Does your brain always leap to the worst-case scenario? Use these five simple tips to change your mindset and calm your worried inner voice
We all think unhelpful thoughts from time to time.
But if we’re not careful, negative patterns can turn into more than just a bad habit. Repeating the behaviour over time can have a devastating affect on our mental health.
So what can we do to stop falling into this trap? Is it possible to shift the way we view things?
Here, psychologist Dr Blaire Morgan, Researcher and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Worcester, gives her advice on how to curb some common bad thinking habits.
Stop comparing yourself to others
If you’re someone who constantly scrolls through Instagram, feeling envious of other people’s looks, holidays or relationships, it’s time to make some changes.
Dr Morgan says: ‘On social media, users present a life that they want others to see, even if it’s not a realistic portrayal of how they feel.
‘It’s important to remind ourselves that social-media posts are skewed towards the positive.
‘It’s easy to think: That person is a lot happier than me. But it is possibly more accurate to think: That person appears happy, but I don’t know what the rest of their life is like. I’m sure they have struggles that I don’t know about.
Put a plan in place to do something positive for yourself.’
Stop imagining the worst
Your teenager has gone for a pizza with pals, but by 10pm they’re still not home.
By 10:05, you start imagining that they’ve taken a lift from a friend who is a reckless driver.
By 10:10, you’re convinced they’ve been involved in an accident, and by 10:20, you’re ready to call the local hospitals.
It can be easy for our minds to make a catastrophe out of nothing, but doing this regularly can be emotionally draining.
Dr Morgan says: ‘Before you waste time worrying, make sure you’ve put your thoughts into perspective and considered other explanations. Could there have been a delay on their food? Could they simply have got caught up chatting? Is it that uncommon for a teenager to be 20 minutes late home?
‘If you’re still struggling to control these thoughts, try doing 10 minutes of yoga or mediation. Mindfulness practice stops you stressing about the future and focuses the mind on the present.’
You meet a friend for a coffee, but as you’re chatting, she seems disinterested. You wonder if you’ve upset her, or if she’s finding you boring. In fact, she’s just stewing on an argument she had with her husband that morning.
Dr Morgan says: ‘You can never really know what another person is thinking, and trying to guess can lead to us getting it wrong.
‘Instead, get more information before jumping to conclusions.
‘A preoccupation with what others think can also be attributable to a lack of self-confidence, so regularly practise your key strengths, such as being a good listener or a great cook.
‘By improving how you view yourself you might be less concerned with what you think others think of you.’
Stop having unrealistic expectations
Whether it’s in our career, at home, or as a parent, we all try to do the best we can. But sometimes the demands we place on ourselves are crippling.
Dr Morgan says: ‘Practise compassion towards yourself by recognising that, as humans, we are not perfect and we need to give ourselves a break sometimes.
‘For instance, it’s more helpful to think: It’s nice to have a clean house, but it’s not the be-all and end-all, or: I try to be the best mum I can be and that’s good enough.’
Unrealistic expectations might also be directed towards others. To negate these, Dr Morgan recommends practising a loving kindness meditation. This focuses loving energy towards yourself and others to increase your capacity for forgiveness, connection with others and self-acceptance.
See the glass half-full
We often reflect on the negative instead of the positive.
Dr Morgan says: ‘Gratitude reframing is a practice where you consider an event that hasn’t gone to plan and could be construed in a negative light. However, rather than focusing on the negative, you focus your attention on potential benefits to the situation.
‘For example, maybe you didn’t get that promotion you wanted, but at least now your boss knows that you’re ambitious in case a similar role comes up.’
You can also try listing three good things about each day. It will make you think about the positive parts of your life rather than the negative.
Edited by Stephanie May