Steps to put a stop to negative thinking
In recent months I have noticed a recurring theme in the questions I am being asked about how to deal with negative thoughts and images. When we are worried, under stress or feeling low, why is it our minds seem to randomly throw up thoughts of doom, gloom and disaster at the very time we could do with the opposite?
One of the reasons for this is that stress and worry change our brain chemistry and have the ability to affect the way we think. An anxious or negative thought tends to create more stress and so the spiral continues unless we become mindful of the pattern and take action to interrupt it.
This is a common symptom of stress and whilst it can feel lonely on the inside of a distressed head, there are plenty of techniques which can help. Try out the following tips to see what might work for you.
1. Accept and give up the fight
Have you ever heard the saying ‘what you resist persists?’ Although it may seem like common sense to fight negative thoughts, they are more likely to stick when we resist them. Instead, try to accept they are there and forgive yourself for thinking them.
2. What's the hidden value
For example: We can discover what we value in life by way of our negative thoughts.
‘I haven’t heard from my friend in a month, clearly I’m not that important to her’ maybe telling you that the friendship is valuable to you and you would like to see her more often. Call her and tell her.
‘I’m so busy this week I don’t know how to cope. I have no time to take care of myself because everyone else needs taking care of first.’ Perhaps the truth is you realise that you need time to yourself to rest and recover so you can be available for everyone else. Make me time a priority in the week ahead.
3. Express it
Left to their own devices, negative thoughts thrive in the isolation of our own minds. We may think if we express these thoughts others will reject us, think us stupid or see our vulnerability.
In truth, by admitting these thoughts to a friend or family member, they often lose their power and we regain perspective. Furthermore, we give others permission to do the same when it’s their turn to struggle.
If talking to someone just does not feel comfortable try writing your thoughts down or even expressing them through art.
4. Give the mind a task
A brain that is racing with negative thoughts is like a runaway train. It needs a task to get back on track.
This can be anything that requires the brain to actively concentrate and engage in something practical (read a book, bake a cake, listen to a podcast, play with a child etc)
Furthermore, if we actively pursue hobbies and interests which we love, we raise our levels of feel good chemicals in the body and this in turn leads to a brighter state of mind.
5. Change environment and ground yourself
When thoughts are a preoccupation we can lose connection to our body and live in the head. Going out for a walk out in nature, sitting in a cafe reading a book, doing some gardening all help to ground us back in the body. When we change our outer environment, our inner environment tends to change too.
6. Meditation or mindfulness
Some people find peace in meditation and mindfulness.
By sitting still for a period of time each day (even a few minutes to begin with), focusing on the breath, the body, the senses, a candle, music or listening to a guided meditation, it can help to quieten the mind and enable us to simply become a witness to our thoughts.
Often the problem is that we over engage with our thoughts and give them too much power. This takes us out of the present moment and into worry about the past or fear about the future, neither of which are helpful places to go.
Try writing down at least 5 things each day that you are grateful for in life. This not only helps to retrain the mind into a more positive state and lift mood but also teaches us more about what is important in our lives.
8. Rest and sleep
Being overtired can be an invitation for unwanted thoughts, often remedied by giving ourselves sufficient rest and recovery time.
9. Avoid dehydration and missing meals:
A drop in blood sugar or being dehydrated can also cause a drop in mood and energy, leading to negative thoughts. Choose pure, natural whole foods as far as possible and eat and drink regularly to maintain balance.
10. Help someone
Negative thoughts can be all consuming and isolating. By literally getting out of the house and offering support to someone else in need we can help set aside any thoughts that may be troubling us. Giving to others can also put our own problems into perspective and raise our sense of well-being.
If you try the tips above and the negative thoughts continue to worry you, please speak to your GP or a medical herbalist (www.nimh.org) for further advice. Physical factors such as fluctuating hormones etc. can and do influence state of mind. For women suffering with PMS or menopausal symptoms you could also refer to our menopause and pms pages for further guidance.
There are also a variety of therapies available to help tackle negative thinking such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a method for intervening in continuous unwanted thoughts practised by the NHS and privately. Some GP’s refer people to an online course which gives practical exercises to challenge the thought process) and NLP and Life Coaching can also help with reframing thoughts
Herbs and flower essences which may also have a beneficial effect include: St John’s Wort, Hyperiforce, traditionally used to treat low mood and mild anxiety (Please refer to this link as it is contraindicated with a variety of medication and contact us again if you are in any doubt.); Passiflora Complex which has been used traditionally to help ease stress and nervous tension (without the contraindications known for St John’s Wort ); Mood Essence or Relaxing Essence which are flower essences, safe to use with medication or alongside herbs and work to rebalance emotions.