Be a friend to yourself, or how to exit a negative thought spiral
Negative thoughts and reality
I can’t stand in front of an audience.
I got this promotion by pure luck, I was in the right place at the right time.
They only complimented me out of courtesy.
70% of our spontaneous thoughts are negative. It that was not enough we tend to hang onto some our negative thoughts. This is called a negative spiral. Or in my case: you managed to upset yourself again Eszter.
What is wrong with these negative thought patterns?
It’s that you put many of these into your basket and bake your own suffer-cake. These thoughts are often catastrophising, envisioning a negative future detached from reality, other times simply blocking your happiness or success. When you believe for a second the negative future painted in your head then you sign yourself up for some bad feelings. Of course they will not laugh at you during your presentation but you have already started feeling bad for it. For no reason.
This behaviour can lead to stress, anxiety or even depression.
How to step out of the negative thought spiral?
The first very important step is to notice your thought patterns. Two things helped me: practicing mindfulness, thanks to which I’m much more present in my thoughts and I improved my ability to look at them realistically. For your thoughts are not reality but only your filter on reality.
The other tool is to write down your worries when they arise. This helps in many ways. Firstly it gives you a task instead of catastrophizing that will snap you out of it. When writing down these negative inner monologues you suddenly come back to reality, your head becomes clear and you are able to see that maybe your fears are not that realistic after all. Also your notes help you identify your recurring thought patterns and work on them.
Label those hard feelings
Anger. Stress. Fear. Label your difficult feelings, it will help you calm down. When you try to put a one word label on what you feel your brains switches to “think-mode” instead of “feel-mode”. Or simpler: you’ll have less mental capacity to feel bad when you’re thinking about what that bad feeling that you are going through at the moment is. In it’s twisted way it has some logic in it.
Be a friend to yourself.
In these negative spirals you often behave as your own worst critic. When you catch yourself having these negative thoughts, ask yourself:
Would I say this to a friend what I’ve just said to myself?
I personally love elegant, smart, complex methods but this simply question helped me realise how cruel we can be with ourselves.
Try this breathing exercise:
This breathing exercise helps you to switch back from “fight or flight” mode to relaxed mode.
Have empathy for yourself
Don’t forget, this behaviour is natural and happens to everyone. Don’t blame yourself when negative thoughts come, just try not to follow them to the bottom of the spiral. You can do it.