As humans, we are naturally programmed to experience a wide variety of emotions. Underlying these emotions are hundreds and thousands of thoughts that occur at all levels of consciousness. When we experience an event, our emotional and behavioural response stems from how we have interpreted and evaluated the situation. For instance, imagine your boss has scheduled a meeting with you with no explanation, you may think you have done something wrong which may induce feelings of anxiety and lead you to actively avoid interactions with them whilst you await the meeting.
When a negative thought creeps in, we often start to feel worried or distressed. Whilst it makes sense to want to completely eradicate this thought from our mind in order to feel better, the more attention we give to it, the more we tend to suffer. It is entirely normal to feel some level of physical and emotional discomfort when faced with a negative thought however when we start to struggle and fixate on this thought, our emotions and discomfort are amplified and we might find ourselves doing anything we can to get rid of these feelings regardless of long term consequences. For example, many people find themselves engaging in unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol and drug use, gambling or other risk behaviours as an attempt to control their emotions. Less obvious strategies also include ruminating, self-blame and negative self-talk, all of which also increase the power of our unhelpful thought and reduce our perceived ability to cope.
Tips on how to manage our thoughts
Practice defusing the thought: creating separation between ourselves and our thoughts is key in learning to ‘let go.’ Often, we get caught in our thoughts when we look at them as what they appear to be, i.e. possible threats, assumptions, objective truths etc as opposed to what they really are, words and bits of language.
Practising acceptance: acknowledging that it is normal to experience unpleasant feelings and sensations from time to time can help to allow them to come and go without paying undue attention to them. Rather than pushing these thoughts away and trying to escape them, learning to accept them for what they are can also help to provide insight into why these specific thoughts keep coming up.
Staying in the present moment: By engaging in mindfulness, we can improve our ability to concentrate on events as they happen. You’ll find that when you practise mindfulness, you won’t need to constantly shift your attention away from unsettling or distressing thoughts.
Speak to a professional: the idea of becoming more comfortable with our negative thoughts and emotions can be an overwhelming process. Many of our avoidant and unhealthy coping strategies are so ingrained it can be hard to let go of these. At Positive Mind Works, we have a team of psychologists with the knowledge and experience to help you relinquish control of your negative thoughts and improve your quality of life.
To speak with one of our psychologists, please call 1800 327 477 (AU) 0800 327 477 (NZ) or click here to book online.