We all have thoughts buzzing around in our minds all the time; they happen automatically and it can be hard to tame them. It’s completely normal for our thoughts to be negative ones, about ourselves and our lives. These can be distressing, but it’s important to remember that thoughts are not facts – this means that sometimes the things we think are more like our interpretation of a situation or beliefs about ourselves.
There are some styles of negative thinking that are common; see if you can recognise any of these:
- Mind-reading – assuming we know what other people are thinking about us, for example, “They think I’m ugly”
- Catastrophising – believing that the worst possible thing will happen, for example, “I’m going to fail my exams and then I’ll never get anywhere in life”
- Shoulds and musts – putting pressure on ourselves to live up to unrealistic expectations, for example, “I should always be the best”
- Compare and despair – seeing only the best aspects of other people and comparing ourselves negatively to them, for example, “Their lives look so amazing on Instagram, my life is so grey and boring”
Once you are aware that you’re having a negative thought, you can try to have a look at it and see if you can change it into something a bit more balanced and helpful.
For example, imagine you’ve sent a friend a message and they haven’t got back to you a day later. You might think,
“I must have done something to upset them.”
Let’s look at this thought in a few different ways:
- What’s the evidence to support this thought? They haven’t replied.
- What’s the evidence against it? They might be busy. Their phone might not be working. You can’t think of anything you’ve done to upset them.
- What would you say to a friend who was having this thought? I’m sure you haven’t upset them, you’re a good person. Why not give them a call?
- How will you feel about this in six months’ time? It will be forgotten.
- A more balanced thought might be: “I don’t know why they haven’t replied, I hope they’re okay, I’ll give them a call.”
There are free online resources with more information on dealing with unhelpful thoughts, for example https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/unhelpful.htm