How to control negative thoughts under stress and anxiety

How to control negative thoughts under stress and anxiety.

Dr.Saad Ramzi Al- Hashimi, PhD -Health Sciences MSc-(hon) in Med Ultrasound.RMSKS.

Dr.Saad Ramzi Al- Hashimi, PhD 

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It happens to the best of us. There you are, happily going along your ordinary

day-to-day when suddenly, a thought pops into your head from out of nowhere:

“What if I’m making a big mistake?” After your boss gives a new assignment and deadline,

or a new case and puts you under pressure, you feel stressed out and then comes the ripple effect:

“I have no idea what I’m doing. Why did I say that? Why did I agree to do that?

I can’t do that.” And it goes on, sometimes replaying conversations to analyze

how stupid you must have sounded or what another person really meant.

There are certain days when you feel highly low and you surround yourself with negativity.

Being negative can be very dangerous for your mental as well as your physical health.

Negative thoughts are associated with anxiety. It is normal if you feel stressed and

low when there is a lot of negativity around you. 

Feeling low can also be a sign of mental disorders like bipolar disorder, depression,

and anxiety. You should understand the concept of negative thoughts deeply to get rid of them.

Feeling low is random and it can happen with anyone at any time.

There are times when you feel low without any reason and that is okay.

Many times, you cannot even figure out the reason behind your negativity.

You must recognize that it is important to stay positive. 

Feeling low can also make you feel lifeless if you don’t know how to deal

with the mood. It can take a serious toll on your health. 

How does negativity impact your health?

·        It majorly increases your blood pressure and results in hypertension.

·        It will make you feel emotionally weak and vulnerable all the time. 

·        Negativity can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. 

·        It opens the door to different kinds of mental illnesses. 

·        Negativity and stress can develop diabetes and increase/decrease

your blood sugar levels. 

·        It will lower your metabolism and weaken your immune system from within.

·        Negativity can consume a lot of energy and make you feel exhausted. 

·        It disturbs your sleep cycle and can also cause insomnia in many cases. 

·        Stress can cause muscle tension and other different kinds of body pain.

·        Negative thoughts increase your stress level and may cause depression

if it persists for a long time. 

You should know how to cope with negative thoughts

so that it does not harm your health.

Negativity becomes a habit and you might get habitual to it which is very toxic

and not a good thing at all. You should have a grasp of what to do when the negativity starts kicking in. 

It’s OK to feel sad. It’s OK to feel anxious. Take a break and give yourself another day.

When you do have the energy, you can slowly work toward moving past initial thoughts of

“I feel sad” to recognizing there may be a problem and considering a workaround. 

The more you remind yourself of these things, the more your thoughts will untangle

so you can reach the next stage of growth and strength.

What ensues is a crippling chain reaction that, along with each ensuing negative thought,

sets your mind on a deeper downward spiral towards virtual combustion,

leaving you paralyzed in its wake. It’s like you’ve single-handedly managed to

blow up your entire world in an instant—and all in the confines of your own mind.

And to make it worse you feel that other employees are watching you to fail

so they can be promoted and take over the assignments. 

Chalk up those thought patterns to survival instincts and a biological sense that we

aren’t going to live very long (depressing, we know). Our brain has evolved to survive,

and has a bias toward threat detection. Understanding your anxiety and what it means

is one of the first steps to managing the stress that comes with it. You may discover

that there’s a trigger. When you find it, you can act to avoid it or you may

find yourself spending less time dreading it.

Spend more time asking yourself, “Oh, hello anxiety, what do we need to do to function

together today?” and you might end up fighting against yourself less through

the stressful event. There’s always another option even if it means opting

out or saying no. If your anxiety or stress is based on a situation, ask yourself if you can opt out.

Chances are you can! Challenge yourself to make small steps instead of forcing

positive thoughts. Making mental shifts isn’t about turning “I feel sad” into

“I feel happy.”  First off, if this worked, general anxiety would be far easier

to treat and could be thought out of existence. 

There will be times when, no matter how hard you try to change your thought pattern,

you can’t. And during those times, it’s important to remember that simply recognizing

the thought, or acknowledging it as mentioned above is enough.

Along with this constant scanning for threats, we are designed to use negative

information far more than positive information to inform our world.

When you think about this in the context of evolution it makes sense.

Survival depends more on spotting danger than enjoying the warmth of

a nice cave fire. And it’s not just that we gravitate towards using that negative

information; it even carries more weight. Negative thoughts are more powerful

in our brain processing than positive ones. In fact, researchers say that we require

more positive messages (at least five) for every negative one to

keep things on an uplifting trajectory.

