Negative thoughts are pretty mundane. Something people deal with all the time. But too much negativity is dangerous for your mental health. One of the biggest concerns is the potential for cognitive distortions that alter how you perceive things.
These negative thoughts can make the world around you a torturous source of anxiety. At worst, it can damage your grip on reality and require years of work to be undone. Nip it in the bud by learning nine ways negative thoughts can lead to anxiety and ways to prevent it:
Guilt makes you uncomfortable in your skin, a gnawing feeling that you’re wrong. You become cynical about the decisions you make, anxiously distrusting yourself. This anxiety is damaging to your sense of self and is likely to interfere with your recreational enjoyment. Here’s how guilt can lead to anxiety and how to tackle it:
When you don’t trust yourself, each decision increases your anxiety as you overthink. Frequent handwringing keeps you stuck in remembering past mistakes. You’ll take each bad memory as more proof that you can’t make good decisions.
Erode your guilt by being positive and reaffirming who you are. Tell yourself that you’re a good person, and think of how your mistakes aided your personal growth. Believe that bad things happen because you’re not perfect, rather than blaming yourself and wallowing in shame.
· Confront the source
You might have to confront head-on whatever is making you feel guilty. If it’s about something that wasn’t your fault, remind yourself daily that you can’t control anything and everything. It can be more complicated than that, like if you indirectly hurt a loved one. Quality time together or in-depth conversation can heal deep invisible wounds.
2. Catastrophization Causes Negative Thoughts
Catastrophization is built on anxiety-worsening assumptions. You’re paralyzed by how things could go wrong, telling yourself there’s no point in even trying because you know that everyone will look down on you or that you won’t get the job. Here’s how this affects you and how to tackle it:
· A Drain On Your Willpower
Catastrophization saps your will when you assume the worst possible outcome is inevitable. A misjudgment could make you think your partner doesn’t love you any more or that your boss wants to fire you. Having to stave off panic is draining and time-consuming.
· Breathing Exercises
Research shows that you can quiet your dire assumptions by undergoing an unusual breathing exercise twice a day. This involves breathing more slowly and shallowly for a therapeutic impact on your body. The treatment is effective in reducing the chances of hyperventilation.
· Reserve Judgment
Try to reserve judgment and fill your mind with positive thinking. Remind yourself that instead of getting anxious, you should wait until things are further along and have more information. It helps to say that you can always back out of something, but you’re giving it a chance for now.
3. Self-Defeating Criteria
You live in a state of anxiety when your standards are unrealistic. Disappointing yourself reduces your self-esteem and makes you angry. Having such a warped view of the world threatens your stability and tarnishes your perception of your achievements. Here’s how this affects you and how to tackle it:
· Never Satisfied
A common self-defeating criterion is a perfectionist, making you think nothing less than the best is good enough. Imperfections should be normal but instead make you feel like an undeserving person. You can end up putting off tasks as you desperately think of how to complete them the best way possible.
· Back To Basics
Self-defeating beliefs make you feel powerless to live a fulfilling life. Strip everything back and ask yourself what you need in life. List things that upset you and plan to remove them. Embark on a radical lifestyle change, and remember that you’re still evolving.
· Be Comfortable With Yourself
Remind yourself every day that you’re a complete human being with imperfections. Your quirks are a badge of honor, not something to be ashamed of. Whenever you do something wrong, list the things you like about yourself.
4. All Or Nothing
All or nothing thinking, also called splitting, divides your views into extremes. If something doesn’t turn out well, that somehow means there wasn’t anything good about it. You have to choose between seeing yourself as a success or failure. Here’s how this affects you and how to tackle it:
· Limited Perspective
Such black and white thinking makes it difficult for you to appreciate the small successes that go along with mistakes. This is a serious impediment to growth and critical thinking. You can’t praise yourself because if something wasn’t wholly correct, it might as well have been a total failure.
· Shades Of Grey
Ask yourself a question: is life simple? You have to cut yourself some slack and hammer home that we all experiences shades of grey if our lives. Challenge yourself to play devil’s advocate and imagine how situations might be good when you initially think they’re bad and vice versa.
· Put Your Foot Down
Admit that all or nothing thinking is hazardous and stops you from taking care of yourself. You don’t want your relationships with loved ones to be damaged by extreme views on their personalities or actions. Stay positive and know that bitter polarization has torn people apart, sometimes violently.
5. Disqualifying The Positive
Disqualifying the positive is a process of minimizing what’s good while magnifying what’s bad. This exacerbates anxiety because it’s hard for you to get catharsis from positive thinking. Adding negative caveats to pleasant things will set you on a downward spiral of depression. Here’s how this affects you and how to tackle it:
· Lack Of Gratitude Leads to Negative Thoughts
Small victories are stepping stones to greater success in life, but you can’t understand that when you disqualify the positive. You might get a promotion at work, only to write it off since you only got it because someone else was recently promoted and a vacant position needed filling.
