We often hear people discuss the importance of being optimistic or the power of positive thinking. Those of us who tend to be more pessimistic may think that optimism is just a form of false hope, or that negative thinking helps us to think more realistically. Unfortunately, being optimistic and getting our hopes up does lead to disappointments at times. Nevertheless, there’s never a good reason to lose hope, especially when it comes to mental health.
The way we think affects the way our mental health either improves or deteriorates. Everyone struggles with negative thinking, even when it comes to the most optimistic people among us. Negative thinking can be strong enough to worsen mental disorders like depression and anxiety, or even cause them. Positive thinking can decrease stress levels and improve both mental and physical health. So, it’s only understandable that negative thinking can make all these things even worse too.
The Dangers of Negative Thinking
Negative thinking can be very common for people who tend to overthink. Constantly analyzing and worrying about your thoughts can lead you down a rabbit hole of negative thinking that comes from a place of fear and worry.
Negative thoughts can be different from general worries, though. For example, discovering bad news, the death of a loved one, or being laid off from a job are situations that will most likely lead to sad feelings. It’s normal to get down in the dumps in relation to life scenarios that hurt us or make us feel bad. The problem with negative thinking arises when those sad, upsetting, or even dark thoughts become invasive or obsessive and consume us in everyday life.
A major danger of negative thinking is the way it rewires the brain and the ways we see things. Negative thinking doesn’t always lead to mental illness, and not everyone suffering from mental illness specifically experiences negative thinking.
There isn’t one specific cause of negative thinking. For some, it’s a manifestation of a mental disorder like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but for many, it can even be a learned habit. At its core, we often experience negative thoughts that come out of our fears of the future or the guilt of our past, both of which can cause us to feel anxious throughout each day.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Negativity
When individuals suffer from anxiety, depression, or any other kind of mental illness, they may experience intrusive thoughts. For example, a child who is bullied from a young age may recall certain things that were said about them. As they grow up, they recollect these comments and begin to repeat the comments to themselves whenever they make mistakes, are unhappy, or are trying to rationalize something about themselves they don’t particularly like.
Putting ourselves down can be common, but for people suffering from mental illness, thinking badly about ourselves can be completely debilitating and destructive. Negative thinking corrupts the way we see the world and our self-worth. Scientifically, the brain changes in response to the cognitive threats we experience every day. The more we think negatively, the more the habit becomes ingrained in our self-consciousness. Thankfully, there are ways for us to practice positive thinking through therapy or other methods of mindfulness.
How to Stop Negative Thinking
Learning to change your negative thinking patterns into positive thinking takes time and effort. Through behavioral-based therapy and mindfulness techniques, you can rewire the way you’ve taught yourself to subconsciously think negatively. Therapy will help you to be more self-aware of your thinking, recognize patterns in your thinking, and learn how to change them. Identifying your negative thoughts is the first step. Different people may experience different patterns of negative thinking, such as making assumptions or jumping to conclusions, or always assuming the worst outcomes out of every situation.
Once you’ve identified your negative thought patterns, you can focus on replacing them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly useful in learning to replace your negative thinking patterns. The focus of CBT is to identify and change patterns of thoughts — in these cases, changing the patterns of negative thinking. CBT allows you to question whether the negative thoughts are realistic, challenge the negative thoughts and offer alternate positive outcomes, and focus on the benefits of choosing to not think negatively.
If you or someone you love suffers from mental illness and is struggling to embrace the power of positivity, a holistic mindfulness-based approach to therapy may be best for you. Our dual diagnosis programs are designed to help individuals suffering from addiction and mental illness. We can help you on your path to recovery while helping you to change the way you negatively think and improve your overall well-being.