Negative and intrusive thoughts are symptoms of depression. But they also play a significant role in developing the mental health problem. They can create a feedback loop with depressive symptoms, meaning they can trigger or worsen the depressive feelings. In turn, depression can make it harder to cope with these thoughts effectively. Handling any of depression’s symptoms in the thick of it is challenging, but retraining your brain to steer away from negative thoughts can be one of the hardest parts.
What Are Negative Thoughts?
Any thoughts you have with an unfavorable focus and encompassing pessimistic thoughts are considered negative thinking. These thoughts can come in the form of:
Intrusive thoughts are a subset of negative thoughts. While negative, they are also unwanted, distressing, and typically disturbing. They can be repetitive, focusing on harm, danger, or disturbing scenarios. These intrusions can be thoughts of accidents, violence, or inappropriate behavior. If you’ve ever had a random thought about how easy and quick it would be to swerve your car into oncoming traffic, how you could stab a coworker with your Chef’s knife, or if you just slipped under the water in the bathtub, it might be a peaceful way to go, then you’ve had intrusive thoughts.
The vital element is that you have some control over these negative thoughts through conscious redirection or reframing. If you can learn to effectively cope with negative thinking, you can improve your overall well-being. Here are seven tips for handling negative or intrusive thoughts:
1. Become More Aware
Recognize when you are having negative thoughts and label them for what they are. Some find journaling beneficial as it helps you identify and label your thoughts. It can also help you track patterns and triggers for intrusive thinking.
In addition to journaling, mindfulness and meditation techniques allow you to observe and recognize your thoughts without judgment. This will help you let your thoughts linger, accepting that they will pass eventually without getting emotionally entangled. You can save yourself the stress of trying to suppress, avoid, or push them away.
2. Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
Once you identify your negative thinking, you can challenge them if you can’t sit passively and let them go. Ask yourself if you based the thought on the facts or if it distorts reality. Play devil’s advocate and reframe them in a more positive, or at least more balanced, light.
3. Avoid Ruminating
Rumination is when you constantly replay or dwell on a thought or something you did. Avoid dwelling on these thoughts, as they can intensify negative feelings.
Practice grounding techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or focusing on the physical sensations of an object, like how it feels to squeeze a stress ball, stroke your pet, or run sand through your fingers. That last technique is called sensory grounding. Any of these will help bring your focus back to the present moment and stop worrying.
4. Reduce Negative Inputs
Limit negative influences in your life, such as reading the daily news, scrolling on social media, or even talking to certain people. You know the friend that’s the negative Nancy type always brings you down.
Instead, create a supportive environment. While it’s beneficial to apply this to the people you spend time with, this also applies to your physical space at work and home. Make your area a calming one where you can feel peaceful and content. This often means decluttering. Surround yourself with as much positivity as possible, even if it means a little work.
5. Find Your Flow
Apply the adage “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” to your thinking patterns. It’s not easy to silence your thoughts, and you shouldn’t suppress them. However, you can practice a little mindfulness and quiet your mind by chasing your flow state. By fully immersing yourself in an activity, often a form of physical exercise, you can find a mental state of deep focus, total absorption, and optimal performance. You lose your self-consciousness, becoming less aware of yourself and your thoughts for a period.
Your flow state activity is one that you perform for the sake of it and not for an external reward. It often feels effortless and timeless, meaning time distorts to make hours feel like minutes or the reverse. You can find your flow state anywhere from making pottery to writing code to dancing or rock climbing. Wherever you find it, it can be a balm for negative thinking.
6. Set Realistic Goals
To avoid negative thinking, set achievable, realistic goals for yourself. Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps to boost your self-esteem. You get to celebrate your small accomplishments instead of tearing yourself down when you didn’t finish a huge project in one impossible chunk.
7. Practice Compassion
Treat yourself to the same kindness and compassion you would a friend. If you think negative things, especially about yourself, ask yourself if you would talk to your friend that way. If not, chances are you need to change how you think about yourself and cut yourself some slack.
You can use positive affirmations to cut through the negative self-talk. By repeating these positive statements, you reshape your thought patterns. Simply thinking “I am strong” will, in fact, make you stronger than you thought you were before. Like the young girl in the 2011 movie “The Help,” you are kind, you are smart, and you are important.
If the above strategies are not enough to shut down your negative thinking, seek professional help.
What Does Professional Help Look Like?
Professional help doesn’t have to be lying back on a therapist’s couch or taking a daily pill. Here are some therapy options for treating depression and negative thought patterns:
- Talk Therapy: Any therapist or counselor can provide more insight into the previous strategies and tools to reduce negative thoughts. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective styles for stopping negative thinking habits.
- Medications: Antidepressant medications can work independently or conjunctively with talk therapy to help with your depression and should decrease negative thinking as your depression improves.
- Hypnotherapy: While not always advised for depression treatment, hypnotherapy can be highly effective for switching off negative thought and behavior patterns, leaving you with a more positive mindset.
- Support Groups: Joining a group works particularly well for those undergoing other treatments for their depression. It helps combat social withdrawal and isolation by providing a sense of community and understanding. You can learn coping strategies from others experiencing similar thought patterns.
- Alternative Depression Treatment In Seattle: Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) providers in Washington have a treatment option that provides more immediate relief from depression symptoms than medication or therapy. Like antidepressants, TMS will reduce negative and intrusive thoughts by reducing depression symptoms. However, you may still benefit from implementing the strategies above so that your thinking style doesn’t trigger or worsen depression in the future.
Letting negative and intrusive thoughts fester can cause depression, despair, anxiety, sadness, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s okay to have negative thoughts, but they don’t define you or your worth. Work on these strategies to avoid the negative thought spiral that can lead to depression and other problems with your mental well-being.