The human brain is a great thinking machine. We are wired to think all the time. Even when we have nothing particular to think about, we may quickly get bored and just fantasize about something. However, you may have noticed that not all of our thoughts are intentional. Sometimes, you just can’t stop thinking about something.
The thing is that our brains can produce thoughts automatically. Automatic thoughts may appear in your mind as a response to a certain trigger, and getting rid of them may turn out to be quite a difficult task.
Ruminating over negative thoughts can have many negative effects on your mental health, fueling anxiety, making you feel guilty for no reason, damaging your self-confidence, and leading to negative emotions.
What Automatic Negative Thoughts Are
Automatic negative thoughts may appear randomly or have specific triggers. Most often, such thoughts are aimed at one’s self, which is a reason why they can negatively affect emotional health.
Generally, negative thinking is completely normal. This is just one of many psychological mechanisms that our ancestors developed for safety reasons. We need to think critically to survive, look out for possible threats and even question our positivity from time to time so we need to be ready to deal with possible problems.
In other words, the human brain is well-trained to imagine threats so we can prepare for them. This ability, however, can also work against us when our anti thoughts get out of control.
So, how can one understand when it’s time to change thinking or consider therapy? About 90% of our thoughts are repetitive. You may think about the same things over and over again, and when your thoughts repeat frequently enough, they can create neural pathways.
This way, we develop habits — both actions and thoughts. When dark thoughts start to reappear over and over again, they can lead to depression, anxiety, and many other problems. For instance, negative thinking is a distinctive feature of social anxiety.
The Impact of Negative Thoughts
While negative thoughts are natural and all of us have them from time to time, there is a difference between experiencing negative thoughts occasionally and becoming a negative thinker.
Excessive automatic negative thoughts can cause a lot of stress and even change your brain chemistry by lowering dopamine and serotonin levels. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in our emotional health, and researchers link dopamine and serotonin deficiency to a number of mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Chronic stress caused by anti thoughts can not only destabilize you emotionally but also cause physiological changes. Research data shows that chronic stress can make your brain smaller while stimulating the growth of the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for fear.
Along with a surprisingly powerful physiological impact, negative thoughts can also have many emotional effects. If you have depression, anxiety, or suffer from chronic stress, this means that you can benefit from learning how to stop negative thoughts.
In fact, spotting negative thoughts and challenging them is one of the basic principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). By being aware of your negative thoughts and challenging them, you can overcome anxiety and focus on really important things, including your emotional and physical well-being, instead of wasting your energy on constant stress.
Our emotions don’t just appear out of nowhere. We feel emotions as a result of our thoughts. For example, if you think about a possible failure, you may feel anxious or depressed, and your self-esteem may also decline.
Now that we’ve figured out how automatic anti-belief impacts one’s well-being, let’s figure out how to stop thinking about something that brings anti emotions.
How to Stop Being Negative
One of the best things you can do for your mental health is learn to identify your negative beliefs. Journaling is a great practice that can help you keep track of your everyday beliefs and understand what events in your life are most likely to trigger negative beliefs.
Understanding and managing negative beliefs can be a difficult task so the best solution is to get professional help from a licensed therapist. A therapist can help you understand the root causes of your problems and challenge beliefs that negatively affect your emotions.
Here are some tips that will help you stop the belief that causes anxiety and negatively affect your well-being:
1. Recognize unhelpful belief
The human brain can work wonders when it comes to imagination so our mind can easily convince us of something that isn’t necessarily true. Some of your beliefs may turn out to be illogical or not based on any real facts if you take a closer look at them.
Here are some of the most common inaccurate beliefs:
- Personalizing — thinking that you’re responsible for anything that goes wrong. For instance, when someone doesn’t smile back at you, you may take it personally and forget that this person could just be in a bad mood today.
- All-or-nothing thinking — for example, refusing to recognize your own accomplishments because you “could do better.”
- Catastrophizing — automatically thinking of the worst possible outcome.
- Filter thinking — only seeing anti aspects of situations.
2. Label your belief
If you think that something is true, that doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily right. It will be easier for you to recognize unhelpful beliefs if you draw distinctions between your assumptions and actual facts. For instance, instead of saying “I will fail,” or “nobody likes me,” you can say “I think that this is too difficult for me,” and “I feel rejected.”
3. Challenge anti thinking
Whenever an anti thought comes to your mind, take some time to evaluate and question it. Imagine your friends saying the same things about themselves. How would you react? The chances are that you would easily come up with some counterarguments.
Approach your own thinking in the same way. Ask yourself questions to understand whether or not your anti thinking withstands any criticism. Is it a fact or just an opinion? Is there any evidence for it? Is there another perspective? How would someone else see this situation?
4. Avoid “should” and “must” statements
Whenever you think that you “should” or “shouldn’t” do something, you leave out many details. Why should you? How necessary is it? When and how should it be done? Another important thing about “should” statements is that they imply that you don’t do it now.
The best solution to “shoulding” and “musting” is to take a proactive position so that you can focus on your choices, feelings, and goals. For instance, instead of saying “I should work out,” you can say “working out is important for me,” or “I love the way I feel when I exercise.”
5. Stay present at the moment
If you realize that you can’t stop thinking about someone or something, a great approach is to focus on what’s actually happening right now and distract yourself from these unhelpful ideas. There are many mindfulness practices that can help you stay grounded.
You can try meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises. The main thing is to switch your attention to reality. Focus on the bodily sensations, sounds, shapes, or colors of your surroundings. By distancing yourself from your anti idea you can realize how irrelevant they are.
Automatic anti thoughts can have a significant anti impact on one’s emotional health. Does it mean that all anti views are bad? Well, there’s nothing wrong with having an anti-view occasionally. In fact, fighting each and every anti thought may turn into toxic positivity, which is also unhealthy.
However, if you experience anti ideas too often and they get out of control, it means that you need to challenge and change thinking patterns that impact your emotions. Follow our tips and don’t forget that you can always ask for help.
A licensed therapist can help you figure out where your anti opinion comes from and provide the necessary emotional support. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on challenging and replacing unhelpful opinions. It helps you overcome anxiety, depression, and many other mental health problems.
One of the best things about CBT is that it can be delivered remotely. You can use online therapy platforms like Calmerry to talk to a therapist from virtually anywhere, with no need to commute to the therapist’s office. Learn more about therapy to prepare for your first session.