Everyone feels stressed and has negative thoughts from time to time. Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt happen periodically, and it is normal to feel unsure of yourself or discouraged on occasion.
If, however, these thoughts have escalated into a steady, daily stream of overwhelming and unbearable negativity, this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Once the thoughts surface, they can be tricky to get rid of. And you may find yourself feeling trapped and fighting against the cruelty of your own mind.
What Are “Unhelpful Thoughts?”
Because our world seems to operate at top-speed every single day, more and more people find themselves struggling with feelings of anxiety. Never-ending to-do lists and societal pressures to stay constantly busy have impacted our ability to feel accomplished or find a sense of peace.
While mild amounts of worry and stress are actually good for us and help keep us on track, they can quickly grow to become too much of a good thing.
Scientifically, we use terms such as “cognitive distortions” and “maladaptive cognitions” to describe patterns of ceaseless, unproductive, and unhelpful thoughts. These cognitive distortions are found in our own minds and through our own perceptions. They lead us to believe extreme, all-or-nothing statements that are toxic and addictive. In turn, such statements cause us to feel increasingly anxious, depressed, and helpless.
What Do Unhelpful Thoughts Look Like?
Unhelpful thoughts will look different to every person who experiences them, but the general undertones are the same for all who suffer. The negative thoughts typically occur as overgeneralized, blanket statements. For example, “I have never done anything right” or “I am a terrible person.”
Certain events, such as a social activity, failure at work, romantic rejection, or financial mistake, can trigger unhelpful thoughts.
Some common cognitive distortions connected to these events include:
- “I did not get asked to the dance, so I am unattractive and no one will ever love me.”
- “I was late to work this morning, which means I am a terrible employee and should be fired.”
- “My friends have perfect lives and never make mistakes.”
- “I did not get anything done today. My life is a total waste.”
Fighting Against Unhelpful Thoughts
Unhelpful thoughts are extremely real and extremely challenging to combat, but finding peace is possible.
To fight against unhelpful thoughts, one must first recognize them for what they are. A common tactic used to manage anxiety is called cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT. CBT techniques aim to shift perspective and challenge the accuracy of negative thought patterns.
Approaches such as the “Triple Column Technique” developed by clinical psychiatrist Dr. David D. Burns teach patients to recognize their “automatic,” initial thoughts and to then challenge each thought on paper with a rational response. This technique uses three separate columns to 1) identify the distortion, 2) recognize which specific type of distortion it is, and 3) reword the distortion in a more realistic, accurate way.
Visualizing cognitive distortions and challenging these negative thoughts visually may work well for some. Others may need to try alternative methods before finding success.
Other effective ways to fight against unhelpful thoughts include:
- Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and total body relaxation
- Anxiety treatment through psychotherapy and possible medication management
- Journaling your thoughts and frustrations
- Surveying trusted friends, family members, coworkers, and peers about their opinions and insights about your negative thoughts
- Challenging yourself to think in “grey” rather than simply “black and white”
If you feel plagued by unhelpful thoughts, there is hope of reducing them. We can discuss the best course of treatment for your particular struggles during a 55-minute initial consultation session at my Beverly Hills, CA practice. With the right treatment, over time, your unhelpful thoughts will decrease.
To get started, contact my office today or read more about my approach to anxiety treatment by clicking HERE.