We all have negative thoughts every now and then, but there are times when they rule our lives. For people who are depressed, having a negative mindset can be both a symptom and a contributing factor to the illness.
In his book, ‘Feeling Better,’ Dr Antony Kidman identifies three thought processes that are common in depression-prone people. They are
- a negative view of self,
- a negative view of the world and
- a negative view of the future.
Can you identify these mindsets in your own life? If you find yourself spiralling into negative thoughts, there is a way to break the cycle. Here are ten ways to break your negative thinking.
- Challenge your perception of ‘all or nothing’
Life isn’t black and white, so when we define ourselves by categories or achievements, we perpetuate negative thinking. Consider an A or A+ student. When they just pass, they can fall into the mindset of ‘I am a failure’.
You can challenge this all or nothing paradigm by considering your situation from another person’s point-of-view. Think about the best and worst of the situation, and recognise that this categorical thought process is a distorted and unrealistic way of thinking.
- Stop catastrophising a situation
When we are uncertain about the future, we tend to exaggerate the circumstances around upcoming events. This means that instead of expecting the best, we automatically jump to the worst conclusion possible.
For example, if your boss calls you into a meeting, you might exaggerate how they spoke to you that morning, imagining they are about to fire you. However, this is extremely unlikely, and in fact, they are about to praise you for your work. You can stop catastrophising by listing all the possible outcomes of an event (good and bad), and asking a friend for their perspective.
- Remember it’s not all about you
There’s nothing worse than seeing someone frown or give you a snide side-glance. You imagine that every negative comment is a passive attack on you, and the people are perpetually annoyed by your presence. This is a personalisation thought process.
Challenge this thinking by remembering this simple fact: you are not the centre of their universe, and that’s ok. It is extremely unlikely people are responding to you in these cases, and even if they did have a problem, it is their responsibility to approach you about it.
- Don’t predict the future
Misfortune telling occurs when we imagine the future in a totally negative light. This thought process prevents you from having a balanced and realistic view of the world and the opportunities ahead of you.
Challenge this thought process by considering the best possible outcome in a situation. Remember the good things you have experienced in the past, and use this as a shield to stop your negative predictions of the future.
- Try not to overgeneralise
Over-generalisation inhibits our confidence by suggesting a negative experience will always happen in certain situations. Like when a person is rejected for a date—they may then assume they will never fall in love, there is something wrong with them, and people find them repulsive.
When you start down this rabbit hole, challenge your over-generalisations with rationality. One rejection or failure is not a map for the future; it is a single event that has the potential to pan out differently in another place or time.
- Pay attention to the positive details
If you ignore positivity, you will get caught in negative thoughts and feelings of sadness. Even the good becomes bland, and we can become cynical and bored.
You can challenge your negative thoughts by looking for positive details—a delicious meal, a warm hug, or the sun peaking through the clouds. Write in a diary every day, and you will be surprised by how many wonderful things occur for you in a week!
- Stop jumping to conclusions
False conclusions are just that—false. But when we jump to them in the heat of the moment, they seem real and plausible. Our own insecurities cause us to misread people and circumstances, and bring us to negative conclusions.
You can challenge this thought process by identifying other factors happening around you. For instance, your friend may not have responded to your text straight away, but it’s unlikely they are annoyed with you. In fact, they’re probably just busy or have run out of credit.
- Don’t expect people to read your mind
Couples can tell you first-hand how dangerous this thought process is. When we expect people to read our minds and ‘just know’ what we need and how we feel, we will nearly always be disappointed. In turn, we jump to false conclusions and become unhappy with the people around us.
You can challenge this mindset by voicing your concerns and needs. Next time you get annoyed because your spouse isn’t doing the ‘right thing’, consider this question: ‘Have I actually asked them for help, or do I just expect them to know I need it’?
- Challenge irrational beliefs
Most people have beliefs that are unfounded. We believe that we ‘should’ do things, and that we ‘must’ fulfil certain expectations. These irrational beliefs make us feel isolated, burn out and cynical.
Challenge your irrational beliefs by changing your mindsets. Instead of ‘I must’ or ‘I never’, think, ‘I would prefer to do this’. Dare to sit-out an activity your irrational belief compels you to do. When you break these beliefs, you stop striving for an unattainable perfection.
- Practice self-talk
When we feel depressed or are consumed by negative thoughts, we get upset of a secondary disturbance. This thought process means that we get more upset about our negative feelings. For instance, someone who is depressed may think, ‘I should not be depressed’, and so feel even worse.
You can challenge this belief by practicing positive self-talk. Say to yourself, ‘It is okay to feel this way,’ ‘This feeling will pass,’ and ‘Positive things are ahead’. You might even try meditation or mindfulness to overcome this negative mindset.
Do you struggle with negative thought patterns? Would you like to break free? Here’s what you need to do: contact WatersedgeCounselling on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how we can best help you, or press book now to book in our online diary.
This blog was written with the assistance of Dr Antony Kidman’s book ‘Feeling Better: A Guide to Mood Management’.