Even the most positive people have negative thoughts at times. It’s part of being human. But when negative thoughts about ourselves, our situation or the world around us start to become the norm, it is not healthy. These thoughts can drain your energy, leave you unwilling to face challenges and even cause your body to dump damaging stress hormones into your bloodstream. For those struggling with anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse or drug abuse it is easy to slip into negative thought patterns. If you do, it’s important to reach out to the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center.
There are also steps you can take on your own to change your negative thoughts. However, the goal isn’t to achieve a state of perpetual positive thinking. Constantly trying to put a positive spin on everything that occurs in your life isn’t healthy either. What you want to cultivate is realistic thinking. Seeing yourself, your relationships and world events as they really are (positive, negative or neutral) is the best way to live a genuine, grounded and emotionally healthy life.
How to Foster a More Rational Worldview
When alcohol abuse, drug abuse, depression or anxiety are central to your life it can feel like you have no control over your thoughts and emotions. They simply “happen.” But the truth is, you can be in control of them. As counselors at your community health center will tell you, the key is to have a process you can use regularly to reaffirm that you are in charge. Here are steps you can take:
- Monitor your self-talk.
We all have an ongoing dialogue that runs in our head. Often it involves evaluating the world around us. That dialogue affects how we view our life, but because it’s constantly running, we tend to forget it’s there. The first step in promoting realistic thinking is simply to listen to that inner voice. For example, you might “hear” it say, “That person was rude to me the last time I saw them. I don’t like them.” Being aware of those types of comments starts to put you more in control of them.
- Identify thoughts that aren’t helpful.
Not every negative thought is “bad.” For example, “I feel stressed and frustrated about my job because there are so many new things I am learning, but overtime I will learn and it will get easier” has a negative aspect, but it promotes a positive action. On the other hand, “I hate my job and don’t ever want to go back there” doesn’t really provide any benefit. It’s important to make the distinction between thoughts that are helpful and those that are not.
- Challenge your unhelpful thoughts.
The next step in learning to be more realistic in your thinking is to question whether your thoughts are valid. Using an example from above, do you really hate your job or are you anxious about the new project that you’ve been assigned? Or do you have an issue with a coworker that needs to be resolved?
- Substitute realistic thoughts.
Once you’ve identified a thought that isn’t helpful, you can replace it with one that is. Continuing with the work example, a more rational thought might be, “Once I get started on the new project I’m sure I’ll do fine. It’s just the anticipation I don’t like.” In addition to this type of coping statement, it can be beneficial to add some positive self-talk, like “I’m smart and capable, and I’ve done good work on projects like this in the past.
Realistic thinking doesn’t come easy, especially when you are also working on managing anxiety, depression, drug abuse or alcohol abuse. You need to continually return to it even when it feels natural to dwell on the negative.
Seeing the World in a Fair, Balanced Way
In our work with people at the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we stress the importance of being realistic in how you view the world. Freeing yourself from negative thought patterns is essential. If you’ve got questions about how to do that, or questions about mental health in general, contact the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.