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.
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
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”.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!