Breaking Negative Thought Patterns
At some point in life, we all experience negative thinking. The struggle when we fall into a cycle of negative thoughts, is that they literally spiral, and quite quickly become contagious. It is often easy to assume that because things are a certain way now, they will always be that way. We can find it difficult to imagine what it will feel like when things change, however when we recognise that our thoughts are unhelpful we can work on changing them.
Strategies to break thought patterns do not need to be complicated, but they do need to be consistent.
The anxiety we feel is directly related to the way that we think about things (so it is not a reality but a perception). When we have negative thoughts, it is our brain’s attempt at keeping us safe. However, this often has a disconnect, the brain is wrongly interpreting that there is a risk, and that this risk is the size of a TRex and this leads to fuelling the negative thoughts. In order to reduce/remove the worry thoughts we need to practice daily to re-train our patterns of thinking. This takes time and practice. We can use:
Worry thoughts are created when we start assuming negative feelings and ideas will happen in the future – to stop these we need to acknowledge that we have total control over our thoughts and feelings. We do this by staying present or grounding ourselves. For instance taking a deep breath in for 4, holding for 4, and out for 4, or labelling 3 things we can see or hear right now.
Focus on the good things in situations
When we are experiencing negative thoughts, we filter the world around us, by looking for more negatives. This allows us to prove to ourselves that there is an issue. However, our filter is incorrect. The opposite of negativity is GRATITUDE. By taking time every day to acknowledge and write down what we are grateful for, we can re-balance our thoughts. When we write these down by hand, we emphasise the positivity even more. Completing a gratitude diary every night before bed, we can also reduce negative thoughts at bedtime.
Challenge the thoughts
Challenging our thoughts, allows us to show our brain that there is nothing to be scared of:
- Recognise that you are having a negative thought or pattern of negative thoughts.
- Say “Stop!” In your head (or out loud if it feels socially appropriate).
- Challenge the thought by probing it with questions. Ask yourself, “What evidence do Ihave to support this thought?” Odds are, you’ll notice that the evidence isn’t strong.
- Replace the thought with something more neutral or rational or positive.
Use the left side of your brain
Worry is a right brained action – (they are creative and fluid so bounce from one thing to another) if you leave it there it grows. Use left brained activities to break the habit – activities which are logical, sequential, rational
- Card games
- Board games
- Maths puzzles
- Word searches
- Number games
Check in on activity levels
Negative thinking is often correlated with either boredom or being overstretched, both cause stress which leads to negative thoughts. When we check in on our diary, we can identify if we are:
- too busy
- not busy enough
- our screen time levels
- our physical activity levels
To maintain our well-being, we need a balance of fun/activities, family time, friendship time, physical activity, good nutrition, intellectual stimulation, good sleep. When we are emphasising on only one or two areas, or are overstretching ourselves in all of them, we can find that negative thoughts escalate.
Keep your bedtime and sleep time the same each day. Being tired, hot, hungry gives us a false sense of anxiety as the body is overwhelmed.Regular meals, regular sleep and exercise are all important to good health. When one area is neglected, we send signals to our brain that there is something to worry about.
Want to learn more?
Are you looking for a deeper understanding of child mental health? Our Level 4 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Coaching Diploma takes you into an in depth dive of child mental health and how you can support. You can join our Level 4 training (here).
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