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.