Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Don't Feed the Negativity Conclusion

I spent a wonderful 4 days in London this month. The trip was filled with highs, like getting to see St Paul's Cathedral, The Natural History Museum, the Globe Theatre and so many other places form my bucket list. But I had my moments of negativity as well. When travelling, these thing are to be expected. It’s not plain sailing, you are navigating a foreign country (even if that country is your next-door neighbour), and it is naturally stressful to be away from home comforts.
With my favourite part of London
But I often overreact in stressful environments. I find it difficult to deal with failure and mistakes at home; but when overseas I ended up having panic attacks when things didn't go my way. When I took a wrong turn in my quest to find Victoria Street and ended up in I-don’t-even-now-where in the middle of London I was consumed by fear, anger and disgust (at myself).
Or when I bought the wrong rail tickets to the airport from a self-service machine, I felt like the world’s biggest failure.

I called myself stupid and an idiot. I described the events as inevitable when you’re someone like me. I ticked off three or four of Dr David Burns’ negative thought patterns as I internally and externally attacked myself.

Everything I had been writing about for the previous few weeks, tips for identifying, managing and eradicating negative thoughts had been erased from my mind.
Reading the books, learning the actions, putting them into practice – they don’t fix you. They don’t stop the negative thoughts. All that we rehearse is often forgotten in that moment of fear and anxiety.
I saw this month’s resolution as a way of solving my problem with negativity. But there is no quick-fix.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Remove Yourself from Toxic Environments

Certain experiences aren’t good for our mental or physical health. When we find ourselves in a situation, a workplace or even a friendship that is having a negative effect on our mental health we owe it to ourselves to remove ourselves from that environment.

Trust me, I know that leaving toxic environments is tough. And it often requires a level of self-worth and self-respect that doesn’t come easily to a lot of people, including people with a mental illness.  
But there have been many times where I have had to make the decision to cut negativity out of my life. Here are some examples of why I had to and how I did it.

A couple of years ago I started work in a small office with other people around my age. I loved my co-workers, we all got on so well, bonded by the one thing we had in common – dislike of our manager. Feeling undervalued, unappreciated and often subject to tirades, rants and inappropriate and sexist comments I began to resent my job. The only thing that got me through each day was the close friendships we quickly formed. But friends weren’t enough to make me want to stay. I’d come home at the end of each day exhausted, feeling worthless and belittled. I started to believe what my manager was saying to me – I was inexperienced. I would never get a job anywhere else.
But with some encouragement, I started trying to prove my manager wrong. I started applying to other places, to recruitment agencies. I had an interview that didn't go so well. I thought, 'my manager is right, I can't do this job.' Two days later I got a reply about another position. The next week I had an interview, and the next day, a job offer. 
Making the decision to leave that negative work environment allowed me to find other, better-fitted-to-me, opportunities. It also made me a much happier person. While my new job had challenges and learning curves too, I was in a supportive environment that allowed me to develop confidence in my own ability.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Negativity Busters

I’ve been writing a lot about reading about negativity this month. There have been reviews of self-help books and posts about what I've learned from other books and sources. But today I’m going to share something a little different with you.

Introducing my own negativity busters.

These are the things I turn to help me when I'm consumed by a negative feeling, thought or belief.  
There was much to feel negative about this month.
A bird pooped on my head (the first time since I was a young thing in primary school) in public. I made a huge error and failed to own up to it. I had awkward stand-offs with friends where none of us would admit our own faults. I felt self-conscious and unworthy. And in all of these instances I turned to the below to help me feel better. 

When I feel overwhelmed and stressed I often turn to my blog for release. There's something therapeutic about being able to write about a recent event or incident that's been getting me down. I've been dipping in and out of 'Opening up by Writing it Down' by James W. Pennebaker and Joshua M. Smyth over the past few months. Pennebaker and Smyth argue that divulging your story is good for your mental health. The act of confessing reduces stress and anxiety. They argue that expressive writing can also influence your perception of your own health. I have to say, that has definitely been my blogging experience.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Welcoming Negative Thoughts

Dr Claire Hayes' welcoming approach to life's challenges promises to transform your way of thinking.

Tackling my negative thoughts is my main aim for Don't Feed the Negativity month; but Irish psychologist Dr Claire Hayes says our reactions are just as important.
"Because you are defined not by life's imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. And because there is joy in embracing - rather than running from - the utter absurdity of life." - Jenny Lawson
'How to Cope: The Welcoming Approach to Life’s Challenges' by Dr Claire Hayes, the clinical director of mental health organisation AWARE, introduces coping techniques to readers who experience depression, anxiety stress, or just overthinking. Published in 2015, Dr Hayes builds on the work of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to discuss how our thoughts affect what we believe and how we feel. Instead of defeating these thoughts, Dr Hayes suggests we welcome them instead. Framed around examples from her clinical practice, 'How to Cope' is an accessible approach to implementing CBT practices.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Defeating Negative Thoughts

"If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of you like sunbeams and you will always look lovely." - Roald Dahl
Having introduced you to the types of negative thought patterns last week, today I'm exploring how we can turn these negative thoughts into positives.

