This article explores common anxious and negative thinking patterns and provides tools to help you gain greater control over Your thoughts. When we are stressed, our thoughts are often chaotic and can feel overwhelming. We struggle to think clearly and our mind can become a very anxious and negative place. We need to find ways to create order and to allow our thoughts to help us feel calm and positive. Consider the analogy of a puzzle. When you first open it, all the pieces are scattered in the box and nothing makes any sense. It can feel overwhelming. Piece by piece we start to see the picture more clearly and we feel good.
Our minds are incredibly powerful and greatly influence our view of ourselves and the world as well as our functioning in it. As someone once said to me, if we don’t learn to control our mind, our mind will control us.
Common unhelpful thinking patterns
Do you recognise any of the following thinking patterns in yourself?
Focusing on the negatives.
Not recognising the perspectives of others.
Doubting your abilities.
Blaming yourself for things which are not your fault.
Worrying about what people think about you.
Labelling yourself, based on a negative perspective.
Seeking perfection and feeling a failure if things aren’t as good as you planned.
Making assumptions about your day based on how you feel.
Disqualifying positive comments from others because they ‘don’t really mean it.’
Making assumptions that aren’t based on facts.
Fixating on a worst-case scenario and becoming consumed with anxiety as a result.
If we want to change the way we think, we need to recognise when our thinking patterns are unhelpful. Try to notice any negative thoughts you may have about yourself. Also, when you feel a negative emotion in a situation, ask yourself what you were thinking. Examples include: ‘she doesn’t like me’, ‘I’m a failure because I can’t do this’. When situations don’t work out as you’d like or people express anger or frustration, do you blame yourself?
Once you have a better idea of your thoughts, then you can start trying to change them.
Ideas for changing the way you think
Challenge your negative thoughts
When you become aware of anxious or negative thoughts, ask yourself if they are true. What evidence do you have to back them up? If you’re worrying about a worst-case scenario, recognise what it is and remember there will be alternative outcomes which are of less concern.
Reframing the way you think about things
It is amazing how often we add our own narrative to what we hear and to things that happen. We have the power to change that narrative. To reframe the way we receive things said to us or situations we face. Consider a new opportunity. We can frame that in fear and apprehension about what may go wrong. Alternatively, we can frame it in excitement at the prospect of new experiences. If someone provides some negative feedback, we can frame it as criticism and feel a failure. Alternatively, we can receive it constructively, as a way to improve. When you recognise anxious or negative thoughts, try to reframe your narrative to be more encouraging.
When we find ourselves ruminating on things in an anxious or negative way, a catchphrase can help us stop. Something short and concise such as ‘I’m not going there’, ‘I can do this’, ‘it will be ok’. Create your own catchphrase and say it to yourself when you find yourself ruminating.
Having used your catchphrase, finding something to distract you can be helpful. What do you enjoy doing that doesn’t take too much time and isn’t going to cause you harm? Something I call your ‘simple joys’. Whatever works for you. Use this as a way to help you stop ruminating and to take your mind into a positive place.
Think of a place that makes you happy. Imagine the scene, what it looks like, what you can hear and how you feel. Your happy place can be a useful place to go to in your mind, to take you away from your anxious or negative thoughts.
It is amazing how much time we spend thinking about things that have already happened. We may wonder ‘if only’ or ‘what if’ or analyse things people have said to us. We can also spend a lot of time worrying about the future and what may or may not happen. Mindfulness is all about bringing our thoughts into the present. Mindful living is about noticing your senses as you live. Notice what you are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting as you live your life. Stop and focus and allow this information in. Feast your senses! There are many mindfulness tools online so I suggest you find one or two which resonate with you and use them as you go about your day.
Anxious and negative thinking patterns massively contribute to stress and greatly influence our thoughts about ourselves and our perspective on the world around us. I hope you will find some of these tools helpful in learning to control your mind so that it doesn’t control you.
Please get in touch if you would like to have a chat and see if I can help you.