Identifying and Addressing Negative Thinking Patterns

We all have negative thoughts at times, and sometimes those thoughts are appropriate. But certain habitual thought patterns can increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression. It is hard to identify them because they seem so true and so real while we are experiencing them. However, to overcome these unhealthy habits, you need to step back, evaluate your thoughts as if you were listening to someone else speaking them, and correct them as needed. Doing so will help you lessen your feelings of anxiety and could relieve your feelings of depression. 

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Self-reflection is good; rumination is not. Ruminating is thinking about the same thing over and over, without the intention of finding a solution to the situation. It can appear as overthinking or overgeneralizing. 

Overgeneralizing occurs when you make statements that do not reflect reality: “This always happens to me!” or “I’ll never be able to get this right.” You may think you will never find happiness, never find friends, or be stuck forever in a dead-end job. When you find yourself making such statements, stop. Ask yourself, “Is that really true?” Chances are, it’s not. Distract yourself with other thoughts or other activities. Consider asking yourself, “How can I change this situation?” and take your first step toward changing things.

When you are overthinking, you run through your mind all possible outcomes in order to avoid making any mistakes or taking any risks. Overthinking is an attempt to control every aspect of life, and it can be crippling. 

To prevent overthinking, give yourself a deadline for how much time you will allow yourself to think about the situation before taking action. Limit the number of resources you use to research possible options or outcomes. Then make a choice. Trust that it is ok to be human and make a mistake. The world will not come crashing down. It is worse to be stuck in a rut than to make a mistake moving forward.

All-or-nothing and perfectionism

This is the thinking pattern that sees situations or people as all-good or all-bad, which creates a need for perfection. Perfectionists have an all-or-nothing attitude because if it’s not perfect, it’s just not good at all — and this includes themselves. People with this black and white, perfectionist view set themselves up to fail because nothing will ever be perfect. As hard as it will be, start each day by saying, “Today, I will be good enough.” If you can tell yourself this in the morning, you will probably still do just as well as usual, but you won’t suffer as much stress.

Emotional thinking

Our emotional responses should not always be trusted, especially if generated by childhood experiences. If you felt belittled as a child, you might feel unworthy of success, or you might always assume people are thinking ill of you when, in fact, they think very highly of you. Try not to mind-read. It is not fair to the other person and it is certainly not fair to you. Examine your thoughts to see if they are consistent with reality and, as with ruminating, stop. Look at the situation rationally, as a by-stander, and try to evaluate things in a neutral, unemotional manner. 

It is never easy recognizing these negative thinking patterns, and even harder to stop them when they are well-entrenched. Talk to friends and loved ones or a counselor trained in the recognition of and treatment for depression and anxiety. Once you begin deflecting and defeating these unhealthy habits, it will get easier, and soon you will find yourself feeling much lighter about your life.

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