Negative Thoughts And It’s Effects On Your Mental Health

girl with negative thoughts

Negative Thoughts And It’s Effects On Your Mental Health

While a lot of us talk about leading a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and good eating habits,mental health often gets forgotten. Our mental health does not only affect the way we think and feel but also how we behave in our daily life. It helps us make decisions, carry out tasks, handle stress and interact with others. It is important at every single stage of our life. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and are able to make a contribution to their community.” 

WHO further emphasizes that being mentally healthy is more than just the absence of mental disorders and disabilities. The absence of generalized anxiety disorder or mood disorders like major depressive disorder does not confirm that a person has good mental health. This leads us to explore the question of “what is  good mental health?” 

Mental health is complex and there is no fixed definition of good mental health as it might have a different meaning for each of us. A good mental health is likely to help protect you against the development of mental health problems. 

Having good mental health does not mean that we always feel happy or never have bad days or sad moods. The fact that someone does not have any diagnosed mental health condition or isn’t experiencing one does not mean that their mental health is flourishing or is healthy. So how do you know if your mental health is healthy? 

A good mental health is often characterized by a person’s ability to fulfill key functions and activities including:

  • Feeling, expressing and managing a range of negative and positive emotions
  • Having a sense of contentment and belonging
  • Carrying out everyday tasks and looking after themselves which may include, exercising and sleeping
  • Taking part in activities they enjoy as well as social activities 
  • Dealing with stress and bouncing back from adversity 
  • Understanding that the fluctuations in their mental health is natural
  • Having a good work-life balance 
  • Building and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Having self confidence and high self esteem 
  • Realizing their full potential 

A lot of times the signs of poor mental health go unnoticed. They sometimes manifest as behavioral or physical changes or as changes in our thoughts and feelings. Often these changes may be signs of depression. Here are some other warning signs of poor mental health.

Signs of poor mental health include: 

  • Changes in appetite
  • Withdrawal from friends and family 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Lack of sleep or sleeping excessively
  • Tiredness or lack of energy 
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Constant negative thoughts 
  • Increased impulsivity
  • Thoughts or self harm or suicide. You should seek support a soon as possible if you are experiencing these thoughts

If you identify these signs, you should contact a counseling therapist. We at AtEase have Top licensed therapists in India, who can help you navigate your problems. 

Your mental health is closely linked to the thoughts you have. When your thoughts are positive and optimistic, you tend to be mentally healthier. On the other hand, negative thoughts could indicate poor mental health.

Let’s take a closer look at negative thoughts.

Negative Thoughts and Their Effects on Mental Health: 

Negative thoughts are unconscious thoughts one may have about themselves, their surroundings, the world or their future. These thoughts may come up at any point, usually in response to everyday events. These thoughts tend to be irrational and self-defeating. 

It is not only people with mood disorders like major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder who have such thoughts but also people struggling with loneliness, aggression, fear, jealousy, etc. 

While everyone experiences negative thoughts now and then, negative thinking that seriously  interferes with your emotional well-being and daily functioning can be detrimental to your mental health. It can even be a sign of mental illness. 

We often believe that the way we feel is due to the situation we are in. However, many times, our emotional state is determined by the thoughts we have about the situation we are in rather than the actual situation. Our thoughts, emotions and behaviors are all linked. Constant negative thinking can lead to social anxiety, depression, anger, low self-esteem, insecurity and stress. It can also lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. It  limits your belief in yourself and your abilities, preventing you from reaching your full potential or making positive changes in your life. 

Negative thinking can make you feel blue about yourself, the world or about the future. It contributes to low self-worth and can make you feel like you are not effective in this world. 

While psychologists link negative thinking to signs of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or chronic worrying, all human beings grapple with it, even those with a positive outlook on life. 

Negative thoughts usually occur because of the way our brains are constructed. Our amygdala and limbic system work to protect our survival by noticing threats. In the prehistoric times we were trained to notice danger like being stalked by a predator. While physical threats have reduced because of evolution, the same parts of the brain remain active even when the threats are more cognitive – involving finance, relationships and being successful at work. These situations and much more can set our hearts racing and make us see them in a negative or irrational light. 

Understanding Types of Negative Thoughts:

Negative thoughts are a part of cognitive distortions which are thought patterns that cause people to view their reality in inaccurate or negative ways. They are habitual errors in thinking and when you experience a cognitive distortion you will usually interpret the situation negatively. They often develop as a way of coping from adverse life events. The more prolonged and severe these adverse events are, the more likely they are to get reinforced. They could also have been developed as a kind of evolutionary survival method. 

