If you are anything like me you constantly find yourself distracted by repeated thoughts of the future and all the possibilities that can occur. This “futuristic thinking” can soon turn into rumination (repeatedly thinking over a particular subject that is negative or bothersome) and eventually a cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are distorted or dysfunctional ways that we think about events in our lives. For many of us, engaging in negative thought patterns (whether we are aware of them or not) often result in fatigue and high levels of stress.
For many of us (especially caretakers, family members, or friends of those with a chronic mental health condition), negative thought patterns often lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and high levels of stress.
Sustaining a balanced perspective about what is currently transpiring in your life is often difficult to do when nothing in your world seems positive or when you are constantly faced with challenges. That giant just seems too tall to tackle. But I’ve learned through both personal and professional experience that there are 3 major patterns of thought humans engage in while under extraordinary stress and emotional strain:
- Magnification (you exaggerate the importance of things). Ruminating or repeating the negatives of an event over and over in your mind is magnification. You are making the situation bigger each time you think about it.
- Emotional reasoning (you assume that the way you are feeling, truly reflects the way things are). You feel hopeless or stuck. You begin to feel depressed or useless and slip into a depression. Just because you feel this way doesn’t mean this is an accurate view of your situation or your future.
- Should statements (this is basically “self-talk” and can really influence your emotions).
-“I should know so much more about mental illness”
-“I should be able to handle this stressor”
-“I should be stronger than this”
The above cognitive distortions can result in reduced levels of confidence and hope. Distorted thinking patterns are narrow and do not allow a balanced view of the events occurring in your life. This is why it is important to have something or someone who can help you gain (and maintain) a balanced perspective. There are things, however, you can do on your own to combat the 3 major poor thinking patterns listed above:
- Reflect: Take time to reflect on the situation and your thoughts. Challenge yourself by questioning whether there is “evidence” for how you view the situation. Is the evidence sound evidence? Could you possibly perceive the situation in another way?
- Move: Engaging in exercise (yoga, Zumba, aerobics, jogging, etc.) is a great way to free your mind and free yourself from the chains of worry, stress, and depression.
- Eat: Healthy eating is essential especially for about 80% of the time. Try to eat something healthy with each meal to start off slow (yams, spinach, greens, wheat, oats, etc.) and then add healthy food to your diet 80% of the time and have treats 20% of time time. This has worked for me!
- Groove: Music and dance are great expressions of emotion and have a way of removing you from stress and worry. Turn on something you like and let the music take your mind away from you present moment.
- Self-sooth: Activities such as warm baths, walking slowly in the park, covering up in a soft blanket, hugging a stuffed animal, etc. are self-soothing techniques that can offer comfort.
Distorted thoughts can truly affect your emotions, outlook, and behavior in negative ways. These thoughts can also disrupt your daily life, your positive relationships, and even your future opportunities. Try to combat cognitive distortions with things you like to do and can easily implement into your weekly schedule. This is known as self-care. Self-care is a great way to pamper yourself back into a healthy way of thinking and existing in the world. You should make self-care a natural part of your daily, weekly, or monthly life. Try to treat yourself well during times of extreme stress, worry, depression, and anxiety.
As always, I wish you the best
photo credit: Vassiliki k.