takes time to be able to do it with ease so don’t be discouraged if you find it difficult at first.

Think of your negative thoughts in this way:

Imagine that you are a bus driver and you need to get your bus from location A to B. Think of the passengers on the bus as if they were your negative thoughts talking. If you were trying to drive a bus and the passengers were shouting things at you like  “you are a terrible driver”; “what if you get us lost?”;”We might get a flat tyre, we’d better stay here”; “what if we have an accident?”, You would probably never leave location A. It is the same with our negative thoughts-they limit us and keep us fearful.

There are four main ways to question your negative thoughts:

1) What is the evidence? Do the facts of the situation back up what you think or do they contradict this

2) What alternative views are there? There are many different ways to look at any experience. Is there another way to look at something?

3) What is the effect of thinking the way you do? How does the way you think influence how you feel and what you do? What are the advantages and disadvantages of thinking this way?

4) What’s thinking errors are you making depressed people typically distort their experiences in systematic ways. They jump to conclusions, overgeneralise, blame themselves, catastrophise and so on (see my other posts on errors in thinking).

Remember that any negative thoughts can be challenged and it pays to be aware what you’re telling yourself, especially if your internal dialogue is negative.

Mandy X

Instant Stress Relief

 

stress relief photo

Instant Stress Relief

Most of our stress comes from wishing life was different to the way it actually is. We may have imagined a more glamorous job than the reality of what it has turned out to be or it might be the reality of a monotonous relationship where we yearn for the fun filled days that were plentiful at the beginning of the relationship. Whatever it is, I have never met a person who doesn’t fantasise about life being different, thereby feeling disgruntled and annoyed by ‘their lot’ in life.

Stress comes in many forms and manifests in different ways for us but the following three stress relievers can work for most, if not all of us.

1) Acceptance

Instead of resisting ‘what is’, learn to work with the reality of your current life. When we resist, we spend time feeling sorry for ourselves instead of looking for effective problem solving strategies. Acceptance allows us to acknowledge what is going on for us and learn to deal with it more effectively. Many of us have an unrealistic idea of how life should be. This message is often transferred to us through the media and Hollywood movies. The reality is that real life can be quite mundane and boring at times. At times it can even be downright disappointing leading to disillusionment. We begin to imagine that we are the only ones who have boring lives, especially if Facebook is anything to go by where everyone sees to living a thrilling life (I promise you they are not).

Accept what is happening, it really is okay to go through times where you feel less love for someone or feel fed up with your situation. Don’t resist with ‘poor me’ statements, look at what isn’t right and try to find effective ways to bring about change where possible.

Mindfulness

The second technique for instant stress relief is to learn to live more in the moment. Too often we live our lives in our heads – thinking about when we will be happier, thinner, richer in the future. At the same time we are missing crucial moments of our lives, they pass us by every second. Learn to live in the moment as much as possible. The power is in the present moment…enjoy your friendships, really savour that mouthful of food, listen carefully to the music and lyrics. Learning to engage your senses in the moment leaves your mind less time to worry needlessly about things that may never happen.

Unhook from thoughts

Our wayward thoughts can take us off in all sorts of unwanted directions. Learn to let the negative thoughts pass by without listening to them or believing that they are true.

You really can choose what you want to think and believe about yourself and the world. Ignore the doom-mongering thoughts, the “what if” thoughts and the thoughts based on faulty assumptions.

Stress is a part of modern day life but learning the above three tips can help you to handle stress when it becomes too much to handle. I often implement the above three strategies when I feel overwhelmed and personally find them very useful.

Mandy X

 

Photo by Beth Phillips

change the way we think

Changing the way we think

thoughts photo

Changing the way we think

 

  • Changing the way we think

As thoughts play such an important role in our distressing emotions, it can be very effective to notice these thoughts, and learn to think differently, or to think about thoughts in a different way.  When you start to feel upset

 

SELF CONTROL – monitor thinking and stay in the moment

When thoughts are distressing you, try not to give them attention or assign emotion/interpretation to them. Dismiss them.

 

Questions to ask yourself when you feel distressed

STOPP!  Pause, take a breath, don’t react automatically

Ask yourself:

  • What am I reacting to?
  • What is it that’s really pushing my buttons here?
  • What is it that I think is going to happen here?
  • What’s the worst (and best) that could happen?  What’s most likely to happen?
  • Am I getting things out of proportion?
  • How important is this really?  How important will it be in 6 months time?
  • What harm has actually been done?
  • Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?
  • Am I overestimating the danger?
  • Am I underestimating my ability to cope?
  • Am I using that negative filter? Those gloomy specs?  Is there another way of looking at it?
  • What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?
  • Am I spending time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future?  What could I do right now that would help me feel better?
  • Am I putting more pressure on myself, setting up expectations of myself that are almost impossible?  What would be more realistic?
  • Am I mind-reading what others might be thinking?
  • Am I believing I can predict the future?
  • Is there another way of looking at this?
  • What advice would I give someone else in this situation?
  • Am I putting more pressure on myself?
  • Just because I feel bad, doesn’t mean things really are 
  • Am I jumping to conclusions about what this person meant?  Am I mis-reading between the lines?  Is it possible that they didn’t mean that?
  • Am I exaggerating the good aspects of others, and putting myself down?  Or am I exaggerating the negative and minimising the positives? How would someone else see it?  What’s the bigger picture?
  • Things aren’t either totally white or totally black – there are shades of grey.  Where is this on the spectrum?
  • This is just a reminder of the past.  That was then, and this is now.  Even though this memory makes me feelupset, it’s not actually happening again right now.
  • What do I want or need from this person or situation?  What do they want or need from me?  Is there a compromise?
  • What would be the consequences of responding the way I usually do?
  • Is there another way of dealing with this?  What would be the most helpful and effective action to take?  (for me, for the situation, for the other person)

Ways to make our thoughts less intrusive

  • Use metaphors try to see things differently.  Metaphors can help us understand thoughts in a different way.  For example:

Passengers on the Bus

  • You can be in the driving seat, whilst all passengers (thoughts) are noisily chattering, being critical or shouting out directions.  You can allow them to shout, but you can keep your attention focused on the road ahead.

 

 

Playground Bully

 

  • The playground is fenced in and the children have to learn to live with the bully.  This bully uses threats, mocking and abusive words to upset his victims.  We can’t stop our thoughts, but perhaps we can react to them in a different way, as these victims show us.
  • Victim 1 – believes the bully (the thoughts), becomes distressed, and reacts automatically.  The bully sees this as great entertainment and will carry on targeting this victim.  This is how we normally respond to our thoughts.
  • Victim 2 – challenges the bully, and bully eventually gives up on this victim.
  • Victim 3 – acknowledges then ignores the bully, changing focus of attention, and the bully soon gives up.

 

The River

  • Items floating down the river – perhaps leaves or bits of mucky debris (thoughts, feelings, images) – instead of struggling to stay afloat, we can stand on the bank watching our thoughts, images and sensations go by

 

The Beach Ball

  • We can try to stop our thoughts, like trying to hold a beach ball under water, but it keeps popping up in front of our face (intrusive distressing thoughts).  We can allow the ball (our thoughts) to float around us, not intruding, just letting it be.

 

Mandy X