There are few things in our lives that we have genuine control over, and our thoughts are one of them. This isn’t to say that changing your thoughts will be easy, but with practice you will improve. Whether you are worried about a particular situation or are replaying a negative experience from your past, you can retrain your brain to be more positive. When you shift your mindset to something more productive you take back your power. Here are a variety of techniques to break negative thought patterns. Try a few to find what works best for you.
Why Negative Thoughts Are Bad For You?
Short and long-term negative thoughts are physically, mentally, and emotionally tolling. Studies show that prolonged negative thinking can diminish your brain’s ability to think critically, reason, and form healthy memories. Over time, you begin to view everything in a more negative light—seeing the worst in every person or situation or all the ways things could go wrong. Negativity also increases the stress hormone cortisol leaving your body in a constant state of fight or flight mode. Short-term fight or flight is something that your body can recover from rapidly but can be damaging long-term. This includes:
- Emotional fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
- Digestive concerns
- Weight gain
- Decreased immunity
- Increased internal inflammation
- And more
Refocusing Isn’t Irresponsible
The events of 2020 have left many who are typically optimistic, taking a pessimistic and negative perspective. Wherever you fell on the scale of optimism and pessimism pre-pandemic, BLM, and recent politics—you are not alone if you feel like thinking about it more is the responsible thing to do. You may even feel guilty if you aren’t focused heavily on all that is happening. However, minimizing your negative thoughts doesn’t require rose-colored glasses, it’s about striking a balance. It’s about being informed but not inundated. Yes, some days or weeks will be more challenging than others. And yes, you need to determine what you can do to be part of the solution. Just don’t allow negativity to consume you.
Limit Negativity And Negative Triggers
Whether it’s negative loved ones, a fictional book, or the news, you need to limit what you take in. For example, don’t binge watch a crime series that leaves you feeling agitated, limit it to 2 episodes per day. When it comes to the news, don’t go down the social media or digital rabbit hole. Instead, identify 1 or 2 trusted sources and limit your intake to 1 hour per day, rarely more than 2 hours per day. Set boundaries with negative friends and family. We need to be there for one another right now, but it’s ok to give yourself a break by investing more energy in those who lift you up. No toxic or negative news or entertainment before bedtime as it can disrupt your sleep.
Get Up And Do Something
This strategy is especially important while social distancing but is highly effective at any time. Get up from your desk and take a walk around the block, get up off the couch and do an at-home workout, read a book, play a musical instrument, play with your pets or kids, listen to a podcast, call a friend, cook or bake, go to the movies, or do an art or craft. The goal is to place your energy on something else. Bonus points if you can change your scenery. If you’re at home, simply moving to another room can be helpful.
Write It Out
Journaling (ideally by hand) will often lead you down a different path than the one your mind is repeating. The first benefit to journaling is that it gets your feelings out, often making you feel an immediate release. Connecting pen to paper also promotes critical thought. You will further explore how you are feeling, identify other issues that are bothering you, and maybe even work through your next steps. But sometimes, transferring your thoughts from your racing mind to paper is enough to make you feel emotionally lighter—and more positive.
Change The Channel
Negative thoughts create pathways in your brain, which may be easier to think of as a channel on the TV. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and visualize yourself changing the channel on a remote control. Then, identify something constructive to do that will help maintain your focus. Before you return to what your energy should be focused on, set a positive intention.
There are countless mindfulness practices to choose from, so find what works for you. This might be a gratitude practice, yoga, meditation, spending time in nature, prayer, or mantras and affirmations. Mantras and affirmations are positive statements that can rapidly shift your mindset. Utilize mantras from your favorite wellness experts, such as “It’s only a thought and a thought can be changed” by Louise Hay. Or create personalized “I am” statements such as, “I am a living, breathing example of the kind of world I want to live in” Just be mindful that you don’t accidentally include anything negative in your affirmation. Instead, write an affirmation that contrasts with what you want.
Schedule It In
This technique is easier for those who are more naturally optimistic or who have made significant progress with the methods above. Your goal is never to stuff your feelings down, but to create room to focus your attention on positive and productive alternatives. So, give yourself a daily or as-needed time limit on how long you will allow yourself to ruminate on what is bothering you. This technique works when you feel negativity rise, are in the midst of a stressful time, have a disagreement with someone, watch something disturbing on the news, and even on days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Take between 10 to 30 minutes to ruminate and worry, then let it go for the rest of the day. Set a timer so that you don’t go over your allotted time.
Work Wellness In
Wellness practices are both proactive and reactive ways to minimize negativity. Every culture and demographic can positively benefit from prioritizing wellness, but there are unique wellness roadblocks for communities of color. This includes the stigma of asking for help, societal bias, lack of representation, and limited access in communities of color. You have the right to be healthy and happy, so identify the wellness modalities that work best for you. This might be any combination of talk therapy, alternative therapies, yoga, meditation, and calming your racing mind with hemp-derived CBD. Also, make small daily and weekly changes by working in more “me time” doing things that help you relax and unwind, or that bring you joy.
Perfection isn’t the goal, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always minimize your negative thoughts. The more you practice the techniques above the better you will get!