“Keerthi woke up in the morning with a bad feeling. So busy was she in her thoughts that she did not realize that she had put salt in her coffee instead of sugar. In office, Keerthi couldn’t stop thinking what a failure she was. She couldn’t even do basic things like making a cup of coffee. Now she was sure she would mess up her presentation, which was important for her promotion. During the presentation, a technical snag in the projecting equipment made her gnash her teeth in frustration. “I’m going to get fired today!” she thought.
When she reached home, she found her husband relaxing. She went wild with anger and began to blame him for the fiasco at office. She went on to blame him for spoiling her life and not caring enough to share responsibilities at home. Keerthi’s husband was surprised and angry at the same time—he didn’t understand why Keerthi was attacking him for no apparent reason. Finally, they ordered take-out and refused to speak to each other for the rest of the evening.”
Negative thoughts have a way of snowballing into a full-blown anxiety attack if allowed to run free. They adversely affect one’s relationships with family and friends. Often, these fears and worries may not be valid because they are a distortion of our minds. But the potential that these thoughts have of ruining our lives is quite real.
Unfortunately, our brains are wired to focus on the negative stuff more easily than the positive stuff. We have an inbuilt “negativity bias” that makes our brains react to bad news in a more intense manner as compared to good news. So negative thoughts stick, whereas positive thoughts don’t register. Studies show that a relationship needs a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative thoughts in order to flourish. Which means that we have to work much harder to maintain a healthy relationship!
When one bad thought leads to another, a vicious cycle is created that is hard to get out of. Over time, it can lead to chronic anxiety and stress that may hamper our relationships and even our ability to function normally.
The good news is that we can train ourselves to concentrate on good thoughts such that they are more permanently embedded in our emotional consciousness. The following practical tips can help manage negative thoughts and prevent them from getting out of control:
1. Don’t try to ignore negative thoughts.
Contrary to what we may expect, trying to ignore negative thoughts will not help us get rid of them. Instead, the effort will make us more anxious and stressed. An “avoidance cycle” is created—when we first encounter something negative, we avoid it and feel relieved. However, the anxiety associated with the event is strengthened. So, the next time we face something similar, we automatically feel more anxious without having attempted to resolve it. Psychologists suggest that we confront and analyze our fears in a meaningful way. When we process our concerns, it is less likely that we will suffer from nightmares or hallucinations.
2. Understand what “thought distortions” are.
We often think thoughts that are not true, but our brains trick us into thinking so. These faulty perceptions give birth to negative thoughts, which keep bombarding our brains. The four most common types of thought distortions are:
- Personalizing: When a person believes that everything others do or say is a personal reaction to himself. The person compares himself to others to decide who looks better, who is more intelligent, and so on. The person may also believe that he is the cause of an unhappy event that he wasn’t responsible for.
- Catastrophizing: When a person always believes that the worst is going to happen.
- Filter thinking: When a person only sees the negative side of things
- Polarized thinking or Black and White thinking: When a person thinks that he is either perfect or a failure. He is unable to perceive the continuum of shades that characterize people.
Once we learning to recognize these thought distortions, we can train ourselves to challenge them. We then evaluate them to determine if they are accurate.
3. Let go of judgment.
We’re almost always judging, either ourselves or somebody else. We don’t always do it consciously—and we must learn to catch ourselves when we’re subconsciously judging. When we are incessantly comparing ourselves (usually, negatively) to others, we’re building the base for dissatisfaction to take root. It is quite challenging to let go of judgment completely, but it is not impossible. One way to neutralize the negative effects of judging is to stop looking at a person’s faults and try to discover good points instead.
4. Keep a gratitude journal.
This is a simple concept, but it is very powerful. Even if we do not have the time to maintain a gratitude journal, just thinking of the things that we’re thankful for helps stem negative thinking. At the end of each day, jotting down the things that we’re grateful for helps put our lives in perspective. It reminds us of how even small things can make us happy. This exercise has a great impact on our overall positivity.
5. Concentrate on strengths.
Stopping negative thoughts is all about disciplining our “monkey mind.” Instead of thinking about our previous slip-ups and the wrong turns we took in life, it is more productive to focus on our strengths. If we find that we’re beating ourselves up about the mistakes we made, we should turn our thoughts to something good about ourselves and/or the decisions we made.
Do you feel you need professional help to overcome negative thoughts and stop them snowballing and ruining your relationship? Speak anonymously to our experts at Askmile.com.