 It’s become a more maladaptive function as we’ve gotten more technologically

developed and advanced. We can’t deal with things getting better,

so our fight-flight systems can make us respond to one another badly,

he says. It’s like a communal glitch in our collective existence.

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We lack compassion and see strangers as enemies rather than family.

We think the planet is vaster and more omnipotent than it is—

an illusion which will shatter badly if we aren’t thoughtful and wise,

as per many psychologist experts.

It’s a vicious cycle too. Basically, the brain becomes trained to look for

and recognize threats early both internally and externally, which leads

to greater attention to negative thoughts, re-enforcing them, and making them more frequent.

“Like a car engine running in neutral, the default mode network of the

brain runs an operating system that loops in more negative thoughts

and memories, which go around and round diminishing the functions of

the brain which could interrupt that looping,

The ramifications of this negative thought cloud can be detrimental.

“Obsessing over a negative thought can become such a focus it can be

difficult to engage with what’s happening in life,” says clinical psychologist

Kristin Naragon-Gainey, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in

The University of Buffalo’s Department of Psychology.

 “This can lead people to withdraw from who they’re with and what they’re doing.

” And not to mention, push other people away. “It can be harder to enjoy things

because you’re more tuned in to what could go wrong; it can create friction

with other people and fuel even more stress.” Dr. Naragon-Gainey says.

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 “Having negative experiences in childhood, as well as adulthood, may strengthen,

confirm, and/or create sticky expectations that the world is a negative place.

“Such expectations can come up as negative thoughts, which are defenses

against disappointment and other reactions, as well as simply accommodating

to the way the world really seems to be.

But, the good news is, you don’t have to be stuck in a negative spiral.

You can consciously work to turn that mentality around.

And it starts by recognizing your negative ways of thinking.

·  Imagine a stop sign literally. This can help put the brakes on the negative

thought as it strikes. “This kind of visualization of a literal diversion can

help move your attention away from negative thoughts,” Dr. Brenner,

PhD says. You can also try distracting yourself—listen to music, go for

a walk, imagine a positive memory, call a friend. “Switching to another

task where you can get absorbed in something more efficacious helps

build self-esteem and give you a realistic positive reappraisal.” he says.

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Be curious, not self-critical. This is a way of being kind to yourself when

uncomfortable thoughts come up. “Giving yourself a compassionate pause

can serve as a distraction, an interruption, and a way to change the activity

of brain networks,” Dr. Brenner says.

Studies show, over time, compassion-based practices, such as giving yourself

a positive affirmation like, “I’m doing the best I can,” or “I’m being really hard on myself,”

can help a great deal to change the way the brain responds to negativity

by reducing self-critical thinking and anxiety.

Pay attention to the thought itself. Did you ever realize, the more you try

not to think about something, the more you, in fact, think about it?

“When people try to push negative emotions away, they unintentionally

grow stronger,” Dr. Naragon-Gainey says. Studies show being mindful by

honoring and accepting the thought and trying to work through it in

a constructive way can help resolve the underlying issues.

“Practice noticing the thought without jumping to judgement,”

she says. Try to understand why thinking this way is problematic.

Say things like, “Is this thought accurate? Is this thought helpful?”

Taking a cognitive perspective can help you cultivate more accurate and helpful ways of thinking and feeling.

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One gradual habit can become a powerful mental tool

With most external wounds, treatment is usually pretty straightforward.

For instance, when you cut your finger, you can use antibacterial cream and

a bandage, and after some time, the wound will close. You’re pretty much good to go.

Treating your thought processes isn’t as easy or prescriptive.

Especially if they stem from general anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition.

Negative thought patterns are like a paper cut you keep getting when

you have only a vague idea of what’s causing it. Or maybe you don’t notice

the cut at all… until it starts to sting. Each person, depending on their condition

and triggers, will require different approaches to medication, psychotherapy,

and lifestyle changes. And when therapy is out of reach, it can be difficult to get fast treatment.

One gradual habit that might help is making mental shifts

Shifting the way you think means you’re consciously stopping an established

thought pattern. You re-evaluate how you reflect on a situation, or even what you

think about, to focus on something else. It’s like switching gears in your brain

so your train of thought isn’t just looping and looping. 

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In a lot of ways, this is about undoing a lot of negative behaviors and mental

programming you may have learned from others. For example, if you grew up

thinking you had to be the best in school and life, you’re likely programmed for stressful perfectionism.

