When a person is depressed or anxious it is very difficult to think realistically. Listed below are some steps to guide the process of realistic thinking. Practicing these everyday will increase your ability to identify and avoid negative thinking and help you feel better about yourself and the world.
Step #1: Pay attention to negative self-talk, these are the negative thoughts you say to yourself without speaking out loud.
Examples would be; “I’m so dumb.” “It would be too scary!” “I could never accomplish that!” “I am never chosen.” “I feel stupid.” All these thoughts will lead to feelings like sadness, depression, anger, guilt and the list goes on. These thoughts occur so frequently at times that we can be completely unaware of them. However, they leave behind lots of damage, especially when we are already depressed. It is important to start paying attention to what you are saying to yourself.
Step #2: Identify the thoughts that lead to feelings of depression or anxiety.
This will take time and practice to identify the specific thoughts. The key is to notice your feeling first, if you feel yourself getting angry, depressed, sad, and anxious, ask yourself: “What is making me feel anxious?”, “What bad thing do I expect to happen?” “What am I worrying about?” and, “What am I thinking right now?”
Step #3: Don’t believe the thoughts, CHALLENGE them! Having the thought does not mean that it is really going to happen. Our thoughts are not fact, there is usually more evidence that will prove these thoughts wrong than prove them right. You don’t have to buy into the negative thought, it’s cheaper to prove it wrong, not believe it, and get rid of it.
An example of challenging your negative thought would be: say you have meeting to attend at work and are feeling nervous about it, you may think: “I’m going to look stupid, no one will take me seriously.”
To challenge that thought, ask yourself some simple questions and review the following answers:
Q. Is there any evidence that this is true?
A. No, I have never looked stupid before and people listen to me.
Q. Am I confusing a thought with a fact?
A. This is just a thought, there are no facts to back it up.
Q. What would a friend say about this thought?
A. My friend would tell me to not worry and that I am going to do great.
Q. What would I tell a friend that had this same thought?
A. You’ve got this in the bag, you have been preparing for this and know your stuff.
Q. What is the worse that could happen?
A. That they will not like my idea.
Q. Will I die if this happens?
A. NO, there will be other opportunities.
Step #4: Replace negative statements with true and factual, positive self statements.
“I will do my best.”, “I am not weak for being anxious.” ,“ I am not stupid.” ,“ There will be people in my life that don’t like me.”, “ I am a strong person for challenging my negative beliefs” “ People do not know I am anxious”, “ My anxiety won’t last forever.”, “People like me.” , “ Feeling depressed is not a weakness,” and “I don ‘t have to be perfect. ”
Remember, thinking has an effect on emotions, emotions have an effect on thinking. Make a promise to yourself to think positive and this will lead to positive emotions.
Please check back with the Mind Fullness blog for Part 3 of this series which discusses the impact of emotion and thinking on our behavior.
Brenda Bible, LCSW
Brenda provides behavioral health services at Lone Star Circle of Care's Texas A & M University location in Round Rock.