Lately, I have been having a tough time and my thoughts haven’t been much of a help. I am doubting my own capacity to cope and ruminating on thoughts that are unhelpful and just generally don’t make things any better.
Fixating on unhelpful thoughts or getting caught in a negative thought spiral is commonly known as a thought trap. One harsh or unhelpful thought pops into your head and instead of being able to say ‘thank you brain for trying to protect me but I’m okay’ you end up rolling with the thought, believing it to be real and then following that thought to a whole set of worse and worse thoughts.
A good example of this could be waking up late for work and instead of accepting that you aren’t perfect and sometimes wake late deciding you can’t do anything right and you will never be able to be a punctual person.
Thought traps are incredibly common and because recurring thoughts become easier and easier for your brain to get to quickly they start to feel like reality. Luckily there are things you can do to recognize and combat thought traps and create an easier life for yourself.
Recognize your recurring unhelpful thoughts
If you don’t take the time to recognize the unhelpful thoughts that trigger you then you are doomed to have your thoughts become automatic places your brain goes to at the slightest trigger. If you have automatic thoughts, or unhelpful stories that you regularly replay in your head, then you will begin to perform thoughtless reactions. Thoughtless reactions become constant feelings/states of being, which then become more stressful, anxious, trying, angry or sad ways of life.
Create some distance from your thoughts
Although we know that not all our thoughts are real or valid when we allow them to replay in our heads unquestioned and ruminate on them heavily our thoughts will begin to appear and feel like facts. Luckily, there are a few things we can do to create some distance from our own thoughts. One of the most helpful things to do is to learn to identify the thoughts that replay in our head most often. Usually the most harsh and unhelpful thoughts are not the ones we share with friends or loved ones but our most private thoughts. It might be hard but start to jot your harshest thoughts down along with any possible triggers, so you can begin to see thought patterns to tackle at a later date.
Remember a thought is not a fact
When working to combat thought traps it can be incredibly helpful to remember that a thought houses a very small kernel of truth that is completely surrounded by a shell of interpretation. Interpretation is the enemy of our peace. The assumptions, inferences, predictions and conclusions that embody interpretation are what we get wrapped up in and what tends to cause us pain, anxiety and stress. Being able to recognize our interpretations and how they might harm our peace is crucial to finding more balance in our day-to-day lives.
Acknowledge that the brain has a negativity bias
Your thoughts run toward the negative naturally, everyday you anticipate and focus on the worst because that is how evolution has hardwired humans for survival. It is important not to get too down on yourself for your brains negative function or negativity bias, it’s there to help you identify the negative faster in order to protect you from danger. A good way to feel more in control of the negativity party in your head is to begin a practice of thanks. When a negative but not necessarily helpful thought pops into your head pause to acknowledge it and thank your brain for the thought but remind yourself that you are okay and the thought is unneeded.
Take your power back and swap your thoughts
Although, we all have the ability to move towards the negative and to focus on thoughts and feelings that are unhelpful to our wellbeing; we also have the ability to change things up and learn new behaviours or bias towards more helpful thoughts. We can do this by focusing on what is working well instead of what is going wrong. Examining the negative thoughts we are having and prompting ourselves to find something that we have done well in the scenario or finding a new way to view the situation that is more helpful can be very freeing. By swapping our negative thoughts for more positive and helpful ones we can be more in charge of our mental wellbeing and have an easier time coping with the normal challenges of everyday life.