When something is bothering us, trying to get that negative thought out of our head is a lot easier said than done. In an ironic twist, when we intentionally try to stop that negative thought, it sometimes makes the negative thought pattern even worse.
Rehashing negative thoughts over and over is called rumination
Rumination is one of the similarities between anxiety and depression. Ruminating is simply repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion. When people are depressed, the themes of rumination are typically about being inadequate or worthless. The repetition and the feelings of inadequacy raise anxiety and anxiety interferes with solving the problem. Then depression deepens. – Psychology Today
If left unresolved, rumination can cause a great deal of anxiety. Of course, sometimes going over different scenarios/outcomes can be a positive thing, because we’re trying to get control over the unknown and make ourselves feel better. However, if we just can’t let that bad thought go, it can be quite detrimental to our mental and physical health.
“It’s like a needle in a groove. As the groove gets deeper and deeper, the needle has a harder time getting out of the groove.” What’s more, rumination can actually make you more angry or upset than you were originally, because the issue becomes magnified in your mind.” – Guy Winch, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries.
“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” – Robert H. Schuller
Fortunately, there are a some techniques that can help you stop dwelling on the negative thoughts and focus your mind back on the positive. Yes, it does take focus and effort, but it’s better than getting mired down in negativity, right?
1. Tackle it and challenge it
Sometimes we feel a negative thought creeping in and rather than addressing it right away, we let it stew for a while. Then, when we least expect it, it bubble to the surface and “surprises” us, catching us off guard. The best way to handle it may be to confront it with purpose and figure out why you’re feeling this way. Is the fear warranted or are you blowing it out of proportion? Write the negative thought down with pen and paper and look at it. Then, write down why it concerns you. Then look at that list of concerns. Then, write down the pros and cons and potential outcomes. Then look at those. The act of writing it out can often help to put things into proper perspective and it gives us a chance to get control over wandering negativity. Rather than letting it bounce around in our mind, getting it out into the light of day can be very beneficial.
2. Distract yourself
A lot of times, negative thinking takes hold when we’re bored or feeling isolated. Find ways to distract yourself from the negative thoughts. This could be de-cluttering your home, reading a good book, going to the movies, hanging out with friends, painting a picture — something constructive that keeps your mind focused on other things can give you the breathing space to tackle the negative thought properly.
Read more on: The Displacement Theory
3. Have a go-to support network
Having positive people who will support us is vital. Who is your support network? Who in your family and circle of friends can you count on to be there for you? Spend time with the positive people and they too will help you focus, analyze and distract.
4. Don’t expect perfection
Life is complicated. No one has a perfect life, despite what you may believe. Accept that life is at times complicated and that nothing is ever perfect. Some negative thoughts stem from our desire to control everything and the reality is, sometimes we just can’t.
5. Consider professional help
There is never any shame in getting the guidance of a qualified professional. Often, talking to a Therapist, family doctor or clergy person can help us get it all out in the open and their perspective can be refreshingly helpful in resolving the negative thought(s).
“The key to happiness – or that even more desired thing, calmness – lies not in always thinking happy thoughts. No. That is impossible. No mind on earth with any kind of intelligence could spend a lifetime enjoying only happy thoughts. They key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them.
Understand, for instance, that having a sad thought, even having a continual succession of sad thoughts, is not the same as being a sad person.” ― Matt Haig