There is a quote, “You will never speak to anyone more than you speak to yourself - in your thoughts. Be good to yourself.” During times of stress, like during this pandemic, it can be hard to be good to yourself, especially in your thoughts. In turn, these negative thoughts often create even more stress.
So, what do you do? You find ways to balance the negative thoughts with positive thoughts, teaching yourself to think realistically:
Identify: The Mayo clinic suggests that in order to balance your thoughts you need to examine your self-talk, be aware of all the thoughts running around in your head. Do your thoughts tend to focus on the negative and forget about all of the positive things happening? Do you often blame yourself when things don’t go as planned? Do you anticipate the worst or only see things as good or bad and no in-between? If you answered yes to any of the above, these are negative thoughts. And, these thoughts can instinctively consume you and keep you from seeing other options and choices around you, causing you more stress.
Challenge: Challenge any negative thoughts. Oftentimes, they make you think something bad will happen, when it’s not. Ask yourself, am I blowing things out of proportion? Am I really angry about the situation, or am I anxious about something else? Avoid falling into thinking traps, which are unfair or negative ways of seeing something. Ask yourself, what would I say to someone if they had the same thought?
Develop habits of positive thinking:
- Tell yourself “STOP!” when negative thoughts pop into your head: Redirect your thinking to something positive - ex. “I always make mistakes”. STOP. Reframe it to something like, “I can do xyz well.” Or, “I can’t do this.” STOP. Reframe to, “I will try a different way to make this work.” Use coping statements and words like warm, happy, peaceful; and, avoid using negative words like can’t, mad, and never. Follow the rule that you never say anything to yourself that you would never say to someone else
- Express Gratitude: Take a few minutes each day to think about things you are grateful for - whether it’s a cup of coffee, finding a favorite pen, loving your pet, receiving a kind word from a friend, or that the sun is shining. In fact, you can be grateful for the same things day after day; what matters with this exercise is that you take time to recognize things in your life that bring you joy (no matter how big). If it helps, keep a gratitude journal so you can reflect on what makes you happy.
- Allow yourself to smile: Allow yourself to find humor in everyday things. Surround yourself with people who you enjoy and can spark some laughter into your day. Do something each day that makes you smile. Allow yourself time to play.
- Accept what you can and you cannot control: You cannot control the weather, but you can control how you will handle it. This goes for several other things in your life.
Finally, practice. It’s going to take time to learn how to balance your thoughts. Practice being gentle with yourself, learning to think more positively and realistically does not happen overnight. Be persistent, practice and the change will come.
With all of this in mind, understand that sometimes bad things will happen. And, it’s okay to not force yourself to think positively about these things. Name what’s wrong, but don’t let it consume you into thinking that everything is now doomed. This isn’t about completely cutting out the negative thoughts, but finding a balance, teaching yourself to think more realistically; ultimately, to be good to yourself.