Do you find yourself always thinking the worst? Here’s how to banish negative thoughts with a new ‘diet’ for the brain
After hauling yourself out of bed, the cloudy sky and your dull to-do list might have you feeling miserable.
But what if a new-found ‘diet’ for your brain could lighten your mood?
Psychotherapist and author Anna Mathur believes something called negativity fasting could help.
She says: ‘As humans, we feel a huge spectrum of emotions and while we can’t erase negative thoughts completely, we can choose to address them and bring in a fresh perspective. Negativity fasting is the acknowledgement that you can transform your feelings.’
Here, Anna shows us how…
All feelings are valid, including sadness, fear and anxiety, but if those are the only feelings we attend to, we end up feeding them with our attention — and what we feed grows. Instead of feeding negative thoughts, disperse them by welcoming positive ones.
Start a journal and each day, write 10 things that make you happy. You can start with the big things and end with ‘sitting in my comfy chair’ or ‘having hands that work’. Doing this simple task gives perspective, which allows you to see the light. If you’re struggling with your list, ask a friend to help.
When you find yourself feeling dragged down by the mundane, start saying ‘I get to’ instead of ‘I’ve got to’. Here’s one I’ve used before… ‘I’ve got to drive to the supermarket with the kids to fill the fridge’ becomes ‘I get to drive to the supermarket with the kids to fill the fridge’.
I have a car. I have the honour of being a mum. I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy food for my family. None of these things are givens. Just a simple tweak can fill you with gratitude where there would often be weariness.
Next time you think I’ve got to do some exercise, tell yourself I get to do some exercise. Feel grateful you have a body that works well, that you can get some fresh air. It’ll draw your attention to the privilege of the seemingly mundane.
Do you find yourself always jumping to the worst-case scenario? For example, if you can’t get through to a loved one while they’re on the way home from work, your thoughts can spiral. What if they fell asleep at the wheel? Have they crashed? Are they in hospital?
Expecting the worst, or ‘catastrophising’, is normal. Our brains are wired to focus on negative or intrusive thoughts, but it’s easier than you think to stop this in its tracks.
Encourage yourself to think of the most boring alternative possible… Their battery has died. They’re stuck in traffic. Then imagine them arriving home safely. This ordinary explanation is far more likely. Acknowledge the negative thought, address it with a boring alternative and usher it on by.
BE YOUR OWN FRIEND
When feeling negative or down, notice your thoughts. Are you being self-critical or even bullying yourself? How would a friend feel if you spoke your words to them?
Try to replace the bad voice in your mind with a kinder one. Imagine how a friend would speak supportive, kind and compassionate words to you, then speak these to yourself.
Everyone is deserving of grace and patience, and you are no exception. How you treat yourself massively affects the way you experience the world.
The word ‘and’ is really important because it brings balance into your thoughts. Instead of I feel stressed about work, try altering this thought to I feel stressed about work and recognise how lucky I am to have a job.
This simple exercise can increase your peripheral vision and instead of focusing on the hard, bad, scary or anxious times, you’ll also see the good, privilege, wonder or joy.
Anna adds: ‘If you’re feeling anxious a lot of the time, speak to your GP. My Reframing Anxiety course can be beneficial, and the Counselling Directory has a wealth of local therapists.’
• Anna’s new book, Know Your Worth, is available now.
Edited by Julia Sidwell