23 Great Ways to Conquer Negative Thinking
Free your mind!
It doesn't matter if you're the meanest person on the planet or His Holiness the Dalai Lama, negative thoughts will find a way of bubbling up in your daily life. (After all, we're only human!) Perhaps you got a bad performance review and can't help but wonder about what it effect it might have on your career trajectory going forward. Or maybe you gained a few pounds on vacation and can't stop blaming yourself for indulging in those extra calories. It could even be an awkward encounter at the coffee shop that you keep replaying in your mind.
According to the results of an international study conducted at Concordia University, 94 percent of adults find themselves dealing with intrusive, negative thoughts. And while you may not be able to stop those thoughts from happening, there's plenty you can do to keep those unpleasant ideas from overwhelming your thought process.
No matter what's weighing heavily on your mind, it's important to not let those patterns of negative thinking have a deleterious effect on other aspects of your life, leading to stress and anxiety over time. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way. The next time you find yourself in a whirlwind of negative thoughts, try one of these 23 ways to conquer them.
Dedicate a Few Minutes of Time to Address Your Stress
It might sound contradictory, but a simple way to conquer negative thinking is by setting aside time to address those thoughts. One strategy is to designate 10 minutes a day for Negative Thought Time, Julie Kantor, PhD, a psychologist and management consultant, suggested to Forbes. "When you have a negative thought during the day, jot it down and tell yourself that you'll review it during NTT," she says. "Over time, you will gain control and negative thinking will stop."
Buy Some Flowers
The simple act of choosing a bouquet of flowers and setting them up in a sunny window could elevate your mood in a way little else can. One Rutgers University study found that when participants were given one of three gifts—a candle, a fruit basket, or a bouquet flowers—they responded most genuinely to the flowers. Three days later, the flower recipients were still feeling happier than their peers in the study.
Play a Game of Tetris
If your negative thoughts are a result of dwelling on something outside of your control, it might help to get into a state of flow. An easy way to do that? Tetris. A recent study published in the journal Emotion found that the classic game could serve as a helpful coping mechanism for people who are awaiting potentially life-changing news. Researchers discovered that while playing the flow-inducing game can't alleviate worry, it can decrease levels of negative emotions and improve levels of positive ones.
Monitor Your News Intake
Negative news broadcasts can impact your emotions more than you might think—especially if you tune in in the morning. One 2015 study found that watching just three minutes of negative news in the morning makes viewers 27 percent more likely to report having a bad day six to eight hours later. People who watched transformative stories—ones that offer solutions instead of nonstop doom and gloom—reported having a good day 88 percent of the time.
Throw Your Negative Thoughts Away—Literally
If you have a depressing or anxiety-provoking thoughts that just won't go away, write that thought down on a piece of paper and throw it away in the nearest trash receptacle. When researchers at Ohio State University had subjects perform this exercise, they found that having people physically discard their thoughts helped to emotionally discard them as well.
If you want to take it a step further you can do what Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway does to manage her feelings. As she's revealed in interviews, when she feels overwhelmed with negative thoughts, she simply writes them down on paper, and then sets that paper on fire. Yes, a little dramatic, but she swears it works!
Shift Your Focus Toward a Solution
"Thoughts are like mantras," explains Justin Baksh, a licensed mental health counselor and Chief Clinical Officer at Foundations Wellness Center."If you let negative thoughts ruminate, if you let them exist, eventually they are going to become facts."
When it comes to conquering negative thinking, Baksh suggests that "what you need to do is shift focus from the problem to the solution." For instance, Baksh says that one of the most common negative thoughts he hears is along the lines of "I am so overwhelmed and stressed with finances." In this case, he suggests replacing that thought with "I am going to be more observant of my spending habits and more purposeful with saving"—in other words, swapping the former regret for an attainable future goal.
Take 20 Minutes to Write Down Your Thoughts and Feelings
Taking time out of your day to jot down detailed notes about your negative thoughts could actually alter the thoughts themselves, according to a study published in The Oncologist. In the study, researchers at Georgetown University found that, after three weeks of journaling for just 20 minutes a day, 54 percent of cancer patients reported having altered thoughts (from negative to positive) about their illness.
Separate Yourself From Your Thoughts
Most people can agree that they're far better at doling out advice to friends than they are at following the suggestions of others. However, if you use this realization to your advantage, then you might be able to conquer your own issues simply by giving advice about your negative thoughts as if they were someone else's. Per one study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy, this method of questioning—called Socratic Questioning—has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression by offering patients a seemingly less intimate way of dealing with their issues.
Embrace Neutral Thinking
When negative thoughts are the only thing occupying your mind, it's not exactly easy to simply convince yourself to think positive instead. That's why relationship coach Vikki Louise recommends turning toward neutral thoughts in lieu of pure positivity. "Working on thoughts you don't believe is a waste of time," she says. "Thinking 'I have a job' is neutral, believable, and feels so much better than 'I hate my job.' Sure, you won't be skipping your way into work every day, but you also won't be crying in the bathroom stalls."
