Five Ways to Manage Automatic Negative Thoughts

Last week, I broke down a mental health term I’ve learned more about in recent years – automatic negative thoughts. We all process things in different ways, and negative thoughts are a byproduct of that processing. While I haven’t been able to rid myself of negative thoughts, I have been able to recognize them and try to deal with them in a more direct way than I used to. Here are some ways I try dealing with automatic negative thoughts, as well as some reminders about managing them.

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The Challenge of Anxious Thinking

I’ve often thought about the phrase, “the mind works in mysterious ways.” I’ve heard it since I was a kid, and it’s been offered up for everything under the sun as an explanation for why people do the things they do. Since I’m naturally curious, those types of answers have never been satisfying to me. Mostly, this phrase felt like a catch-all to use when people didn’t feel like pondering why something was the way it was, even if they couldn’t figure out a reason why. Our minds certainly work in mysterious ways, and there’s one specific way I’d like to investigate today.

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The Persistence of Negative Thoughts

I don’t always like to start off my posts with ‘this week in therapy’ but….this week in therapy, I absent-mindedly brought up the fact that my negative thoughts have been more present lately. When I reflect on my negative thoughts, I don’t really view them as something to get rid of at this point. They’re here, they’re not going anywhere, and I need to figure out how to deal with them. However, it bothers me that my negative thoughts are very persistent. They can come and go whenever they want, and the hardest time to deal with them is when I forget they exist.

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On Negative Self-Talk

Selftalk¬†is a buzzword for me – I feel like I use that phrase once or twice a week when discussing my mental health. What do I mean when I say ‘self-talk’? On one hand it’s exactly what it means – talking to yourself. But it can be much more complicated or involved than that. It’s not just the words you say out loud, but the thoughts you consciously – sometimes unconsciously – have. Whether they’re about you or someone else, it’s safe to say that all of us engage in self-talk in one form or another.

As the title indicates, I wouldn’t be bringing this up on a mental health blog if I had a problem with my self-talk being too positive. No, when someone asks me what’s wrong my answer usually is…

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(courtesy of Netflix)

I don’t know when it started, but my thoughts about myself have never been all that great. Call it low self-esteem or an unwillingness to care, but I have a tendency to deflect compliments and downplay achievements. Since I’m not your therapist (or my therapist) I’m not going to explore why this happens, but I will tell you some things you might not know about negative self-talk – and how to be aware of it.

Another Buzzword – Cognitive Distortions

‘Cognitive Distortions’ are thoughts that our mind tries to convince us are true. There are tons of them and they can happen in plenty of different situations. While there are tons of ways they can manifest themselves, they all have a few things in common:

  • they’re not true
  • they’re often illogical
  • they can cause psychological damage if left unchecked

There’s plenty of resources available on cognitive distortions if you Google it, but this post from Psychology Today could be a good place to start. Cognitive distortions are basically the various ways our negative self-talk can occur.

It’s More Common Than You Think

Great, so now you’ve read about cognitive distortions and realize you engage in negative self-talk more often than you think. Bravo! But are you aware of how much you really do it? I know I wasn’t. One time to find out, I decided to write down every negative thought I had about myself during a day. Multiple pages later, I realized I had a problem on my hands.

Again, I’m not a therapist so I will not pretend to counsel anyone, but I know there are plenty of things you can do to rewire your thoughts and try to think more positively about yourself. Some things that have worked for me in the past have been

  • changing my tone
  • not taking every thought so seriously
  • don’t suppress these thoughts – acknowledge them and move on

Like any change in behavior, it’s easier said than done. But don’t think that being aware of the issue will solve it.

There Will Be More

There’s a lot more I can – and will – say about negative self-talk, but I think being aware of it is a good first step. Next week I’ll talk more about cognitive distortions and the role they play in negative self-talk.

How did you become aware of negative self-talk and cognitive distortions? I’d love to hear from you!