Psych2goers, have you ever examined your thoughts that run through your mind? What kind of thoughts do you have? Are they positive, neutral, or negative? If they are negative, have you noticed the pattern of your thoughts? Are you replaying your negative thoughts, over and over again in your head, a term known as rumination?
Our mind seems to be addicted to suffering. We hold on to pain as a method to take care of ourselves. We want the suffering to turn out a different way. We replay the situations in our past, in an attempt to re-script what we regret into a brand new reality. “What if” becomes our bread and butter in our daily thoughts. When we ruminate, we award our pain value and significance. We want to know the reason, what’s need to be done about it, who’s to blame…and only after these questions are answered, we will be fine.
However, these habits, make us feel worse about ourselves and bring us into more suffering and pain. So, how to break this cycle of negative thoughts?
- Keeping a thought journal
Psych2goers, do pause for a moment, and think, “Is my pain real, or it is caused by my intrusive thoughts? According to a psychologist, Dr. Barbara Markway, oftentimes, our minds are bombarded with a stream of automatic thoughts. Have you ever listened to a background music while cooking? That’s how your automatic thoughts work. You would not even notice the thoughts, they just flow and run continuously inside your mind. Grab a piece of journal or any other type of notebook that you prefer. Then, examine your thoughts. What are you thinking of? For example;
Belief: I am a failure
Then elaborate on why do you feel like you are a failure. What is the definition of a failure to you? What situation triggers that thought? How do you feel? Sad? Anger? Hopeless? Depressed?
Then, in a new page, try to answer to the following questions;
- Is it true (the belief from above) – yes or no?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react when you believe that thought? What happens?
- Where does the feeling hit you, where do you feel it in your body when you believe that thought? Where does the feeling travel? Describe it.
- How have you treated the person (or yourself), the situation, and others when you believe that thought? What do you say to them? What do you do? Who does your mind attack and how? Be specific.
- How do you feel or treat yourself when you believe that thought? What addictions kick in (shopping, food, alcohol, spending money, television)? What thoughts of self-hatred occur, if any? What are they?
- How have you lived your life because you believed that thought? Be specific. Close your eyes, watch your past. What do you see?
- Where and when did that thought first occur to you?
- Where does your mind travel when you believe that thought?
- Does this thought bring peace or stress into your life?
- Who would you be without that thought?
- You get involved with exercises
Your mother is living alone after the death of your father. She is currently trying to process her grief in a healthy way by gardening.
Guszkowska (2004) reported that anxiety, depression, and negative mood can be reduced when you get involved in aerobic exercises like jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing.
What is the cause of these mood improvements?
When we exercise, the blood flow increases to the brain. Apart from that, there will be communication of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis with several regions of the brain, including the limbic system which controls motivation and mood; the amygdala, which generates fear in response to stress; and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation.
3. You surround yourself with positive people
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
– Jim Rohn
Psych2goers, let’s all reflect about the kind of company that you keep around you. Are they lifting you up, or bringing you down? Pay close attention to how your family, friends, partners, or co-workers make you feel. Good people are like rays of sunshine, who will inspire you with their dreams and hope, vision and mission, attitude and aptitude. They are able to see your strengths even when you don’t and provide wisdom when you feel lost in your life (Scott, 2020).
4. You do not think that you are a victim
After 5 months in a romantic relationship, you are dumped by your significant other. Then, you start to think, “There must be something wrong with me, that was why I was dumped all the time. Maybe I should stop finding people to love. Maybe I should remain single.”
The above scenario is a classic example of people with a victim mentality or otherwise known as a victim complex. According to Vicki Botnick LMFT, people with a victim mentality is someone who “veer into the belief that everyone else caused their misery and nothing they do will ever make a difference.” There are three fundamental beliefs for the people who feel trapped in a state of victimization (Raypole & Legg, 2019):
- Bad things happen and will keep happening.
- Other people or circumstances are to blame.
- Any efforts to create change will fail, so there’s no point in trying.