Watch a Funny Video
Use humor to transform your negative thoughts into something less depressing. Per one study published in the International Journal of Humor Research, simply watching a humorous 15-minute video can increase feelings of hopefulness and allow positive thoughts to replace any negative ones.
Get Adequate Amounts of Sleep Every Night
Though everyone suffers from a fleeting negative thought every now and again, it's the people who don't get enough sleep who struggle to actually conquer negative thinking, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Per the results of the research, people who get inadequate sleep—characterized by constant disruptions and a short duration—have more trouble diverting their attention away from upsetting, negative information compared to those who sleep soundly.
Focus on Feelings of Gratitude
Gratitude is a powerful weapon in the battle against negative thinking. When psychologists from the University of Miami had subjects write a few sentences every week—with some focusing on gratitude, some focusing on aggravation, and some focusing on events that affected them with no emotional emphasis—they found that those who wrote down what they were grateful for were more optimistic and exhibited a greater sense of wellbeing compared to the other two groups.
Because the gut microbiota plays a role in how humans think, act, and feel, adding a daily dose of probiotics into your routine might actually help you conquer negative thinking. That's according to a study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, which found that people who took probiotics for four weeks were able to ruminate less on negative thoughts and feelings.
Don't Feel Bad about Being Sad
Don't beat yourself up for having negative thoughts. Everyone goes through periods of turmoil every now and again—and according to one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who are honest with themselves about their negative thoughts and emotions tend to experience fewer of them.
Grab Food with a Friend
"Sharing food is one of the best ways to be connected and seek solace," says Mary Brooks, M.Ed., a certified Integrated Nutrition Coach and owner and creator of Sustainable Nutrition. "Just the idea of looking forward to this provides an emotional joystick for your day. The happiest cultures and societies make eating and cooking together a daily celebration."
Examine the Evidence
Don't just take your negative thoughts at face value and accept them as undeniable facts because you believe them. Rather, you should "challenge the negative thought by examining the evidence," says Cara Maksimow, LCSW, CPC, a licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey. Once you realize that are are no real facts or data to support those unpleasant thoughts, it will be much easier to truly convince yourself that you're thinking with your heart and not your head and conquer negative thinking.
Think about Someone You Love
When negative thoughts are getting in your way, certified life coach Ann Ball recommends shifting your focus toward something in your life that makes you happy, like your family or your spouse. "By changing your focus," she says, "you turn your energy from focusing on the things that get you down to something else. Changing your focus will change your motivation."
Get Some Sunlight
The easiest prescription for a better mood? A little sunshine. "Sometimes, feeling off is less about our circumstances and more about our biological rhythms being off-kilter," says Brooks. "Lack of sunlight, especially in the winter, can make you feel glum." If you suspect that a decreased amount of sunlight is responsible for your bad mood, then Brooks suggests to "spend your first minutes of the day in natural light." Even something as simple as standing outside for a few minutes or opening the blinds can "up your vitality" and conquer negative thinking.
Surround Yourself with Positivity
Negative thoughts feed off of further negativity—so when it comes to overcoming your pessimism, you'll want to surround yourself with positive people. And "even if you physically can't make that happen, you can always find positively-focused articles, books, and videos online," says Meridith Hankenson Alexander, a motivational speaker and author of The Sky is the Limit. "What we focus on tends to expand, so when your own mind is feeling that negative pull, head for the 'shiny objects' that will take your mind where you truly want it to go."
Take a Break From Social Media
Undoubtedly, social media is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to negative thinking, and so disengaging from any and all social platforms helps when your mind is filled with negative thoughts. "Consuming versus creating is one of the easiest ways to reverse our sense of not-enoughness or negativity," says Brooks.
Instead of scrolling through Twitter or Instagram, Brooks suggests doing something that engages your mind and feeds your soul, like writing poetry or reading a book. "Turning on your own inner compass rather than feeding yourself with people you barely know is good mental medicine."
Read a Few Inspirational Quotes
Those inspirational quotes that litter every teenage girl's Instagram feed might be cheesy, but they actually can help you eliminate any negative thoughts. "If you spend time each day reading inspirational quotes, there is a good chance that you are going to be filled with motivation, hope, and positive dreams," explains Patrick Di Vietri, director of therapy services at HOPE Therapy and Wellness Center. And even if you don't feel like reminding yourself to read an inspirational quote every day, all you have to do is follow a few happy-go-lucky Instagram accounts to get your daily dosage of feel-good content via your newsfeed.
Pet a Dog
Step into a nearby flower shop and sniff some rosebuds. Stop what you're doing and spend a few minutes really paying attention to petting your cat or dog. Listen—really listen—to your favorite piece of music. Why? "Negativity is so easy when we are overworked and focused on cognitive tasks," says Brooks, "so you should get your creative juices flowing by taking a small diversion that is 100 percent sensory."
Practice Positivity—Even When You're in a Good Mood
"The most important and often most overlooked way to combat negative thoughts is to practice having positive thoughts," says GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor. "Being sure to reflect on positive moments, situations, interactions, and moods will help you reduce the frequency of negative thoughts and strengthen your ability to combat negative thoughts when they arise."
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