Do you feel stressed beyond belief these days? You're not alone.
Day 4: Your Running Commentary
The thoughts that run through your head are your most intimate, ever-present companions, from morning until night. They can be your cheerleader or your bully; your sweet-talker or your heckler.
What kind of running commentary would you prefer?
Of course most of us want the sunny, bright-side voice. The problem is, this leads a lot of us to think that we should banish all negative thinking whatsoever, which makes us waste our energy in the misguided attempt to fight any thought that we don't like.
But as you learned in the Detox Your Thoughts challenge, erasing negative thinking is not only impossible, but it's beside the point.
Negative thoughts alone don't cause anxiety. It's when those negative thoughts become sticky that they cause anxiety.
So, focus not on avoiding, erasing, or fighting your negative thoughts. Instead, aim to observe your thoughts gently and non-judgmentally, neither taking them to be true or meaningful, nor getting locked in an energy-draining battle of fighting them.
You can help this process by distancing yourself from your thoughts, even literally, and changing the way you think about your thoughts. Try adding "I'm having the thought that" before you acknowledge any negative thought. Or even try speaking about yourself in the third-person this way ("Kristen's having the thought that this will never get better.")
This helps you recognize more easily that the thought is just a thought, and it's not necessarily true, nor does it have to represent you. Thoughts can be fleeting and meaningless, or downright inaccurate. They come from our own particular lenses, which are often distorted. Recognizing that distortion is key to calming down your anxious thoughts.
There are three particular distortions that make your anxiety more acute in the moment, and they're very common in all of us, but especially those who have problems with anxiety:
All or none thinking: overgeneralizing negative things to be all bad, or to "ruin" everything, instead of looking at specifics and salvaging some hope or paths forward
Negativity bias: being hyper-attuned to threats and negative events at the expense of noticing positive ones.
Confirmation bias: Noticing only things that confirm the point of view that you already hold; rejecting conflicting information. This can be especially harmful when your original point of view is distorted in a negative way.
Take some time to notice the thoughts that you have that are most pervasive in a negative way. Reframe them by labeling them clearly as a thought, one that is neither you nor true.
Think about other ways you can challenge your thoughts. Are there counter-arguments to them that you can simplify, to play automatically in your head so that you don't get bogged in the fight?
Think about the three types of cognitive distortions above. Can you identify ways that you may fall into them?
Do you know someone who would love our Guide to Overcoming Anxiety?