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Letting go of repetitive negative thoughts

By Miranda (ADAVIC Volunteer)

2014 - October 22nd

Who hasn’t been told by well-meaning friends, “Oh, stop worrying so much”? Besides not being very helpful, this kind of advice often makes us feel worse and results in even more worry and rumination. Worry and rumination are forms of negative repetitive thought. They involve a predominance of verbal thoughts and can be likened to a negative inner-speech. Worry is concerned with the possibility of threats in the future and ways to effectively avoid or deal with them whereas rumination is concerned more with things that happened in the past. Worrying contains chains of thoughts and questions in the form of “what if?” statements (e.g., “what if my partner is in an accident?” or “what if I don’t get the job?”).

An episode of worry can be recurrent, persistent and last for relatively short or longer periods of time. It can interfere with concentration and sleep and it can be difficult to control.   A key difference between worry and rumination is that worry is concerned with danger whilst rumination is concerned with loss, hopelessness and failure. Research has demonstrated that both worry and rumination are positively associated with anxiety and depression. Furthermore, chronic worry and rumination can prolong and intensify emotional suffering.
Negative thinking is normal and part of our evolutionary heritage. We are designed to anticipate potential threats in our environment. From a simple survival point of view it makes sense for our brains to prioritise negative information rather than positive. The problem arises not when we experience forms of negative repetitive thoughts such as worry and rumination, but when these thoughts have unconstructive consequences such as depression, anxiety, and physical illness. Persistent worry and rumination drain you of energy and keep you from being in the present moment. The more you give in to and believe these negative repetitive thoughts, the stronger they become. Even though it might make sense to think things through over and over again to avoid undesirable outcomes, there will always be some degree of uncertainty.

Our entire life is influenced by so many factors that uncertainty is simply a large part of existence. Being able to accept this and use adaptive strategies to reduce the impact of negative thoughts rather than struggling to stop it altogether is essential for living a more relaxed life. The following are some strategies to help you in letting go of negative repetitive thought.

Be aware of the fact that you are ruminating and realise that it isn’t helpful

Comparing your current state to your desired state will also simply make you feel worse, as well as going through all the “if… then” scenarios you can imagine.  Accepting the situation, being in the present moment and letting go of negative thought while logically working on an action plan is the key to overcoming worry and rumination.
Think about your situation or problems one more time and then plan what to do next

If you catch yourself falling into worry or rumination, consciously switch your focus to how any remaining problems could be solved or how your situation could be improved.
Surround yourself with positive people

When you’re stuck in a negative spiral, talk to people who can put things into perspective and won’t feed your negative thinking.
Help someone
Take the focus away from you and do something nice for another person. It helps you to take your mind off your worries and you will feel better for helping someone else.
Remember that no one is perfect and let yourself move forward
It is easy to dwell on mistakes. The best thing to do is learn from your mistakes and move forward.
List five things that you are grateful for
Being grateful helps you appreciate what you already have.
It really does help change your mood and relieve stress.
Get up and move
Exercise distracts your mind and activates the body’s healthy responses such as increases in the feel-good neurotransmitters, increases in endorphins, lowering your blood pressure, and promoting healthier sleep.
Meditation, deep diaphragmatic breathing, biofeedback, yoga, and other mind/body approaches help you relax. All of these techniques not only decrease worry and rumination but also slow down brain waves and restore a sense of calm and wellbeing.
Know that solutions are not simply black or white
Worriers and ruminators often get stuck in all-or-nothing   thinking and have a hard time seeing anything positive or hopeful in any situation. They’ll think, “I have to either stay in this dead end job and be miserable the rest of my life or quit and lose my house.”  But there are other solutions too. Enlist the help of a trusted friend or therapist to help you problem solve other solutions to your   worries. They exist–you’re just not seeing them. Stay focused on your immediate worries and don’t get caught up in the past, which of course, you can’t change. By taking control of your worrisome thoughts and your ruminations, you’re letting yourself live and feel better in the present.
Remember that you are not your thoughts.
Your thoughts are just part of you and they will fade away if you do not hold on to them. Examine your thoughts curiously and without judgment. Stop judging situations or experiences. It will not change them or make them any different and will just waste your energy.

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