Making a mental shift is a way to combat your anxiety and stress,

or snap out of winding thoughts. Learn the most common thought patterns,

how to recognize automatic negative thinking, and ways to reorient and give

yourself the kind and constructive consideration you need.

If your thoughts include “should”, take a pause

“I should do, act, or feel better.”

“I should go to the gym every day.”

“I should eat healthier.”

“I should stop thinking this way.”

It’s not that the intentions behind these thoughts are bad.

Depending on your situation, it can be healthier to eat more whole foods

and go to the gym. What’s potentially damaging is the word “should.”

This can trigger guilt and send you down a frustrating path of spiraling

negative thoughts. Stop leading your thoughts with “I should”

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Should statements can contribute to anxious thought patterns because

they put a demand on you that’s sometimes impossible to live up to.

Everyone makes mistakes.

Instead of…………. Try,,,,,,,

I should go to the gym every day.

I will try my best to go to the gym every day. Here’s how…

I should eat healthier.

I can eat healthier today by doing these things…

I should stop thinking this way.

I see that I’m having anxious thoughts right now.

What’s a more credible thought? What would I tell my best friend?

I should be able to get on a plane without anxiety.

I wish I wasn’t so afraid of flying, but I accept that I’m working on

a solution. What can I do at this moment?

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And sometimes, feeling like you should do, act, or feel a certain way adds

just enough pressure that you end up procrastinating or avoiding a responsibility

or activity completely. For some, this just leads to more anxious thinking.

So, listen to your thoughts. Are you telling yourself you should do things?

What’s a kinder way of keeping yourself motivated to stay on track without

spiraling through a negative thought pattern? 

There’s no one right way to do something. Mistakes are a part of growth.

Try recognizing other patterns of automatic negative thinking Behind these

“should” statements, there may be a form of cognitive distortion known

as automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).

ANTs are your first thought when you have a strong feeling or reaction to something,

like a reflex rather than free thinking. They’re persistent and learned,

often repeating themes such as danger or fear. It’s common in anxiety and depressive thinking.

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For people with anxiety, ANTs make these themes the showrunner of your mind,

turning thoughts into paralyzing panic attacks.

However, recognizing ANTs isn’t that easy. After all, you may have had them your entire life.

Identify and tackle your ANTs by keeping a thought record

According to mind over mood a hands-on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT

workbook, you can do this by breaking down a scenario into three parts:

  • the situation
  • your moods
  • the thought or image that automatically springs to your mind

After you identify these, you need to actively change the thought

into a more productive, helpful, or wiser one.

1. What situation is causing your anxiety?

Creating a thought record is essentially putting your thoughts to the test.

Start by asking yourself who, what, where, and when.

This’ll help you describe what happened while sticking to the facts instead of your feelings.

  • Who were you with?
  • What were you doing?
  • Where were you?
  • When was it?

2. What’s your mood in this situation?

Describe your moods in one word and then rate the intensity of these moods

on a percentage scale that equals 100. For instance,

if you’re handing in a work project, your moods may include:

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  • irritated
  • nervous
  • guilt, perhaps if it’s being handed in late

In this case, if nervousness which falls into anxiety is your predominant mood,

you’d rate it around 80 percent. Irritation and guilt would then fill up the remaining 20 percent.

The percentage doesn’t have to be perfect just go with your gut.

The main point of rating them is to see how much of your thoughts

were influenced by a specific type of mood an anxious mood versus a guilty one, for example.

3. What are the automatic thoughts running through your mind?

This is the most important step in your thought record: List the

thoughts and images that popped into your mind relating to that situation.

Try to remember what you were thinking at the time.

Automatic thoughts can include:

  • I’m so dumb.
  • I’m going to mess this up.
  • Nobody likes me.
  • The world is an awful place.
  • I can’t cope with this.
  • I’m going to end up alone.

If you find yourself caught with ANTs like these, breaking down the situation into

“tasks” may help shift your mindset away from the predominant mood controlling your thoughts.

For example, evaluate why the situation is causing you to think

“I’m going to mess this up” before you begin.

If it’s a work situation, ask whether you’re afraid because of past projects that

have gone awry? How is this situation different from past projects?

Play out the worst-case scenario and see how you feel about it. Break

down your emotions and moods to see if your anxiety or automatic thoughts have any legs to stand on.

As you dig into the details, you might discover that this work situation is

independent of your past and future.

Identifying your automatic thoughts is the first step in gaining control

of your emotions. What are you telling yourself? Now how can you change it?

How can you change your negative thinking?

Once you discover your automatic thoughts, it’s time to put them on trial.

Is there evidence to support this thought? If this evidence is based on the

past, why does this apply to this new experience?

