Did you know that on most days, the average person has between 25,000 and 50,000 thoughts? Those are an impressive amount of thoughts! But what happens when the majority of these thoughts are negative? Imagine the impact on your psyche and your life if you had thousands and thousands of negative thoughts each day?This amount of negative thinking is a hallmark of depression.
Negative or pessimistic thinking is depression speaking for you. Negative thinking is the voice of depression. And this might not be a surprise to many of us. However, many people don’t realize that depression is manifested in negative thinking before it ever creates a negative thought itself. In other words, depression can often begin due to negative thought patterns. Thus, negative thinking can create a cycle of depression that is upheld by a constant flow of pessimistic thinking. It is imperative, therefore, for us to become acutely aware of their thought patterns. Whether you are currently struggling with depression or not, if your thought patterns go unchecked, negative thinking can become a habit that has the potential to reshape your life completely.
Change How You Think
One of the most powerful ways people can lift themselves out of the darkness of depression is to change their thinking patterns. This is why cognitive therapy is such a profound change agent. Cognitive therapy identifies that thought-processing errors contribute to a depressed mood. By changing how you think, you automatically change how you feel. Once you become aware that changing your thinking is essential, you can make active choices to benefit your mental health.
Kim McGuiness, M.Ed., LPC, NCC. offers insight into noticing your thought pattern and changing it:
“In order to understand how to stop thinking about something, we have to first define the thought itself. Sometimes a continuation of thinking about something can be associated with anxiousness or worry, and sometimes the continuation of thought is more aligned to rumination. Understanding the thought is important so that we can better understand the core meaning of the thought itself. When a thought is more worry-oriented, it is focused on the future with a concern of danger ahead. When a thought is deeper or ruminating, it is concerned with loss, disappointment, and sadness.”
Once you allow yourself to become curious about your negative thinking, you can begin to notice your thought patterns.
Keep Track of Your Thoughts
Many of us are often in denial about our thought patterns. We don’t want to believe that we are overly negative, or we want to avoid the painful feelings of our pessimistic thoughts. Catching yourself and noticing your negative thoughts will help you to see your mental patterns. Kim McGuiness suggests, “acknowledging, accepting, and naming the thought. Instead [of avoiding the thoughts], accept the thoughts, and determine what makes the thought present in your mind.”
You can begin the process of noticing your thoughts by recording some of the negative thoughts. What will these thoughts look like for you? You could write things like, “I hate my feet.” “My boss is an idiot.” “I hate spring.” “I hate getting up this early.” “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Whatever the thought, the goal is to be aware of the thought and what precipitated it. Bonus tip: look out for the tendency to make sweeping generalizations from one specific event or experience. Making generalizations is black and white thinking that can contribute to stagnation and negative feelings.
Once you get an idea of your negative thoughts’ frequency, try and pinpoint what triggers them. Recording these triggers will also come in handy because it will point out certain types of events that set off a chain of negative thoughts. Triggers can include being rejected or ignored or having an unkind remark said about or to you. The big question to have in mind is, “how is this trigger interfering with my life?”
After identifying the triggers and the impacts that they are having on your thought life, you can begin to examine how you would like to navigate or interact with these triggers in the future. Indeed, some triggers are healthily avoidable, yet there will be other triggers that you must figure out how to engage with as you move toward a healthier thought life. One such way to engage with our triggers is through positive conversions.
You have so far learned that the human thinking process is habitual. But the good news is, you can create good thinking habits. To do this, you’ve got to start converting all of those negative thoughts into positive ones. It will be hard at first, and you will most likely feel as if you’re lying to yourself and pretending to be a ‘glass-half-full’ type of person. But, as they say, “practice makes perfect.” Though thinking positively may feel foreign to you and like a waste of your time, you are re-training your brain to think (and feel) good.
Every time you have a negative thought, stop, recognize it as unfavorable, and immediately flip the switch and create the positive opposite thought in its place. Here is an example of what this could look like:
Negative thought: “I’ll never get this report done on time.”
Positive Switch: “This report is taking a long time because I am careful to check my work.”
To get the hang of how to do this, consider writing down some positive opposites alongside your recorded negative thoughts.
Another option, McGuiness suggests, is “creating an alternate thought through an allowing statement.” McGuiness encourages clients to use the statement, “I allow the thought while I move forward with other thoughts and behaviors that support my life’s purpose.” By creating a positive conversion and allowing those negative thoughts to pass by, you can continue to make positive contributions to your mental process.
If you feel too dark and down to complete these exercises, please consider reaching out to a trained therapist who can prescribe medication, should you require it, and help you work through these struggles.
If you or a loved one suffer from depression and are interested in exploring treatment options, please contact Get Centered today. Please click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.