One of the most common things I help my clients with is challenging their negative thinking. Everyone has negative thoughts from time to time, some more than others. They are referred to as cognitive distortions, thinking errors or negative automatic thoughts. These thoughts are automatic, they come out of nowhere and they seem reasonable enough if you don't check them or challenge them. The more cognitive distortions we think and experience the more anxious and depressed we feel.
Some examples of cognitive distortions are black and white thinking which means we think everything is either all good or all bad. This makes people think in extremes.
Personalizing is another example and is when someone reads a Facebook post that one of their family member writes on Facebook and they assume it's about them.
Discounting the positive is one I hear clients express a lot and this is when they only focus on the negative parts of the experience rather than also thinking about the parts that were good. Perhaps you have an argument with someone after spending a really fun day with them and all you focus on is the argument.
Ruminating is another example and this is when you think over and over and over again and again and again about something you said or did or something someone else said or did.
Another example is Catastrophizing is when someone thinks the worst possible thing is going to happen. A student may think they are going to fail out of school because they did poorly on one test.
There are several other examples including jumping to conclusions, over generalization, filtering, unnecessary delaying and should statements.
How do you deal with these thoughts?
First thing to do is challenge them. Ask yourself is this thought true? If it's not then why are you spending time thinking about it. If you are unsure if it's true, look for examples from your life that prove it is not true.
A technique I use often with my clients is:
Examine the situation that has caused these cognitive distortions and identify the thoughts it has made you experience.
Fill in the blank... I am_______.
Once having identified the thoughts, identify what feelings has thinking this way made you experience and what actions or behaviors have you engaged in because of these thoughts.
Then write down all the evidence to disprove these thoughts, think of an alternative way of thinking, identify which cognitive distortions they are and then review the initial thoughts and see if you still believe them.
This is a great technique to learn to use on a regular basis and will definitely help you feel less anxious and depressed. Try out these techniques and let me know if they are helping. The more you practice using these the easier it will become and your negative thinking will decrease in frequency.