When you are in a really down mood, the negative thoughts just keep firing one after another. No matter what happens, these thoughts seem to fuel your bad mood. They just make everything worse, buzzing in the background like a swarm of wasps. Sometimes, these thoughts can keep you locked into a depressed mood. To understand how this works, go beneath the feelings and take a closer look at these powerful thoughts.
Start with Thought Awareness
The very first step of managing your negative thoughts is simply knowing that they exist. Not only are they ever-present during a depressed mood, they drive the whole thing forward. Negative thoughts can seem so automatic, so fast. They can pop up and blast you before you see anything coming. These thoughts act much like a river current, pushing and flooding through the mind. They overwhelm you both by what they say and by their sheer volume.
Your thoughts are rooted in your personal beliefs, morals, and principles. They are your opinions of your inner self and the outside world. Every thought you have is personal. Each one is reflective of your curiosity, experiences, and the random actions of your brain cells. Everybody has times when they get caught up in some negativity. But a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder allows these thoughts and feelings to grow out of control. They can paralyze a person’s life, pulling them downward into despair.
Focus on Your Most Troubling Thoughts
Take a close look at a few of your most annoying or powerful negative thoughts. Perhaps they revolve around your sense of control, about a difficult adjustment in your life, or your self confidence. Just sit with them for a moment, even if you feel uncomfortable. This is where the core of your distress lies. Your deepest beliefs and personal truths will be at the base of all your thoughts, both positive and negative. When the outside world doesn’t match up with your beliefs, any negative thoughts you have will come from your biggest personal concerns.
Let’s say that you are feeling stressed because your spouse lost his or her job three months ago. Money is pretty tight now. In the perfect situation, your spouse would immediately get a job that paid the same or better than before. This would quickly bring back your sense of financial security and your mind would be cleared of worry. In reality, there are few jobs to be had in your immediate area. Your worry has become despair. It seems like this will never end and you can’t see a way out.
Negative Thoughts Fixate on Negative Outcomes
“I should have taken that better paying job in the city last summer.” “We are going to end up homeless.” “I should have had this fixed by now.” “We aren’t going to make it out of this.” This is just a sample of the thoughts you may be having about your situation. If you are depressed, it’s likely you have had these worries before. The current problem only deepens your concern and discouragement.
These thoughts fixate on extreme negative outcomes. They choke off problem-solving efforts because there can only be one ultimate solution. In this case, a job for your spouse is difficult to get. That difficulty makes the entire situation seems completely hopeless. Here’s the bad news – as long as creative problem solving is blocked, the worst-case scenario could really come true. To untangle yourself from these destructive thinking patterns, you have to be more aware of how they work.
Focus on Beliefs And Values
When you focus on your beliefs and values beneath your troubling financial situation, you can understand the source of your negative thoughts. You believed you were in control of your financial security, and now you are not. What you are really after is a sense of control. Having your spouse get a job is one way of gaining that control again. However, it is not necessarily the only way.
You have identified that your greatest concern is about being in control. The job loss is very threatening to you. Your worry is understandable, but uncontrolled negativity is not useful and can create bigger problems. You can keep your emotions from taking over by staying aware of your negative thinking patterns.
Learning To Let Go of Negative Thoughts
The next step is to ask yourself what you can do to feel in control of your money situation. Even if they are small steps, the whole point here is to regain enough sense of control to release the pressure. When you can feel a little more in control, your mind is freed up to consider alternative solutions.
You’ll learn more about letting go of your negative thoughts in the next article.
Krull, E. (2010). Becoming Aware of Your Depressive Thoughts. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2010/becoming-aware-of-your-depressive-thoughts/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.