It’s common to get stuck in a pattern of negative thinking especially when it seems like things aren’t going our way.
Psychologists have recognized that our brain has a tendency towards a negativity bias. This means that we tend to give more attention to negative information and experiences than we do neutral or positive ones. It’s how we adapted to a more difficult environment and threats when gathering food and facing dangers millions of years ago. What served us then, may not serve us at appropriate situations in modern times. Conditions are different and we face different stressors. Coupled with triggers from constant news feeds and electronic stimuli, this sometimes sends the wrong message to our brains.
If we let it, this negativity can overshadow the positive things that are happening all around us and can even lead to depression and despair. To counteract this tendency to focus on the negative, we have to proactively make a habit of positive thinking.
Here are five ways to stop negative thoughts:
Recognize the negative thoughts.
The first step to stopping negative thought patterns is to recognize it. Name it. You can write it down in a journal or piece of paper. Notice when and how often you think of negative thoughts. Recognizing when you are having the negative thought gives you a chance to interrupt the thought pattern.
In East Asian Medicine we view the body as a network of energetic systems. Each thought and experience has a memory which is stored in the fluid, blood and network vessels. When we have constant negative thoughts it can cause a blockage of this energetic pathway. If this energetic blockage is not cleared the imbalance it creates can lead to illness or disease.
Interrupt the thought pattern
When you notice that you’re having negative thoughts, ground yourself in the present moment.
Heighten your senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.
Pay attention to your environment. What do you see? What do you smell?
How does the ground on your feet feel as you stand, or if you’re sitting, how does the chair feel on your back?
What sounds do you hear? Do you hear the hum of the refrigerator, or the sound of cars passing outside?
When you heighten your senses, you interrupt the negative thought pattern. It gives you a chance to pay attention to the present. It gives you a chance to change your perspective.
Feel your emotions
While you’re thinking about the negative thoughts, pay attention to how it makes you feel. What emotions come up for you? Where in your body do you feel those emotions most deeply?
Do you feel it in the pit of your stomach?
Do you feel a tightness on your chest?
Do you clench your jaws?
Close your eyes and direct three slow and deep breaths into that part of the body. With every exhale imagine releasing that tension in that part of the body. With every exhale imagine releasing that blocked energy.
Put a limit on reading the news
The news is designed to cover predominantly negative topics and events because that’s what gets the most attention. In short, the news favors a negativity bias.
There are in fact horrible things happening in the world. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be informed and to know what’s going on in the world. That is good and our responsibility as human beings to know, think, feel and care about the world around us.
But put a limit on the amount of news feeds you read in the day especially if you are prone to anxiety and depression after reading the news. Especially if you get your news from social media. Stop. Pause. Just because you don’t read the news every minute of the day does not mean you don’t care.
There are many ways we can be in touch with the world, without being consumed by it.
Be aware. Be passionate. Taking action is the way to show you care and a way that you can feel more empowered. You can join causes that are near and dear to your heart. Donate your time and/or money to causes you believe in. Simple acts count too and can make a big impact. Be kind to people. We all need a little bit more kindness in the world.
Make a gratitude list and refer to it daily.
When you have a negative thought, refer to your list and try to add to it. Write the small things. Write the big things that you’re grateful for. Life may not get easier but when we reframe our experiences and look at the little good things that we have in life, it builds resilience and makes us stronger in the face of difficulties.
Having a gratitude list can foster a gratitude mindset. It can reframe the negative thought and interrupt negative thought patterns and replace them with more positivity.
The world needs your unique gifts.
The way you can bring more of what you offer to the world is by overcoming your negative thoughts. That is how you can feel closer to taking proactive steps towards healing. One little action at a time can make a huge difference. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions. Positive actions lead to making better choices. Better choices lead to better health and a sense of well-being.