It happens to all of us. One minute we’re humming along, going about our day with our faculties in check and then, wham! Reality slaps us with an unexpected challenge. Maybe it’s an unwanted text, a disappointing email, a parking ticket, an intrusive memory, a flashback, or some other emotional trigger that threatens to capsize our equilibrium. What to do?
ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) tells us that thoughts are just thoughts. Transitory events that pass through our minds. Thoughts can be positive, negative, or neutral. Neutral and even positive thoughts are often easily forgotten but those negatively, emotionally charged ones, they tend to stick around a lot longer. Depending on the thought, that can be for a few minutes, hours or sometimes days and days. So, what to do?
There are two main ways to shift your mood state caused by negative thoughts. Bottom up or top down. Bottom up are bodily focused strategies to help you shift your mood, these are not what we are talking about today. Today we are talking about top down cognitive strategies to help you swat those unpleasant, unhelpful negative thoughts away before they take hold.
Awareness is important here. Noticing your thoughts, the words you are using, the tone, the content of your thoughts is an important first step. Without awareness, we cannot change anything. So, if you are trying to change something, it’s helps to get into the habit of tuning into the radio in your head. Once you catch yourself speaking negatively, identify what it is you are saying. If you can, writing it down can help to articulate and identify the actual words clearly. Then, trying some of the below alternate thoughts below might help to reorient yourself, choose a more helpful way of thinking and get on with your day. Think of it as an experiment. Try it out and see what happens. What have you got to lose except some pretty unhelpful, not very useful and unpleasant thoughts? Old stories we’ve been telling ourselves for as long as we can remember. Long held beliefs and assumptions that are no longer fit for purpose. You can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond.
Often clients ask me what should they say instead? How to counter those emotionally charged thoughts, what should they say to themselves instead? It helps to have a few phrases prepared. Of course, not all of the below phrases will suit every situation, but I find some of them are pretty universally helpful, whatever the situation. Read through the below list, and maybe choose a few that you think might be helpful for you to remember and write those down somewhere easily retrievable. Like, in a journal or in the notes section of your phone. That way, you will have something prepared that you can counter an emotionally charged, negative thought with on hand. Or, you may want to add some of these to your daily affirmations if you find yourself struggling with the same sorts of thoughts often.
- This is just a moment of suffering; this too shall pass.
- What’s another way of looking at this?
- Do I have all the facts? Or am I jumping to conclusions?
- What is a more useful thought here?
- Just because it feels real, doesn’t mean it is true.
- Am I catastrophising?
- I can handle this.
- How am I breathing?
- I feel pain, that is true, but what else is here?
- Is this about what is happening now, or am I reacting to something that reminds me of my past?
- I am having the thought that…. (Insert unhelpful thought, statement)
- Thoughts are not facts. Some thoughts may be factual, but they may not be true, helpful or useful to me right now.
- What’s the bigger picture here?
- Will this still bother me tomorrow, next week, in a year from now?
- I’ve got this.
- Am I assuming the worst possible outcome will be the only outcome?
- Am I mind reading?
- Am I mistaking worrying for effective problem solving?
- What can I control?
- Is there anything productive I can do about this right now?
- Will worrying about this solve anything?
- Things aren’t always how they seem.
- Don’t assume.
- Remember, nothing’s perfect/nobody’s perfect.
- I am not my mistakes.
- I am good enough.
- I am loved and supported.
- Is this a set-back, or a hidden opportunity?
- I have a choice here.
- Feelings are not facts.
So, I hope you found the above list helpful. You may already have your own. If so, please comment below if you have your favourite negativity busting thought as this list is by no means exhaustive.