· Keep Asking Questions
Ask yourself questions when you can’t appreciate what you have. Inquire why something good doesn’t matter. Ask if you would think it doesn’t matter if it happened to a friend who was doubting themselves. Ask how you would feel if your recent accomplishments were taken away.
· Make A Game Of It
Author Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D., says that what people say to themselves mentally in response to situations largely determines their mood and feelings about those situations. So if anxious naysaying is creeping in, actively replace your bad observations with good ones. It can be fun to see how much good you can find in things.
A lack of confidence can cause anxiety that centers on your inadequacies. The ensuing self-blame normalizes negative self-talk and makes you imagine what others are thinking. Psychologist Regine Galanti, Ph.D., says most people with anxiety know they’re irrational, but that doesn’t help because fear controls us. Here’s how this affects you and how to tackle it:
· You Become Your Punching Bag
Anxiety exhausts your goodwill, letting you take your feelings out on yourself. You engage in mind reading, thinking things like “they look mad, and it must be because of something I did.” You might call yourself dumb or useless just because you weren’t quite sure how to handle something.
· Recognize Responsibility
Make a deal with yourself that you’ll weigh things in terms of responsibility. Life works in a gradient, as you might be partially responsible for something while the rest was someone else’s doing or the result of chance. If you did do something wrong, your priority should be fixing it to make you a better person.
· Support Yourself
Depression cuts an open wound that shakes your emotional balance, so plan small steps throughout the day to support yourself. Look forward to your hobbies, and breathe deeply when necessary. Studies show that night owls experience greater depression than earlier risers and that waking up just one hour earlier than usual can cut your risk of depression.
Mislabelling is when you take bits of negative information and use them to generalize people and situations. Your anxiety diminishes nuance, prompting you to make judgments about the world bitterly. Here’s how this affects you and how to tackle it:
· Removing Complexity
The distortion has you slap labels on things based on petty incidents. Because you failed a test, you’re labeled a failure, and because someone made a disrespectful comment, they’re labeled a jerk. The label becomes all that matters, causing you to view things too simplistically.
· Reveal The Absurdity
Remind yourself what happened, so you don’t think of things in terms of labels. Instead of calling a co-worker irresponsible, recite to yourself that they were just late to work. Labels seem increasingly silly when you recall the circumstances that lead to them.
8. Emotional Reasoning
Your emotions don’t necessarily reflect reality, but when you’re gripped by anxiety, it’ll seem like they do. Emotional reasoning induces stress that makes you believe what you’re feeling is true. If your feelings say you can’t pass a test, or you’ll be laughed at during a speech, you’re cowed by it.
· Pressure And Panic
Believing your feelings can put a lot of pressure on you. If you think strangers dislike you or you’re in some danger, your stability will weaken. With enough time, you may suffer through the fight-or-flight response and panic attacks.
· Relieve Stress
Prevent future episodes of emotional reasoning by letting yourself unwind and decompress. Research shows that just a single one-hour introductory mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety overall. You’ve got to put time into nurturing yourself and being at your best.
9. Mental Filtering
Mental filtering makes you focus only on the negative aspects of a situation while brushing aside all positive ones. A small but negative event can become a bad memory because you won’t balance it with anything good. You can filter out evidence that you shouldn’t be anxious, leaving you feeling unprotected and scared.
· Emotional Fatigue
Filtering out the good means you can’t be reassured. If someone walks out while you’re teaching a class, the praise you receive from students who stayed will not cheer you up. Your life might as well be a string of disasters, which is unsustainable and emotionally fatiguing.
· Make The Little Things Count
Notice the good in life and reassure yourself to quell anxiety. Whether someone gives you a pleasant smile, touches you on the shoulder, or holds a door open for you, allow good experiences to sink in. With positive thinking, you can reflect on life’s richness and feel lucky that it happened to you at all.
· Reframing Your Negative Thoughts
You’re capable of looking at the same events in multiple ways. Reframe what makes you sad so that you can get over it. It’s a “fake it until you make it” thing. If someone you hoped was paying attention didn’t want to talk to you, remember the good conversations you had the same day. It can be as simple as replaying good memories in your head, so they remain more important to you.
Sometimes it feels like living with emotions is too tricky, but they do make life worth living to begin with. Be good to yourself to squash negative thoughts and face your fears. Set aside time for well-being and seek the support of others so that anxiety never twists your mind.