Do you ever find yourself having a day where one thing goes wrong and suddenly everything feels like it’s going wrong?
Then that bad day bleeds into the next and you can’t seem to shake the negativity? If that sounds like you, don’t fret! It’s called a negative thought loop and everyone has probably gotten themselves stuck in one at some point in their life.
Negative thoughts have a pesky way of popping in uninvited and sticking around way past their welcome unless they’re kindly but firmly escorted out of the mind. Sometimes these negative thoughts persist and can snowball into being in a bad mood for a month or even longer, which can lead to mental health issues like depression or anxiety.
The key to stopping negative thought loops and decreasing their frequency is to have good coping skills that break the cycle before or shortly after it starts.
It’s best to work with a trained mental health professional for support and guidance when tackling these issues. Luckily, online therapy with BetterHelp makes it really easy to find a qualified professional you can meet anywhere as long as you have a phone, tablet or laptop and an internet connection.
There really isn’t a better time than now to do therapy online either. A lot of people were using online therapy with BetterHelp prior to the Covid-19 pandemic because of its convivence, but not it’s the safest option. Working with a therapist will help you process your feelings and learn new techniques to improve your mental health. Let’s talk about some of the things you might expect to do in therapy and how specific techniques can help in your day-to-day life.
“It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to, has power over, if you allow it.” – Leon Brown
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based form of treatment used by all sorts of mental health professionals like psychologists, social workers, and counselors. Numerous studies have supported is the efficacy of treating depression, anxiety, substance use, eating disorders, and other mental health concerns. CBT is an umbrella term that includes traditional talk therapy and several other specific techniques.
The principles of CBT are based around the idea that unhelpful thoughts and learned behaviors contribute to psychological issues but by changing these thoughts you can create better-coping skills and behaviors. These unhelpful thoughts are called thought distortions and there are many of them that you are probably already familiar with.
Here are some of the common thought distortions you might be experiencing:
This type of thought distortion occurs when a small worry turns into a much bigger worry without any real evidence that something terrible is actually happening. For example, your boss asks to meet with you later in the day but doesn’t tell you why. That would make anybody at least a little bit anxious but when you focus on the absolute worst scenario all day, that is catastrophizing. You might have sent the entire day thinking you would be fired from your job and think about whether you’ll be able to afford rent next month.
This type of thought distortion is when an individual interprets outside events that are happening personally. You might think everything is your fault, blame yourself for something that you really could not have prevented, or believed you were personally attacked by something that wasn’t connected to you. For example, your partner is in a bad mood and not enjoying the time you’re spending together. A person who is experiencing personalization might think “it’s my fault he doesn’t have a good time because I’m not fun enough.”
This type of thought distortion occurs when an individual makes assumptions about others’ thinking. An individual engaging in mind reading might think “I already know this person thinks I’m stupid and will say that my idea is bad.” This can then impact the way you interact with others based on assumptions that may not be true.
There is nothing to be ashamed of if you’ve experienced or are experiencing that type of thinking because it is common. Thought distortions can lead to negative thought loops that we discussed earlier. When those thought distortions persist to the point of impacting your mood and behavior, it’s time to use some strategies to change them.
That’s where working with a professional in therapy comes in handy. There are cognitive behavioral therapy techniques like cognitive reframing that help stop the rumination of thoughts when you’re stuck and when used often can help decrease the occurrence of negative thought loops over time.
What is Cognitive Reframing?
Cognitive reframing is also sometimes referred to as cognitive restructuring and reappraisal of ruminating thoughts. It’s a system of challenging unhelpful thoughts or thought distortions and creating new more helpful ways of thinking. If you can change your point-of-view, you can change the thought and therefore change the behavior.
One of the reasons it is so important to work with a mental health professional in therapy is that the therapist will help identify thought distortions and come up with ideas about how to think about the situation differently. This will help you remember how to use this technique outside of your regular sessions.
Simply questioning yourself can help end of the loop of negative thoughts. For example, try asking yourself these questions:
- What am I worried about?
- How likely is it that this worry will come true? Give examples that support this answer.
- What is the worst that could happen if this comes true?
- What is most likely to happen if this comes true?
- What are the chances that if this comes true I will be okay?
Let’s use the example of catastrophizing if your boss asks to have a meeting with you but you don’t know the reason. You are worried that the meeting with your boss will end up in the termination of your employment. Think about the likelihood of that being true and be honest with yourself. Has your performance been satisfactory?
Have you made any errors that would warrant termination? It’s likely that is this was true, you would be aware of them already. However, if the worst scenario does become true, what is the worst that could happen? You will have to get a new job. This is where cognitive reframing becomes really helpful. If you are let go from your current job, it is an opportunity to find a different job. A job that you might love and feel even more passionate about.
This type of restructuring of your thoughts can quickly change your feelings of dread into a more positive outlook, which is only going to improve your mental health on a day-to-day basis. The next time you feel stuck in your negative thoughts, try giving this technique a try. This is just one possibility out of many CBT techniques you can learn using online therapy, so just think about how much more you could learn to improve your thoughts consistently.
If you are struggling, do not hesitate to get started with therapy. BetterHelp has several qualified professionals who can help you change negative thought patterns and improve your mental health.