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Your thoughts are making you feel worse.

Updated: Feb 2


Let’s talk about the concept of thought management. Our thoughts and perceptions of ourselves and our life situations have a huge impact on our daily experience.


When we are stressed (or anxious or down), our thoughts can feel out of control and get jammed up with some common negative thinking patterns.


So yep, our thoughts are something to be managed. We can’t control the thoughts that pop into our brains. They are impulses, neural firings in the brain based on some sort of stimulus.


It’s not within our control that thoughts show up.


BUT...


We do have control over what thoughts we choose to grab onto and focus on or repeat or amplify.


Once you realize your typical thought patterns and understand that these are distorted perceptions based in strong emotions, you can untwist from them.


We do have control over what thoughts we choose to grab onto and focus on or repeat or amplify.

Here are some of the common unhelpful thinking patterns we get stuck in, and some tips for shifting out of them:


Polarized thinking – looking at situations and yourself/others in polar extremes. If one thing isn’t right or perfect, then the whole thing is a failure. “If I don’t get an A, then I am stupid.” This is also known as All or Nothing thinking or Black & White thinking.


To shift away from this thinking pattern, ask yourself: “what about this situation or person is still okay or tolerable?” “what evidence is there that represents the opposite side of my negative assumption?”


Mind-reading – deciding what another person is thinking or feeling based on your perceptions rather than factual evidence, and typically without asking. We love to do this….assuming that we know what our friends and bosses or even strangers are thinking and feeling about us.


To shift away from this thinking pattern, ask yourself: “what are the actual facts I know here?” "what else could they possibly be thinking or feeling about me?"


Catastrophizing - going overboard with negative thinking and taking an upsetting situation to the worst case scenario...and constantly obsessing about it. Like...being 15 minutes late for work and then freaking out that your boss is going to fire you and you won’t be able to get another job and you will end up homeless with nothing to eat and no one to help you.


To shift away from this thinking pattern, ask yourself: “how likely is the worst thing?” “if the worst thing happens, how will I cope?”


Filtering - picking one negative detail out of a whole picture and focusing on that. Ten things can go well in your presentation at work, but you can’t stop thinking about the one part that did not.


To shift away from this thinking pattern, ask yourself: “what else is true in this picture?” “what data could help me zoom out to see the whole picture?”


Should-ing - using inflexible rules about how you and others “should” act or “should” have done something. Like “I should be over this by now” or “I shouldn’t have said that” or "they should do that differently."


To shift away from this thinking pattern, ask yourself: “what plan can I make now?” or “what is within my control at this point?”


To offset some of your negative thought patterns, you can also try these daily tips:

Improve your self-talk.

Take notice on purpose and challenge yourself to reflect once a day on what you are doing well and the progress or effort you are making. Bonus points if you write it down. Give yourself regular pep talks when you start down a negative thought path. Encourage yourself as you would a small child or a friend you care about.


Start noticing your inner dialogue.

When you notice that you have a thought that is future-oriented (and therefore likely to include some anxiety about outcomes), practice redirecting yourself to the current moment. Most of the time, in the current moment, things are not that awful. We make things worse by focusing beyond the now.


Practice gratitude.

When we slow down and notice the things we have, it allows us to shift our focus from anxieties about what we do not yet have or the fear of not getting what we want. Try a nightly practice of reciting two specific things that you are grateful for from the day.


The key to managing your thoughts well is starting to notice what the heck you are doing up there in your brain.


Try to start asking yourself “what I’m thinking right now….is this helping me?” If it’s not helping you to feel better or do better, let’s try and manage that.


Photo credits in order of appearance: Fabio Santaniello Bruun on Unsplash and Carl Attard from Pexels

© 2017 Heather M. McKenzie, Therapist LCMHC PLLC

(919) 744-8335

heather@mckenziecounseling.org

all areas of North Carolina, United States​