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What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
Are you an over-thinker? The average person has over 60,000 thoughts a day, sadly, over 70% of these thoughts are negative. What’s more, 95% of these thoughts are repeated, causing cycles of negativity. Having a high proportion of negative thoughts is entirely normal. In the past, expecting the worst was essential for survival. However, getting sucked into negative spiralling thoughts can affect every aspect of life, causing anger, relationship breakdowns, and hindering your opportunities for happiness.
What are negative spiralling thoughts?
MRI imaging has shown that having negative thoughts can stimulate the areas of the brain that lead to anxiety and depression. On the other hand, positive thoughts can help to unleash ‘happy’ hormones throughout the body, keeping you calm, peaceful and feeling in control.
With negative thoughts, ideally, you should notice them and let them drift on. However, when you dwell on the negative thoughts, you then buy into the negativity you are creating. You start to believe the negative stories you tell yourself, even when there is no credibility or evidence for the threat you think is present. Ultimately, this negativity spirals into thinking about the worst case scenario.
Negative spiralling thoughts lead to catastrophising and can manifest in a variety of ways such as;
- Jumping to conclusions – You assume to know why someone has or hasn’t done something. You think you know what someone else is thinking or feeling.
- Disappointing expectations – Where you think a situation should play out in a certain way and getting upset or angry when it doesn’t live up to the expectation you built up for it.
- The blame game – ‘If it weren’t for X or Y, then things would have been better.’ This is where you blame others for negativity and can’t let go of this blame or accept responsibility yourself.
- Sensitivity – Over time, there will be things that upset you. Eventually, it forms negative spiralling thoughts that everything is ‘out to get you’ or that ‘nothing is going right’. Often this can cause an explosion of emotion as it all gets too much, even though the issues may be relatively minor.
- Always and never – When you overgeneralise, you can create your own negative spiralling thoughts of someone always hurts you, you never get what you want, it’s always disappointing.
The problem with negative spiralling thoughts
When negative thoughts start cascading into each other, causing a downward spiral, it increases the levels of cortisol in the brain. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. It can then increase stress levels, depression and anxiety, making it much harder to escape from the spiral. Increased levels of stress also cause a number of long-term health problems too, such as heart disease, weight gain, sleep problems and digestive issues.
Furthermore, negativity, stress and anger can consume a tremendous amount of energy. When your mind is consumed with thinking the worst, it becomes impossible to enjoy life or concentrate on tasks. It can take a toll on your mental health and your relationships.
How to conquer negative spiralling thoughts
Write it down
As soon as a negative thought begins to manifest, write it down. Then ask yourself; ‘Is this something I know to be true?’ Jot down the other possible outcomes, ideally trying to shift your focus to the positive ones. It can be helpful to write a list of the evidence you have both for the thought and against it.
If the negative thought that is in your head really did happen, so what? In your past, you will have experience in handling hardship or a difficult time and have been able to pull through. Think of your capabilities and how strong you are, to prove to yourself that you can handle it. Then, the negative thought may not seem so bad.
Get rid of negative words
Words like ‘should’ and ‘must’ are known as Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTS, and are part of cognitive distortion. It is these words that add to a negative spiral. Instead of enjoying life, you tell yourself you ‘should’ be doing something else, which counteracts any positivity you may be feeling. Removing these words can lessen negative spiralling thoughts.
Meditation and mindfulness can both play a significant role in helping you to recognise the beginning of a negative spiralling thought. Sadly, it is not possible to remove every negative thought you may have. However, being able to be aware of the thought before it becomes a catastrophic story you tell yourself is hugely important in protecting your mental health and happiness.
If you’d like help addressing your negative thought patterns and would like specific tools to use to help your own personal spiralling thoughts, then my blended therapy techniques can help you to see negative thoughts for what they are and find ways to combat the downward cycle for good. To find out more call 0207 971 7677 to book your free consultation.
Mayo Clinic. (2019). Chronic stress puts your health at risk. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037 [Accessed 2 Jun. 2019].
Psychology Today. (2019). How Negative is Your “Mental Chatter”?. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/sapient-nature/201310/how-negative-is-your-mental-chatter [Accessed 2 Jun. 2019].