How can I stop negative thoughts?

How can I stop negative thoughts?

It occurs to the most well-intentioned of us. You’re blissfully going about your daily routine when suddenly, out of nowhere, the negative thought occurs to you: “What if I’m making a terrible mistake?” Then there’s the reverberation: “I have no idea what I’m doing.” What did I mean when I said that? Why did I consent to it in the first place? “I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it.” And so it goes, with you reliving talks to see how stupid you must have sounded or to figure out what the other person was really saying.

What follows is a devastating chain reaction that, with each subsequent bad thought, sends your mind into a further downward spiral toward virtual conflagration, paralyzing you in the process. It’s as if you’ve single-handedly blown up your entire world in an instant—all from the safety of your own thoughts.

Natural Negative Bias in the Brain

Those mental patterns can be attributed to survival instincts and a biological awareness that we won’t live very long (depressing, we know). According to psychiatrist Grant H. Brenner M.D., FAPA, co-founder of Neighborhood Psychiatry in Manhattan, our brain has evolved to survive and has a bias toward threat detection.

We are programmed to use negative information significantly more than positive information to inform our world, in addition to this constant scanning for risks. It makes sense when you consider it in the context of evolution. More than enjoying the warmth of a great cave fire, survival depends on identifying danger.

It’s not only that we’re more likely to use unfavorable information; it also carries more weight. Negative ideas have a greater impact on our brain than happy ones. According to studies, we need more positive signals (at least five) for every negative one to keep things moving in the right direction.

Our Operating System Has a Bug

“As we’ve become more technologically sophisticated and advanced, it’s become a more maladaptive role.” We can’t deal with things improving, so our fight-or-flight systems cause us to react adversely to one another,” he says. It’s as if there’s a fault in our collective consciousness. “We lack compassion, and strangers are viewed as enemies rather than family.” “We believe the world is bigger and more powerful than it really is—an illusion that will crumble if we aren’t careful and intelligent,” Dr. Brenner says.

It’s also a vicious loop. Essentially, the brain is trained to look for and perceive threats early—both internally and externally—which leads to more attention being paid to negative ideas, reinforcing them, and increasing their frequency. “Like a car engine in neutral,” Dr. Brenner explains, “the default mode network of the brain runs an operating system that cycles in more negative ideas and memories, which go around and round, reducing the functions of the brain that could prevent that looping.”

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Negative Thoughts and Their Consequences

The consequences of this negative mind cloud can be disastrous. “Obsessing over a negative idea can become so consuming that it’s impossible to interact with what’s going on in life,” says clinical psychologist Kristin Naragon-Gainey, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at The University of Buffalo. “People may withdraw from who they’re with and what they’re doing as a result of this.” Not to mention the fact that you’re pushing other folks away. “It can be more difficult to appreciate things because you’re more aware of what could go wrong; it can generate conflict with others and add to your stress.” According to Dr. Naragon-Gainey.

Why Do Some People Suffer From Negative Thoughts More Than Others?

Dr. Brenner says that traumatic experiences in infancy and adulthood can “strengthen, confirm, and/or develop sticky assumptions” that the world is a bad place. “Such expectations might manifest as negative beliefs that serve as shields against disappointment and other reactions, as well as just conforming to the way the world appears to be,” explains Dr. Brenner.

Someone who has a negative thinking parent, for example, may internalize such ways of seeing the world and oneself. Another person in the same situation, on the other hand, might behave adaptively by adopting a more cheerful outlook on things. Less resilient people are more inclined to worry and become mired in negative thinking, according to Dr. Brenner.

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