June 5th 2023
In therapy, I am often asked questions like “Why did I react like that?” “Why do some emotions feel so intense?” Although there are several explanations for these questions, one that is relevant for many of my clients relates to the voice inside their heads.
At times, you may be caught in a negative thought spiral – you start with one negative thought, which leads to several others, and you are left overthinking and wondering about worst-case scenarios. For example, you get in an argument with your partner in the morning before you each go to work. As the day progresses and you have not heard from them, you begin to question the relationship. You end up thinking the relationship is going to end and find yourself overwhelmed with worries about how this will impact your future, like finding a new place to live, dividing shared belongings, finances, and mutual friends. Now you notice that your heart is beating fast, you feel warm, and you are on high alert. This is an example of how our thoughts can create a physiological stress reaction. Being stuck in these thinking patterns can not only take a toll on our overall mental and physical health, but they can lead us to act in ways that also impact our lives.
To help beat our negative thoughts, we need to shift the way we think so it is more clear, calm, and more constructive. Try asking yourself these questions that will allow you to pull back and put the situation in a distanced perspective:
- What advice would I give someone else? Try applying the advice you would give to a friend to yourself.
- What would a fly on the wall see?
- Could there be another way of looking at this?
- What meaning might I be applying to the event that leads me to react in this way?
- How will I feel about this one week from now, one month from now, a year from now?
Another strategy to address negative thinking patterns is to recognize, take a breath, and disrupt. If you notice yourself feeling stuck inside your head and/or experiencing the symptoms of a stress response, ask yourself if you are in a negative thought spiral. If the answer is yes, try breathing techniques to help slow the body’s stress response. To further help disrupt the pattern, try introducing movement and/or changing the scenery.
If you find yourself having negative thinking patterns, it’s helpful to remind yourself that you are not alone in this experience. Many people have spiraling thoughts at times. Practicing self-compassion is another helpful tool to have more healthy and constructive inner chatter.
By Hailey Kolpin