11 effective ways to bust through negative thinking patterns and reduce stress
If you feel like you've tried the usual stress busters such as an overall healthy lifestyle, relaxation techniques, and spending time with friends and family, but it's just not working, it may be time to address your daily thinking patterns. We all develop ways of viewing and interpreting the world which can skew our perceptions, increase our stress levels and ultimately negatively affect our ability to enjoy life.
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How positive thinking can reduce stress
When we are stressed, it’s quite easy to develop negative thinking patterns because we become frustrated by our challenges and frequent feelings of being overwhelmed. This negative outlook then makes it even harder for us to manage those challenges, move forward and break through the stress cycle.
Practicing positive thinking helps us to focus on our strengths and accomplishments, and the good in life, which increases happiness and motivation. This, in turn, allows us to spend more time making progress, and less time feeling down and stuck. The following tips provide practical suggestions that you can use to help you shift into more positive thinking patterns.
REMIND YOURSELF OF THINGS YOU'RE GRATEFUL FOR
No doubt you've heard this one before.
Stresses and challenges don't seem quite as bad when you are constantly reminding yourself of the things that are right in life. Taking just 60 seconds a day to stop and appreciate the good things will make a huge difference.
During especially stressful periods in your life, make it a goal to keep a gratitude journal. Before you start the day, write down at least 3 things you're grateful for. When you find yourself falling back into negative thought patterns, refocus on these 3 things.
LET GO OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Your thoughts can't hold any power over you if you don't judge them or fixate on them. If you notice yourself having a negative thought, detach from it, witness it, and don't follow it. It's usually a dark, ugly black hole you don't want to fall into!
USE PATTERN INTERRUPTS TO COMBAT RUMINATION
If you find yourself ruminating, a great way to stop it is to interrupt the pattern and force yourself to do something completely different. Rumination is like hyper-focus on something negative. It's never productive, because it's not rational or solution-oriented, it's just excessive worry and stress. Try changing your physical environment - go for a walk or sit outside. You could also call a friend, pick up a book, or turn on some music.
GET PROOF INSTEAD OF MAKING ASSUMPTIONS
The emotional pain of past experiences sometimes leads us to assume that we know what others are thinking or the reasons behind their actions, but our assumptions are not always reality.
If you have a fear that a friend or family member's bad mood is due to something you did, or that your co-workers are secretly gossiping about you when you turn your back, speak up and ask them. Don't waste time worrying that you did something wrong or being angry unless you have proof that there is something to worry or be angry about.
REFRAIN FROM ABSOLUTES
Have you ever told a partner "You're ALWAYS late!" or complained to a friend "You NEVER call me!"? Thinking and speaking in absolutes like 'always' and 'never' makes the situation seem worse than it is, and programs your brain into believing that certain people are incapable of delivering. Thinking this way only leads to dissatisfaction both with ourselves and with others.
We are all complex and multifaceted beings. Nobody is always or never anything - including you!
SQUASH THE "ANTS"
In his book "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," Dr. Daniel Amen talks about "ANTs" - Automatic Negative Thoughts. These are the bad thoughts that are usually reactionary, like "Those people are laughing, they must be talking about me," or "The boss wants to see me? It must be bad!"
When you notice these thoughts, ask yourself, 'Is this the truth?' Recognize that these thoughts are nothing more than ANTs and squash them!
AVOID COMPLAINING AND GOSSIPING
We all need to vent from time to time and articulate with a close and trusted friend what we're stressing over. But doing so can be a slippery slope. Complaining can become incendiary.
If we allow ourselves to constantly complain we train our minds to focus on negative thoughts and feelings which only brings more stress. Complaining can also lead to negative gossip (as in, let's complain about everyone and everything!).
Choose who you share your deeper thoughts and feelings with wisely. Will this person give you practical and reasonable feedback or advice? Or will they only serve to feed your negative thoughts, feelings, and outlook on life or other people?
RECOGNIZE YOUR NEGATIVITY BIAS AND ADDRESS IT
A negativity bias is an unbalanced way we all tend to perceive the negative and positive experiences in our lives. A negative event usually has a greater psychological impact on us than a positive experience. Because of this a moment of profound upset, whether sadness, anger, fear or some other negative emotion, will linger longer in our memory than an equal moment of positivity and happiness.
One way to address the effects of the negativity bias is to sever the emotional impact of our bad experiences or emotions on a psychological level. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), also called 'tapping,' is an effective way to do this and an excellent tool to reduce stress.
LOOK FOR THE GOOD
Training ourselves to look for and focus on the good goes hand in hand with combating our negativity bias and promoting gratitude in our lives.
Beyond simply writing down what you're grateful for in general, train yourself to notice positive things within an experience or a person (including yourself). Whether it's the humor in an otherwise stressful situation or the positive aspects of your marriage mate, family member or friend's personality despite a bad interaction with them, rather than focusing on the negative, force yourself to actively look for the good.
LET GO AND FORGIVE
Perhaps you simply can't find anything positive within a particularly bad experience (or at least you think you can't). At that point there may simply be nothing more you can do but choose to let go and forgive. Holding onto hurt or anger is emotionally exhausting and only leads to more stress.
Patience with ourselves, patience with the flow of our lives, and patience with the short-comings of others.
If we can catch (and stop) ourselves from being reactionary, with our dukes up so to speak, ready to complain, get angry, attribute bad motives, make assumptions or use absolutes, we can more easily see the truth about a situation.
Impatience keeps us in a constant fight or flight state, contributing to our overall stress levels. Patience, on the other hand, helps us to slow down and respond with love, to wait for what we want or need, and keeps us from the negative (and stressful!) consequences of reactionary behavior.
It’s important to understand the signs of stress and react with a positive way of handling it. We cannot control all aspects of our lives or the actions of others. The good news is that doesn't have to stop us from feeling inner peace and calm. The key to reducing stress is making sure that you look after YOU.
As your happiness levels increase, your stress levels decrease. Have a look at your work life, your personal life, and social life to see if there are any areas you can create more happiness. You might be surprised by what you find.
Do negative thinking patterns contribute to your stress levels? What helps you to reduce stress? Let me know in the comments!
Hi! I’m Liane, a self-proclaimed ‘scrunchy mom’ (as in semi-crunchy). I have a passion for all things natural, healthy and holistic. My aim is to inspire you on your healthy living journey by sharing simple, everyday habits that can transform your well-being and life.