“My BFF seems really distant lately. It must mean she hates me. Of course she does – I’m so useless and stupid. No wonder she doesn’t want to be friends with me anymore.”
“I’m going to fail this test. I just know it.”
“He didn’t send me a smiley face on his text. He’s going to break up with me. I just know it. He’s going to break up with me and tell the whole school and everyone will say it’s because I’m ugly and I’ll never be able to show my face again.”
Negative thoughts build up in your head. A little thing – a test coming up, your best friend not being as chatty as usual, an offhand comment from your girlfriend or boyfriend – can build and build in your mind until it becomes the catalyst for the apocalypse.
It’s normal to have negative thoughts sometimes, but they’re not helpful or fun. If you have them too much, they can lead to other problems. A UCLA study showed that people who get caught in cycles of negative thoughts became depressed, self-critical, and less successful in their work and social lives.
Here’s what you can do to combat negative thoughts:
1. Notice them
Be more conscious of the things you say to yourself. Notice when you say negative things to yourself. Ask yourself:
• Are you assuming or mind reading someone else, and giving them thoughts or actions without evidence?
• Are you making demands upon yourself and setting your own standards much higher than you’d expect of someone else?
• Have you created a fantasy future for yourself and are tearing yourself down every time your reality doesn’t match up?
• Are you over-generalising and making yourself out to be a person who always makes mistakes or is hated by everyone?
• Are you turning a small setback into a catastrophe – imagining it wrecking your life. If something terrible has happened that’s caused these negative thoughts, you should write it down in detail, or draw a picture or make a recording if you’re not good at writing. Get it all out – negative thoughts and all.
Look at the event you’ve written down. Identify the negative thoughts. Go through and actually categorise them – write labels next to them for ‘catastrophe’ or ‘mind reading’.Now you can see exactly how your brain gives you these negative thoughts.
3. Replace them
Work through all the negative thoughts you’ve written down and replace them with rational responses. Talk back to those negative thoughts – make them stand up for themselves. Most negative thoughts fall down under scrutiny. Ask yourself:
• What’s the evidence?
• Is this a believable outcome?
• Will the world really end?
Replace the thoughts with reality – if you fail a test, you’ll make it up on the next one. If your friend didn’t talk to you today, you could ask him or her what’s wrong. If your girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with you, remember that people survive breakups every day.
If you’re struggling to replace the thoughts, think about what you’d say to a friend if they had the same thoughts. We’re often better at giving advice than taking it ourselves!
When you continue this practice, you’ll likely notice common triggers and worries that occur time and time again. You’ll get better at rationalising and replacing these thoughts as soon as you have them, and you’ll feel more confident and in control.