One of the easiest ways to live a happy life is to be a positive person. But let’s be real, that’s so much easier said than done. How many times have you woken up with a positive outlook for the day only to have your mood ruined by some Instagram troll or an embarrassing incident from the past that somehow crept back into your mind out of nowhere? Unfortunately, negativity has a way of sticking to your brain in the most annoying way.
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“Everyone has negative thoughts. It’s part of ordinary life,” Martin N. Seif, cofounder of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and coauthor of the book Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts, tells AwesomenessTV.
“Mental health professionals believe that negative thoughts themselves are not a problem, but rather how these thoughts act and feel. The problem arises when the thoughts get stuck, seem important, demand attention, repeat, and appear to be messages or warnings or signals that something has to be done.”
So what’s the best possible way to stop obsessive negative thoughts from completely killing your day? Here are six expert tips on what you can do.
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1. Get it off your chest.
Don’t let negative thoughts stew in your mind forever, hoping they will go away. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t. So don’t be afraid to talk to a friend about what you’re feeling.
“The goal is to talk about the issue for as long as it takes to get it off one’s chest and feel better,” Dr. Vijay Ram, cognitive research scientist at the University of California, tells AwesomenessTV. “As long as the person is truthfully and authentically speaking, feeling better happens regardless of whether there is a good outcome or not.”
2. Ground yourself.
Grounding yourself is a great way to slow it all down. The best way to do this? Practice mindfulness. Be in the moment.
“Whether it be a mindfulness mediation or just focusing on the here and now, slowing down your thoughts can help you ground yourself and eliminate negative thoughts,” says licensed mental health counselor Colette Lopane Capella.
You could try a meditation app, or just close your eyes and notice your thoughts, then gently push them from your mind.
3. Pep yourself up with some positive self-talk.
Despite what anyone tells you, talking to yourself can be healthy, especially if you’re reciting all good things.
“Creating a positive mantra that you repeat daily (i.e. I’m happy, I’m loved, I’m successful), can replace negative thoughts with positive ones,” Capella says.
So do it in front of the mirror or try it out on the drive to school. The more you say good things out loud, the easier it is for you to believe them.
4. Keep a gratitude journal.
If you’ve had a bad day, writing out the positive aspects of your life before you go to bed can help shift your thinking for the better. According to Capella, there’s something about physically writing something out that can proactively help to rewire your brain to think more positively. Had a delicious lunch? Write it down. Coworker complimented your new dress? Make note!
5. Turn your “What if?” into a “Then what?”
“Obsessive thoughts are biological responses to your concerns,” therapist Paul DePompo tells AwesomenessTV. “You are attuning to the worry that you have. Though this is well-intended, it causes more anxiety than relief.”
If your negative obsessive thoughts come from anxiety over the future (i.e. What if I fail that test? or What if he or she rejects me?), DePompo says to switch your thinking into problem-solving mode. For instance, what if that guy or girl you like rejects your date offer? Then what? They say no, so you know it’s time to move on.
“Come up with as many possible options and outcomes as you can, as well as steps you can take to solve your problem,” he says. “This will help kill the obsession by putting you in control.”
6. Recognize that your thoughts are just thoughts.
“Start seeing your thoughts as what they are: thoughts,” psychologist and clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services Anna Prudovski tells AwesomenessTV. “They are not facts. They are not threats.”
When you notice a negative or obsessive thought, label it as one. Tell yourself, I notice that I’m having a thought that something horrible is going to happen. “This is how you learn to become an observer of your thoughts instead of a willing participant in useless rumination,” Prudovski says.
According to Prudovski, research shows that the more effort you put into getting rid of your thoughts, the more obsessed you are likely going to become.
“This includes following the popular (and uninformed) advice about trying to replace a negative thought with a positive one, or to snap a rubber band on your wrist trying to stop the thought,” she says. “Those strategies are going to make you give those thoughts even more importance and hence will lead to more [negative thoughts].”
We can’t be super peppy and happy 27/7. Life just doesn’t work that way. So take it day by day. If you can find a way to shift your focus, or better yet, make peace with your thoughts, that can make all the difference.