There is truth in the saying: “How you think is how you feel.”
The mind is always on with a continuous flow of thoughts and ideas and our thoughts play an important role in our emotional well-being. Just as we sometimes go on automatic pilot when driving a car, we may not be aware of our own inner dialogue. This “self-talk” can either be supportive and calming or irrational or stress-inducing.
Thinking styles and interpretation of events can become negatively exaggerated or distorted and develop over time into a personal habit. If we think something often enough, we may begin to believe it is true; even in spite of evidence to the contrary. To assist with this, counselors might help a person to learn techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These strategies are designed to help us examine how we think in order to improve the way we feel. CBT can help us to break the cycle of negative thinking, feeling and resulting behaviors. With practice and reflection we are able to realize that feelings are not necessarily facts and we do have a choice to view our situation in a more helpful way.
My family tells me I always expect the worst. I don’t want to be like this, but what can I do?
Identifying our particular patterns in negative thinking helps us to neutralize the effect on our moods and behaviors. One common habit is to unreasonably magnify the negative and ignore any positives in a situation. Another habit is to think in catastrophic terms, expecting disaster to strike. The result is feeling helpless or hopeless. Because you already recognize what’s happening, you have a good opportunity to make positive change. Come up with a strategy to catch yourself in the act. When feeling distressed, do a thought check. Perhaps write down your thoughts and then ask yourself: is there another way to look at the situation? Am I over-reacting? Examine the evidence and redirect yourself to a more balanced and realistic view.
I feel OK when busy all day long, but at night, I zone out and my mind starts to dwell on things; it ruins my evening, so how can I stop?
What you describe is common. Throughout our day, we are occupied with activities, but as things slow down in the evening, a circular worry habit might start up. Thinking about problems can be helpful, especially if we are trying to put a solution in place. Unhelpful rumination, however, focuses only on the problem and not on the solution. When you notice repetitive or excessive worry creeping in, shift your focus forward to problem solve and identify the steps you might take to address your worry. Set a time limit. When your “worry time” is up, intentionally tell yourself: these thoughts aren’t helpful right now; I need my rest so that I can start fresh in the morning. Then, divert your attention to other enjoyable or relaxing evening activities. Sometimes you may have to work toward acceptance of a situation over which you do not have control. Practice thought stopping and redirection: “Stop, Breathe, Reflect, Choose, and Let it Go.”
Susanne Ringhausen, MA, LCPC, CEAP, is director of psychological services and EAP counseling for Saint Anthony’s Health Center. Susanne and her team of licensed professionals specialize in counseling for anxiety, depression, grief issues, drug alcohol abuse, marital-family conflict and psychological testing. For information, contact Psychological Services at 618-474-6240.