You want to focus on credible evidence not feelings or thoughts.

Then it’s time to focus on evidence that doesn’t support your thought.

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Let’s run through one to show you how it works.

Thought: I’m going to mess this up.

Credible evidence for my thought:

  • I made a mistake early on that set this project back by a few weeks.
  • I don’t have strong skills as a presenter.
  • I’ve never done this big of a project on my own before.

Credible evidence against my thought:

  • My manager and I discussed the timeline of the project and came to an understanding.
  • I’ve been practicing my presentation for over two weeks and have
  • practiced in front of a co-worker who gave me helpful feedback.
  • I know the topic, so I should be able to answer any questions that come up.

Now it’s time to find an alternative to your original thought

You have your evidence for both sides, so now it’s time to be a judge.

A helpful tip is to act as if you’re judging the thought of a friend rather than your own thoughts.

Now, you can find an alternative, more balanced thought.

This new thought will consider all of the evidence for and

against you and give your wiser mind a shot at running the show.

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For instance:

“I have made mistakes, but in general I work very hard.”

“I’m genuinely trying my best.”

“I’ve gotten good feedback so far and my manager trusts me to do this.”

Reminder: Everything can be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Find a place where you can pause and check-in with your thoughts to see where

in the process you may be able to give yourself a break.

Acknowledge the emotional roller coaster or burden when you experience it

Like recognizing ANTs, there’s also power in simply acknowledging that you

feel overwhelmed. Don’t automatically put yourself in defensive mode and

whirl into an anxiety tailspin. Whether it’s from stress, anxiety, or another

condition, the first step to combating mental strain is welcoming it.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would I ever welcome all the shakes

and jitters that take over my brain and body?

Because embracing it can take a lot less energy than dreading it.

Instead of using extra energy to forcibly fight back, realize that this reaction

means you’re encountering something that’s important to you. It also means

you may not have to force yourself to operate at 100 percent all the time. That’s exhausting.

Start focusing on your strengths- You should not pay too much attention

to your weakness. Don’t over think. If you focus on your positivity you

will start feeling good. Your negative thoughts will take a back seat once you

start practicing this. Think about something you like the most about yourself. 

You should be grateful and express gratitude- Not everybody has what you have.

Feel grateful for that and be satisfied with whatever you have.

Gratitude produces happy hormones in your body and makes you feel good about yourself.

You can also try making a diary and writing down what you think you are grateful for each day.

This way, every time you read your diary your body will be full of positivity and it will make you happy. 

Never judge anybody- If you judge people and compare yourself to others,

you will be filled with negative emotions. Judging someone and comparing is

a very toxic practice and you should not do it at all. You must learn to be happy

and satisfied with whatever you have or whatever you have achieved.

Judging yourself or others releases a lot of bad energy and makes you gloomy and depressed. 

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Practice meditation and salat- Meditation helps in calming you down and relaxes you.

It frees your mind of all the negative energy and makes you feel light from the inside.

Yoga and meditation are used to treat mental health conditions.

There are particular asanas in yoga that make you feel calm and composed.

If you are having trouble meditating, you can always listen to meditation podcasts

or slow and soft music. This keeps you relaxed and controls negative thoughts. 

Do not try to fight away your thoughts- Don’t push yourself too hard to eliminate

negative thoughts from your mind. It will make your situation worse and fill

your mind with pressure and anxiety. You will start feeling restless if you constantly

try to get rid of your thoughts forcefully. You must give yourself time to heal.

Give your mind and body the time to accept what is happening inside or around you. 

Divert your mind elsewhere- Learn to divert your mind elsewhere when you

think negative thoughts have started kicking in. Indulge in some work or maybe do

something you like. If you have a hobby then does that but don’t pay attention

to the negativity. The more you think about it, the deeper you keep going in.

Start dancing or singing or maybe sit with your parents or call

a close one for some casual chit-chat. 

Don’t bottle up your feelings- If you want to get rid of negative thoughts,

make sure that you don’t keep bottling them up inside of you.

Always talk about what you feel is going on with you.

Share your feelings with somebody you trust. It will make you feel lighter.

Talk to someone you think would understand. Vent out your

negative emotions and you will automatically start getting rid of

these negative thoughts that are running in your head. 

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Seek professional help if needed- Pay close attention to your thoughts and

symptoms and if you think they are going out of control you must seek

professional help. See a psychiatrist and take therapy so that the situation

does not get worse. You should always appreciate professional advice.

It is always helpful to talk to a doctor about your condition and he can advise you better than anybody else.

Thank you.

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