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Negative Thinking and Mental Health

What is negative thinking? The following quote describes it best:
“Negative thinking refers to a pattern of thinking negatively about yourself and your surroundings. While everyone experiences negative thoughts now and again, negative thinking that seriously affects the way you think about yourself and the world and even interferes with work/study and everyday function could be a symptom of mental illness, including depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and schizophrenia.”

The Power of Positive Thinking indicates three leading causes that fuel negative thoughts. They include “fear of the future, anxiety about the present and shame about the past.”

A person’s mental health and sense of well-being is too often taken from them by the practice of catastrophic thinking. This occurs when a person chronically predicts the worst possible outcome. For example, my stomach is upset. Well it is probably cancer and I am going to die. Next comes anxiety about what is in the present. Examples of this are: no one likes me, I am doing a bad job, or this traffic is so bad I will never get everything done. Next is shame about the things you have done and said in the past. Instead of learning from past mistakes the negative thinker gets stuck in their self-generated thoughts of guilt.

It is vital that a person cuts themselves a break. Think of it this way. If a close friend, co-worker or family member expresses distress over a negative thought, you often would be quick to point out evidence that runs counter to that negative thought. If we can cut the other fellow a break, why not ourselves?

If an individual allows themselves to linger in their negative thinking or “ruminate”, chances are better than even it will get worse along with one’s mental health.

Think of negative thinking as seeing a thread and pulling it. If you pull it long enough the whole sweater will unravel. In the same way one’s mental health can come unraveled if they allow themselves the false “comfort” of engaging in chronic negative thinking. While old habit might feel safe and familiar, in the end chronic negative thinking will destroy a person.

On the popular website WebMD, they assert that there is “no downside to positive thinking.” Benefits include, “Longer life, lower chances of having a heart attack, better physical health, better resistance to illness, lower blood pressure, better stress management, better pain tolerance, more creativity, greater problem solving skills, clearer thinking, better mood, better coping skills, and less depression.”

Just like much of negative thinking is learned behavior, a person can learn new behavior. To that end here are seven ways to deal with negative thoughts as presented by Psychology Today:

The first is “recognizing thought distortions”. A person needs to ask themselves am I only seeing the bad stuff and not the good? Is my co-worker mad at me because they are not smiling or is there a hundred other worries that have their attention today? Or am I stuck in all or nothing thinking? Might there be a thought that is someplace in between all good and bad?

The next is to “challenge negative thoughts”. Resist the temptation to buy into negative thought without mounting one’s own counter argument.

Third is “taking a break from negative thoughts”. A person can cut their own break by booking some time each day to take a rest from negative thoughts. This can be done by focusing ones thinking like a laser on something else. Take for example turning your attention to sinking a putt on the golf green. Give yourself permission to leave your worried thoughts and turn your attention elsewhere.

The next strategy is to “release judgment”. Recognize the good qualities in yourself and others. Take care not to compare yourself to others. Not everyone has the same life situation that you have.

The fifth is to “practice gratitude.” Focus your attention on what is going right in your life. Focus your attention on things that make you happy. Focus on the positive people in your life, present and past.

Next “focus on your strengths.” Instead of thinking I am not the brightest light bulb in the box, think of the fact that you often try to treat others as kindly as possible each day.

The seventh is “seek out professional support.” If no one in your life naturally acts as your support, consider seeking professional support. It does not have to be one or the other, you can choose both.

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