Stress is a constant. Busy schedules, kids to care for, lack of sleep, the dog is sick, and traffic all contribute to stress and anxiety. Unmanaged stress can lead to worry, negative thinking, low self-esteem and depression.
If you could stop your negative thinking and, as a result, feel less stressed, get better sleep, and feel happier…would you? I’m here to tell you that it’s possible. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV). Many of us know that Jesus himself even told us many times not to worry! There are statistics out there telling us that upwards of 85% of the things we worry about either don’t happen or end up having a positive outcome. Even when our worries do become a reality, the statistics show that 80% of us say we handled the situation better than what we feared. If you are doing the math this means we have a 3% chance that things will actually be as bad as you think. We have every right to let these worries go! So how do we do this? Here are a few things I have found to be helpful:
- Stop Ruminating.
Negative thoughts are normal, but thinking about the situation over and over and over again is not helpful. It can lead to more anxiety, depression and a sense of helplessness.
- Come up with Alternatives.
Think about other ways that the situation could have come about. For example: someone rear-ends your car and immediately your thought is, “Those stupid people, they need to stop talking on their phones while driving!” That thought is nothing more than dumping gasoline on the fire. Instead, you could think, “Maybe that person just found out they got laid off and are distracted as a result.” The fact is that you don’t know all the facts, so think of other things that could have caused the issue.
- Stop Taking Things Personally.
If something happens, what good does it actually do for you to think, “I’m a terrible person,” Or, “I’m not good enough”? Rather, say to yourself, “There was a lot of competition, and I know I can do better next time.” Or “I made a mistake but I, myself, am not a mistake.” Also make sure to tell yourself that the problem is not permanent. Use the mantras, “This too, shall pass,” And “Will this really matter in 10 years?” Problems are typically temporary.
- Defensive Pessimism.
If you fear something happening, try to think of the worst-case scenario, then make a plan around that. Once you have a good plan in place, allow the plan to melt your anxiety about the situation away. If you still indulge your worry about the situation even though you have a good working plan, this may not be a good solution for you. But if the fear of something happening causes you to act to prepare, and you are able to let go of the fear because of the work you have done, this is a positive way to go. For instance, I used to be terrified of public speaking. I would feel nauseous before I went up to make my speech. After I learned to practice in the right way, my anxiety lessened. I learned that I needed an audience to practice in front of, not just an empty room. So if my roommates were not available, I would use stuffed animals! My fear of the worst case scenario happening; drawing a blank once I’m on stage, caused me to make a good working plan around that fear; to prepare and practice better, which caused my anxiety to lessen because I was more comfortable and prepared.
- Learn to Dispute Your Own Negative Thoughts
Recognize what you say to yourself, and then think, “Would someone who truly cares ever say anything like that to me?” Or, “Would I ever say that to someone I love?” When you are feeling down, try to think about what a friend would say to you and think on those things.
- Be Mindful of Your Thoughts.
We cannot take captive those things of which we are unaware. Once we recognize a negative thought, we have a choice. Follow that thought to depression or stop it immediately and choose to think about the positive. Once you can recognize your thoughts, you are one step closer to a happier, healthier life!
There are lots of things you can do to prevent negative thinking. If you know a “trigger,” what sets a negative thought off, then try to avoid that situation. For instance, if traffic is a trigger, then take a less busy route, or go to work at a different time if you have that flexibility. Triggered often to take things personally? Volunteer somewhere. Volunteering can help shift your thoughts off of you and your problems onto someone else and can boost self-esteem.
I also want to acknowledge that trying to constantly be upbeat is a trigger for a lot of people and is a recipe for disaster. It can cause more depression not less. Take the time to think about why you are having negative thoughts, and if it is something you can’t do by yourself, come in to see me if you live around Colorado Springs or call me if you are not local. Talking with a professional can really help!
Feedback time: What things have you tried to do that helps you think more positively? What has worked? What hasn’t? I love to hear from you!