Did you know, that based on 2018 data, there were over 6,500 deaths by suicide in the UK in one year? Men account for up to 75% of these cases. According to researchers, most suicides in the UK are due to unemployment, loneliness, recent recessions, and austerity measures.
As the 10th of September is World Suicide Prevention Day, we would like to help increase awareness surrounding negative thinking and its consequences. This blog post will help to unravel what causes negative thinking and how to deal with it.
Causes of Negative Thinking
1. Not accepting that mistakes are part of growth
Sometimes, being too hard on yourself causes more harm than good. Perfectionism can create a lot of anxiety and stress in your life. Try reading aloud the phrases below:
“I should wake up early.”
“I should exercise.”
“I should save money.”
At first, these phrases don’t seem bad. But if you look closer, they are --- because of one word. SHOULD. The word should is damaging. It connotes a feeling of guilt. Of not having done enough. These thoughts of failure can lead you down a spiral path of negative thoughts.
How to overcome:
Don’t lead your thoughts with “I should”. Instead, try saying:
“I will do my best to wake up early by sleeping early every night.”
“I will exercise every day by setting aside a portion of time to go to the gym. I’ll invite my friend, John, so we can support each other.”
“I will save money by tracking my expenses.”
The point here is to not use words that add pressure to your already pressured self. As you go through your day, try to record your negative thoughts and identify the words that guilt-trip you. Then replace these with words that inspire and motivate.
2. Allowing automatic negative thinking to take over
Automatic Negative Thinking or ANTs are the first things that come to your mind every time you have a strong reaction or feeling. Think of it as your thought reflex. ANTs are common among people with depression and anxiety. These thoughts often revolve around ideas of danger or fear. What makes matter worse is that ANTs can be paralyzing.
You don’t pick up ANTs overnight. These thoughts are usually a product of years of experience and conditioning. Example of ANTs are:
I’m going to fail.
She/He will not like me.
This world is awful.
I hate my life.
How to overcome:
The best way to deal with ANTs is by breaking it down into three parts:
1) The trigger - usually the situation or event that triggered the negative thought
2) Your feelings - what you are feeling at the time the negative thought appeared
3) The thought - the exact thought or image that came to your mind
Identifying these three will help you examine your negative thought process so you can actively change your thinking process into a productive and helpful one. Let’s see this in action!
So, for example, the automatic negative thought is: I’m going to fail. Ask yourself these questions:
1. What situation or event is causing you to think “I’m going to fail” before it even happens?
Is it work? A project? An exam?
If it is an exam, ask yourself: Am I afraid because I failed in the past? How is this exam different from the exams I took before?
Now imagine the worst that could happen and break down your feelings and rate it from highest to lowest in terms of intensity.
Are you afraid?
Are you nervous?
Do you feel guilty?
Let’s say you rated nervousness as number 1. This means that being nervous (a symptom of anxiety) is your dominant mood when your remaining emotions are filled with guilt and fear.
Now that you’ve identified your dominant mood, what can you do so you don’t feel nervous?
As you can see, we are now taking control of your thoughts and emotions --- the first step in eliminating automatic negative thoughts in our lives.
3. Not acknowledging your mental strain
We always have a tendency to fight back or become defensive when an unfavourable situation comes our way. Automatically putting yourself in a defensive or in denial mode can send you into a state of anxiety.
How to overcome:
Embracing the emotional roller coaster you are in requires lesser energy than being constantly in denial.
Remember, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times and you must acknowledge that truth before you can do anything to fix your situation. Don’t exhaust yourself fighting back.
If you take a step back, you’ll eventually notice that most of your negative thoughts have a trigger. Identify these triggers and determine how you can work your way around it. If your negative thoughts are triggered by a situation, opt-out and say no.
We all have negative thoughts. We know that living with depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions is not easy. Remember that you are not alone. You always have your friends and family to support you. Don’t be afraid to work with professionals who can help you identify your negative thought patterns and help you make your way around it.