A good way to deal with negative thoughts

31. March 2020

Bad thoughts can torment us quite a bit. When they get out of hand, they rob us of sleep, concentration and joy in life. But there are strategies that enable us to deal with our negative thoughts in a helpful way. To do this, it is important to realize what constitutes our thoughts and how they affect our lives.

What are thoughts?

It’s a strange question, isn’t it? After all, we know what thoughts are! The ability to think about the past and the future is what distinguishes us as humans. We ponder, judge, compare, daydream, fantasize, discuss, criticize and worry. The brain is perfect at constantly supplying us with thoughts. It is virtually a thought machine. Most of the time, it’s also very useful, because we need it to master our lives

But, as always in life, there are two sides to the coin. Humans tend to take much of what the mind produces at face value. In this way, thoughts can take over our lives and lead to permanent brooding. The best-selling author Eckhardt Tolle calls us in his book Now – The Power of the Present as “slaves of our mind”. We do not manage to distance ourselves from the thoughts in our head.

Examples of negative thoughts

  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I can’t do this.”
  • “I’m not a good(ish) person/mother/father/friend/worker…”
  • “The stress is getting on top of me.”
  • “I’m always so messy/unpunctual/stupid/egoistic…”
  • “Something bad is going to happen.”

These are just a few examples. Each person has his personal “inner critic”, which provides him with individual negative thoughts. Psychotherapists also call these rigid negative thoughts “beliefs”.

When negative thoughts get the upper hand

There are clinical pictures in which brooding and negative thoughts are symptomatic. For example, those with depression suffer particularly from thoughts of worthlessness, guilt, and hopelessness. In anxiety disorders (e.g., generalized anxiety disorder or social phobia), negative thoughts and constant worries also make life difficult. To identify whether rumination is “normal” or whether it is a mental illness, one may consider the following characteristics:

  • Duration and intensity: How many hours of the day are taken up by the negative thoughts?
  • Controllability: Can the negative thought loops still be interrupted by distraction?
  • Suffering: Do the negative thoughts affect life satisfaction?

Unfortunately, there is no rule of thumb for the duration and intensity, from when you should seek professional help. Decisive are rather the subjectively perceived suffering and the impairment caused by the negative thoughts in everyday life.

Just think positive?

Advice such as “Just think positive!” or “Think of something else!” is not particularly helpful in dealing with negative thoughts. This is because thoughts cannot be suppressed. Warning, here’s a little experiment: now don’t think of a pink elephant. As with all people, a small pink elephant has probably appeared in your head. A nice example of how powerful our thoughts are.

It therefore makes sense to work out strategies for dealing with negative thoughts. This does not mean that thoughts should be suppressed or ignored. It means that we can learn not to get caught up in negative thoughts, but to detach ourselves from them. Among other things, we thereby achieve more freedom of action, concentration and life satisfaction.

Tips and tricks for dealing with negative thoughts

Many psychotherapy programs deal with negative thoughts. Especially the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) holds many strategies in dealing with negative thoughts and beliefs. Based on this, some tips and tricks for dealing with negative thoughts now follow, without claiming to be exhaustive.

  • Stop thinking or brooding: Interrupt the negative train of thought with the word STOP! You can write down the thoughts, put them aside, and return to them at a later time.
  • Worry hour: You can’t ignore necessary thoughts. But constantly ruminating about a problem usually does not lead to a solution. Therefore, consciously set up a specific time in the day when you can give the problem your full attention (maximum 30 minutes).
  • Test reality of thoughts: Check whether their thoughts and fears actually occur. Or is it an illusion produced by their mind?
  • Thought Defusion: Give their thoughts a different voice (e.g. a Mickey Mouse voice) or sing them. It sounds a little crazy, but it helps to distance yourself from disturbing thoughts.
  • Visualizations: Let the thoughts drift. Like clouds in the sky, like trains on tracks, or like cutouts on a movie screen. These techniques are found, for example, in mindfulness and meditation.
  • Time shift: How does the situation look in 5 or 10 years? Are the thoughts still relevant then?
  • Naming thoughts: “Ah, there he is again, my inner critic!” or “Good day, dear brooding thought, nice that you are also back!” are just two examples of how you can get into conversation with your thoughts and thus take away their threatening nature.
  • See thoughts for what they are: In principle, thoughts are electrical stimuli. They are highly complicated interconnected nerve signals that take place in our brain and first not more or less. Only the meaning we give them makes them threatening and unpleasant.
  • Distraction: Solve a difficult puzzle, go into nature, listen to happy music… Sometimes negative thoughts then dissolve in an instant.

As you can see, we are not helpless to our thoughts. There are helpful strategies to get negative thoughts under control. In the references you will find podcasts or the books dedicated to dealing with negative thoughts. Break the cycle of brooding – and give your attention to the here and now!

References

(1) Harris, R. (2014) Raus aus der Glücksfalle: Ein Umdenk-Buch in Bildern Illustrationen von Bev Aisbett. Munich, Kösel

(2) Tolle, E. (2000). Now. The power of the present (3rd ed.). Bielefeld, Kamphausen

(3) Wengenroth, M. (2013). Accepting life: how acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)helps. Huber

(4) Williams, M., & Penman, D. (2015). The mindfulness training: 20 minutes a day that changes your life with audio meditations. Arcana

(5) MEDITATION, COACHING & LIFE / THE PODCAST WITH MICHAEL “CURSE” KURTH: Why “just think positive” sometimes isn’t such good advice (Spotify)

(6) MEDITATION, COACHING & LIFE / THE PODCAST WITH MICHAEL “CURSE” KURTH Your Thoughts Are NOT the Problem

Friederike Reuver
Autor:in Friederike Reuver
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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