Are you an over thinker? Do you spend a lot of time stuck in your thoughts? Most of us spend a lot of time inside our minds. We spend time worrying about our past, present, and future. We are thinking about what the future holds, replaying past events, and focusing on aspects of our lives that is dissatisfying.
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Negative thoughts are very common, and we all experience them from time to time as we go through many life experiences. Even though very common, negative thoughts tend to distract us from enjoying life experiences and enjoying things that are important to us. Not only that, they drain our energy and make us feel anxious and depressed.
What is negative thinking?
Simply put, it involves negative thinking patterns that a person has about themselves and their surroundings. Their thoughts are “cognitions about the self, others, or the world in general that are characterized by negative perceptions, expectations, and attributions, and are associated with unpleasant emotions and adverse behavioral, physiological, and health outcomes.”
With this in mind, negative thinking is a mental attitude of anticipating the worst outcome on situations and events. The human mind is so powerful that it can generate thoughts far beyond our understanding. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are so closely related that when our mind produces either negative or positive thoughts, it sends signals to our emotions, indicating to us how we should feel. Good thoughts bring about positive feelings, while negative feelings develop from negative thoughts.
Examples of Negative thoughts
Negative thoughts can arise from fear about the future, anxiety about the past, or shame about past events. It can also come from other things such as the common cold, headaches, stress, or even lack of sleep. These things can cause you to start to overthink to the point where you become frustrated or even depressed. Have you ever experienced this? Our feelings reflect what we are thinking, and when we experience negative thoughts, it can send us down a spiral if we are not careful. What are some negative thoughts that start to creep into your mind?
Here are some examples:
- “ There isn’t enough time.”
- “Life move so fast, I feel like I cannot keep up.”
- “I have so much to do; I feel like I am losing control.”
- “I am not good enough.”
- “At this point in my life, I should have it all together by now.” –success, rich, married, attractive
- “I should be more like this person.”
- “People are the worst. The world is brutal and uncaring.”
- “I am a failure. I didn’t achieve x.”
- “ I am taking too long to accomplish this goal; what is wrong with me?”
- “What’s the point anymore? I feel stuck, and I am not going anywhere.”
- “No one cares. I am alone.”
- “My family is thoughtless and inconsiderable.”
Any of these sound familiar? Can you relate to any? I know I can.
The impact of negative thoughts on your mental and physical health
Negative thoughts are not in itself a medical term, but research has shown that the habit of negative thinking can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. Negative thoughts primarily focus on bringing up the past, dwelling on bad experiences, or worrying about the future. Your thoughts and emotions go hand in hand, and when you experience constant negative thoughts, your mental and physical, and cognitive health becomes exhausted:
- Feelings of anxiety and/or depression
- Isolating or withdrawing from others
- Frequent changes in mood
- Feelings of helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Frequent feelings of hurt and anger
- Difficulty focusing and/or concentrating
- Some memory problems
- Difficult making sound decisions
- Possible early onset for Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
- Lowered immune system
- Sleep deprivation
- Loss of appetite
- Hormone imbalance
- Depletion of brain chemical required for happiness
- High blood pressure
- Digestive disorders (GERD, ulcers, stomach pain)
- Cardiovascular disease
Breaking down negative thoughts
Negative thoughts predominantly stem from the fear of the unknown or fear of the inability to cope. “Negative thoughts also sometimes make you believe things will never change, that you are destined for misery for the rest of your life.” But have you ever stopped and pondered on whether these thoughts you are experiencing are factual?
“I am not good enough” – Is this really an accurate statement?
“I should be well accomplished already” – By whose standards?
When negative thoughts arise, it is essential to take a step back and assess where these thoughts are coming from. Did a negative event occur recently? Are you anticipating something that is to come? Are they stemming from limiting beliefs?
To understand and determine if our negative thoughts are true, we need to gather all the facts – are these thoughts emotionally driven, or are they developing from opinion? Thoughts are thoughts, whether they are good or bad – they are “mutual events that pop up in the mind that correlates to our mood.” So are your thoughts facts, or are they merely opinions? Really think about it and challenge your negative thoughts by gathering all the facts first.
Combating negative thoughts
By nature, I am an overthinker and an over-analyzer (I think way too much!). At times, my thoughts get the best of me, especially when I become overly stressed or experiencing burnout. When it becomes too much, my body and mind send me signals that I need to pause, slow down, and re-center myself. When your negative thoughts become too much, your body and mind will send your signals that it is time to listen to what is going on within yourself:
1. Be conscious of your thoughts
Develop a sense of self-awareness in which you become aware of your traits, behaviors, and feelings. Self-awareness allows you to become more intuned to reading and understanding your emotions and how your thoughts play a powerful role in how you feel. Be conscious of your negative thoughts when they arise; you will recognize the impact these thoughts will have on how you feel mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Use this guide to help you quiet your thoughts and calm your mind and body. Click here
2. Embrace your feelings
No one likes to feel unpleasant emotions. Where’s the fun in that, right?
Take time to acknowledge and focus on how you are feeling. If you are sad, feel the sadness. It is okay. Allow yourself to feel while telling yourself that whatever you are feeling will pass.
3. Avoid triggers
As much as you can, minimize your exposure to situations and people that bring about negativity and trigger negative thoughts. Being in a negative environment all the time will only enhance your negative thoughts, thus leading to negative emotions. Protect your energy, set boundaries, and surround yourself with positivity and with people who want to see you grow.
4. Practice positive coping affirmations
Affirmations are positive statements that challenge you to overcome negative thoughts. Release those negative thoughts while focusing on these positive affirmations:
- I feel my negative thoughts melting away
- I let go of all negativity
- These thoughts do not serve me – I release myself from them
- I am letting go of fear, guilt, and shame
- I am filled with energy and joy
- My body is healthy; my mind is beautiful, my soul is at peace
- I have the qualities to be great and strong
Believe, repeat and embrace positivity.
5. Release judgment
We can often be our worst critic – judging ourselves by saying we are not good enough, we don’t have what others have, or that our lives as a whole is not satisfying. Release this kind of judgment you have over yourself so that you can begin to feel more at ease. Look for positive qualities within yourself when thoughts arise.
6. Focus on your strengths
No one is perfect, but we all have strengths. As humans, we tend to dwell more on the negative than the positive. Start focusing more on your strengths, and you will see how easier it will be to feel positive about yourself. Think about strengths and what you like about yourself.
Start your self-discovery journey here.
7. Seek help – It’s allowed and it shows strength
Despite your best efforts, you may still find it challenging to handle your negative thoughts. If you are unable to manage your thoughts, and you notice they are becoming more intrusive along with interfering in your ability to carry out your daily activities, then it may be time to talk to a mental health professional.
In your low moments, remember:
- You are not perfect, and that is okay! No one is perfect
- You will not always be in control – that’s totally okay too!
- Feelings won’t last – they will start to fade