The 10 common distorted thinking patterns are: 

  • Overgeneralization: This involves drawing broad negative conclusions on the basis of a single negative event. For example: You get a low score in an exam you usually score well in and you, therefore, believe you will fail the entire year. 
  • Minimization: This involves underplaying the significance of an action or event. For example: You get praised by your boss, but you think of it as trivial. 
  • Magnification or Catastrophizing: Which means exaggeration of undesirable events. For example: If you scrape a bit of the paint on your car, you think of yourself as an awful driver. 
  • Polarization:  Also called “black or white thinking”, this is characterized by extreme thinking. One is either perfect or a failure, there is no in between. For example: If while performing you fall short of perfection you think of yourself as a total failure. 
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Which means making negative conclusions or interpretations without the other individual saying so themselves. Basically, determining how another individual feels towards us. This can include ‘Fortune-telling’ and ‘Mind Reading’. 

In ‘Fortune-telling’ you anticipate that a specific situation will turn out bad no matter what  you do and convince yourself that a negative outcome is an already established fact. You end up acting on the wrong assumptions and torturing yourself for something that has no evidence of happening. For example, you went for a medical checkup but after the tests you feel anxious and have a bad feeling about it. So you end up concluding that your test results will show signs of a disease. This leaves you moody for a couple of days till the test results come. After a few days when your test results come out fine you end up questioning yourself. 

In ‘Mind Reading’ you make untested negative assumptions of people which means that you assume people don’t like you or will not respond positively to your suggestions or comments when the reality might be completely different. So you end up torturing yourself with this negative belief without having a conversation or figuring out what people actually think of you. For example: You assume that some group of people do not like you and make fun of you behind your back. 

  • Filtering: Which means taking only the negative details while filtering out or forgetting the positive details. For example, Your boss compliments your work on a project but asks you to be more punctual. You filter out the feedback about the project and only worry about being late.
  • Emotional reasoning: Which means believing that what we feel must be true. It is assuming that your unhealthy emotions reflect the way things really are. For example: If in your relationship you struggle with feelings of jealousy, you end up believing and accusing your partner of infidelity, even though there is no plausible evidence for it and all he has shown is devotion towards you. 
  • Should statements: You strongly believe that you “must” or “ought” to be able to do something and if you are not able to you end up feeling emotions like anger, frustration or anxiety towards yourself. For example: You keep a deadline for yourself and tell yourself that you should be able to complete your work by then, but because of some reasons you are unable to. 
  • Personalization: Which means attributing the negative feelings of others to yourself. You see yourself responsible for some negative external event, which in fact you are not responsible for. For example:You think that if the teacher looks angry while entering the room, he must be angry because of something you did. 

You can use a thought diary to keep track of your negative thoughts, and get a better understanding of  them 

If you feel thoughts are interfering with your daily life, we recommend speaking to a counseling therapist at AtEase. AtEase provides the Best Mental Health Counseling in India.  We will work with you to review these thoughts and help you question and replace your deeply held thoughts and beliefs. 

Self-help strategies for managing negative thinking are: 

  • Practicing healthy beliefs that specifically focus on your negative thoughts. For example if you find yourself thinking “I messed up, I am going to get fired as I am no good at my job” you could try thinking “ Yes, I messed up but mistakes happen and I will work through it as I always do.” 
  • Reframe the “should” and “shouldn’t” statements. For example: instead of saying “I should exercise” you could think “It is important for me to exercise.”
  • Personify your inner critic or give it a nickname. This would help you from thinking that you “own” these negative thoughts. For example: Instead of you thinking that your brain is thinking those negative thoughts you can think “_____ is doing her thing again.” 
  • Practicing mindfulness by meditating and being aware of your thoughts. You could also try to practice gratitude. 

There are a few questions that you can ask yourself when you find yourself  having negative thoughts, they include: 

  • Why do you say that?
  • What’s the evidence that your thought is true?
  • What are the consequences of this assumption?
  • Is this always the case?
  • Is there another way to look at it?
  • What advice would you give to a friend in the same situation?

As mentioned before every one of us have occasionally thought of these negative thoughts as our brain thinks them to keep us safe. However, when this becomes more frequent it can lead to poor mental health. 

We may end up in a cycle of negativity which can be  difficult to break. Noticing and employing techniques to challenge or control these thoughts requires effort. Remember that it is not impossible and you are not alone. Professional help is available to help you turn off the flow of negative thoughts and lead you to a good and healthy mental health. 

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