Psych2goers, indeed it is psychologically healthy to feel and acknowledge the hurt and suffering from time to time. However, it starts to become a problem when you start to see life through perpetually victim-tinted glasses. You think that you are always a victim of circumstances, the world has treated you unfairly, or nothing that goes wrong is your fault. However, in order to stop your negative thoughts, you need to break away from this mentality, you need to be kind to yourself. Flip your perspective and focus on something that matters to you, that you do enjoy, and that you do “get” (Coller, 2018).
5. You help someone in need
According to the data from Independent Sector’s annual value of volunteer time of study, it is estimated that 63 million Americans volunteer approximately 8 billion hours of time to non-profit organizations, yearly. Have you ever wondered why these people are so driven to share their time, talent and treasure?
It is reported from a study supported by NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Science Foundation, that the act of altruism (a selfless act for others) can stimulate the reward center of the brain, or also known as the mesolimbic pathway. The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the activation of specific regions of the brain. It showed that the act of receiving money, seeing money go to a good cause or deciding to donate money activated similar pleasure-related centers deep in the brain.
Therefore, Psych2goers, rather than mulling over the bad things that have happened to you, you can acknowledge your suffering in kindness, then start to get out into the community and volunteer to people in need. This act of kindness is the surest antidote to your negative thoughts (Coller, 2018).
6. You practice meditation
Your housemate, Diana likes to spend 10 minutes of her morning meditating, before going to work. She said this act of clearing her mind enables her to improve her mood and well-being.
Psych2goers, what is meditation?
Meditation is a mental exercise that trains attention and awareness. Indeed, sometimes it is quite impossible to make our thoughts disappear. The harder we try to suppress the thoughts, the louder they become. Studies reveal that meditating even for as little as 10 minutes increases the brain’s alpha waves (associated with relaxation) and decreases anxiety and depression (Psychology Today, n.d.).
7. You build a portfolio for positive emotions
When you are feeling so down, it is really difficult to remember all the times that you felt good. Therefore, according to Barbara Fredrickson in “Positivity: Groundbreaking Research To Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive”, it is often helpful to build a portfolio of positive emotions for a record of the times when you felt a variety of positive emotions.
In your diary, allocate sections to write down for positive emotions (joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, inspiration, awe, love, etc). Then you can jot down notes based on memories, images, and even songs that come to mind. For example, in the hope section, you can ask yourself this series of questions to prompt your thinking:
- When have you felt full of optimism and hope?
- When have you feared the worst but still believed something good would happen?
- When have you found an inventive way to try and create a better future?
8. You open yourself up to humour
Your colleague is cracking some light-hearted jokes during the lunch hour. You find yourself smiling, and the stress that you have experienced at the workplace somewhat dissipates.
It is reported that laughter can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Besides, your coping skills, mood, and self-esteem can improve when you give yourself permission to laugh. Perhaps you may feel too sad that you do not feel to laugh at all, however Psych2goers, even when pretending or forcing yourself to laugh, your mood and stress level can improve significantly (Santos-Longhurst, 2019).
Psych2goers, if you find yourself still struggling with negative thought patterns and it is impacting your interpersonal relationship, work, or daily functioning, don’t hesitate to visit a licensed mental health professional. They can access your negative thought patterns and assist you create a healthier inner dialogue.
Coller, N. (2018, January 12). Are you ready to stop feeling like a victim? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201801/are-you-ready-stop-feeling-victim.
Fredrickson, B. (n.d.). Build an emotions portfolio. positivepsychology. https://positivepsychology.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Build-An-Emotions-Portfolio.pdf.
Guszkowska, M. (2004). [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatria polska. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15518309/.
Markway, B. (2014, April 13). How to keep a thought diary to combat anxiety. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shyness-is-nice/201404/how-keep-thought-diary-combat-anxiety.
Raypole, C., & Legg, T. J. (2019, December 12). Victim mentality: 16 signs and tips to deal with it. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/victim-mentality.
Santos-Longhurst, A. (2019, February 21). How to think positive and have an optimistic outlook: 8 tips. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-think-positive.
Scott, E. (2020, October 28). 4 ways to surround yourself with positive energy. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/reduce-stress-positive-energy-3144815.
Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Meditation. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/meditation.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015, July 6). Brain imaging reveals joys of giving. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/brain-imaging-reveals-joys-giving.