Tamara F., LCSW, CCATP
Negative Thoughts are Contagious… Here’s How to Tackle Them!
As a therapist, one of the common things I hear from clients is: “Why do I think this way? Why can’t I see this situation differently? Why can’t I stop thinking this way?” So, please stay with me here, because in order to address these questions, I have to cover a few things; and work on tying them all together. Here we go!
There are many factors that shape and mold our thoughts: Our past experiences, teachings from family and parents, society and cultural norms, our environment; and most important of all, our interpretation of all of these factors. Have you had a chance to see the recent automobile insurance commercials, where they emphasize that we are becoming like our parents? If you haven’t, you aren’t missing much; but it serves to illustrate my point here. Whatever we are exposed to, familiar with, and whatever we hold and allow to be “our truth or belief,” physiologically shapes how information is processed and activated in the brain. In another words, whatever you allow to take up space in your mind, will ingrain itself, and activate a process of “programming” the content of your thoughts; which then triggers this domino effect, and continues to sustain our perception. I like to refer to this perception, as our “lens.” It starts with a thought, which then triggers a corresponding emotion and sensation “felt” by your body. Are you still with me?
So, how do we change that? How do we re-program it? Well, I experience extreme excitement in this area of psychology. I always offer clients the opportunity to learn how the brain and mind work as part of the therapeutic process, in order to educate them. I also find it that enlightenment and personal growth are magnified when we as individuals choose to look deeper into our “souls.” Let’s say, I have one foot in the neuroscience world; and one foot into the “soul” world. The combination of both, usually unlocks many doors within us. By the way, for the skepticals out there, the “soul” world I refer to, is actually a field in psychology as well, covered in the Transpersonal and Existential modalities.
What did I mean when I said “negative thoughts are contagious?” Well, basically, whatever we sustain, feed, allow, and engage, perpetuates in our brain as the process to be activated, generated, and passed on to connecting neurons as the content taking up space in our minds. So, if we don’t reframe our thoughts appropriately in order to engage an alternative, more beneficial thought, it will not only perpetuate the negative, maladaptive thoughts, but it will worsen them like a “domino effect.” We will in turn, become even more pessimistic, cynical, and hopeless… leading to increased symptoms of anxiety and possibly depression.
-So how, Tamara? How do we do it?
-Ok! (Oh my… I am carrying on a conversation here 😊)
First, we need to catch ourselves when we are engaging in a negative thought or belief. We may not notice ourselves doing it because it has become “normal” for us. Here is one way of “catching it” by working backwards. Notice how you are feeling emotionally and physically. Are you feeling upset, perhaps, anxious, or even nauseated? Then, backtrack and identify what you were just thinking about. It will begin to inform you of what was “taking up space in your mind.” Also, you may want to reflect on the feedback you may be getting from others. I am not suggesting that you start “worrying” about what others have to say about you… but it is often helpful to consider practicing the ability to be receptive to the feedback from those that care about us.
Once you identify the thought taking up space in your mind (if it is negative), practice “pushing yourself” to look at it from different angles and challenge its validity. What supports this being “true?” Are you reacting or responding to the situation? A simple moment to reflect on the nature of the thought, begins this road to transformation… this road less traveled. We cannot make lasting changes if we do not know what is “taking up space” in our minds. Make time to look within. Entertain a new thought… a thought of acceptance towards making changes and improving yourself. That tends to be where the answers usually are. I hope this provided you with some “food for thought.” Now go out there… and live the best life you can; because you are the only one who can determine what that is. Take good care!