Our thoughts offer constant commentary and judgments about ourselves and our actions. But it is important to remember that you are not your thoughts and your thoughts are not true. Changing our thinking is hard, but if it means unhealthy thoughts can be defeated then I'll give it a go.
"We are the ones who create the messes in our heads. It does not come from outside." - Paulo Coelho
David Burns' The Feeling Good Handbook does suggest a number of ways to challenge your thoughts once you have identified them. He  tells us to examine the evidence for our distorted thoughts, talk to ourselves how we would to a friend, and to survey others about your thoughts.

There are numerous books built around challenging negative thoughts. Many authors refer to these thoughts as self-talk; the way in which we talk to ourselves.

'Self-Talk for a Calmer You' by Beverly D Flaxington urges readers to make a personal plan to keep track of your negative self-talk.

Steven Andreas' 'Transforming Negative Self-Talk: Practical, Effective Exercises' states that refocusing your attention and focusing on the present can defeat negative thinking.

Taking all these books and tips, here's how I defeat my negative thoughts.

Defeating my Negative Thoughts

Friday, 5 August 2016

Women Who Think Too Much

'Women Who Think Too Much' by Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

I am a constant worrier. My last thought as I go to bed at night is my to-do list for the next day. Don't forget to do this. I hope this doesn't go badly tomorrow.

I spend most of my time worrying, thinking, over-analyzing. Sometimes I spend so long in a tangent of thoughts I forget where I am and what I am supposed to be doing.

Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema calls this overthinking. Her research shows that women (as the majority of overthinkers in Dr Nolen-Hoeksema's study were women) think too much too often and this leadis to higher incidences of stress, anxiety, sadness and depression.

Worrying is predominantly a female problem, and it seems to correlate to the higher rates of depression and anxiety in women.
"When you overthink, you go over and over your negative thoughts and feelings, examining them, questioning them, kneading them like dough."
Overthinkers repeat the bad things - a throwaway comment from a coworker about mental health, or a family member's comment about your weight - over and over in their heads. The more you repeat something, the more true it can feel. In this way, overthinking causes inherent damage to your mental health.
As an overthinker, my thought process often goes something like this:
"I can't think of anything to say or talk about...people will think you're stupid and boring..Now you're scratching your arm...people will know you;re crazy...Can you see my cellulite?"
Jumping from one negative comment about myself to another, the majority of my overthinking relates to how I think others perceive me. I can feel so paranoid about my shyness, my appearance, and my mental illness that the everyday act of meeting someone new can become blown out of proportion and into a life or death, make or break scenario. I am forever jumping to conclusions about what people may really think of me. 

But how do you stop it?

If you identify yourself as an overthinker, this book has some great strategies for helping you work your way through it. 

Nolen-Hoeksema suggests the following tips:
  • Give it a Rest
  • Get up and Get Moving
  • Hand it Over
  • Lean on Others (Meditation and Exercise)
  • Bolster a sense of self
I really enjoyed the book and left that I could relate to many of Nolen-Hoeksema's examples and case studies. The tips seems somewhat simplistic when listed above, but trust me, with individual chapters dedicated to each one, Women Who Think Too Much not only effectively notes the excessive negative thoughts women in this day and age face, but also has time to show you ways to defeat these thoughts too.

Women Who Think Too Much by Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema can be bought in all good bookstores or online. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Identifying Negative Thoughts

Up first on my Don't Feed the Negativity task-list are my thoughts.
I'm not saying all my thoughts are 'bad' thoughts. There are some good ones in there. Like, sometimes I'm happy with an outfit choice I've made. Or I really liked a blog post I've just finished.

But as I said on Tuesday, these good moments can get lost in a sea of negative thoughts.

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts." - Marcus Aurelius
David Burns' The Feeling Good Handbook is like the bible of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (more on this topic shortly). I bought this book based on a psychiatrist's advice years ago and clung to it as my lifeboat when my psychiatry sessions ended. Seriously, if you want to work through negative thought patterns, this is your go-to book.

For today's post, I'm going to concentrate on the ten types of cognitive distortions Burns identifies in his book.

How to identify negative thinking

Cognitive thoughts are irrational or distorted thought patterns. They are often repetitive and hurtful. They can remind you of your failures, mistakes, shortcomings, inferiority and incompetency. 
Ever listen to a song on an endless loop for hours? Thoughts can play out like that too. And hearing the same negative thought over and over again exacerbates symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

To defeat negative thinking like this, David Burns recommends correctly identifying the types of thoughts you are thinking so that you can challenge them. I've been using the list below to identify my hurtful and negative thoughts for years. Recognizing the patterns helps me to remember that my thoughts aren't necessarily real or true. 

David Burns' Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking

All-or-nothing thinking
You see things in black-or-white categories; there is only good or bad - things are either perfect or a disaster. There is no middle ground.

You see a single event, like making a mistake in your job, as another example of your never-ending pattern of failure. You justify this by saying 'always' (I always mess up) or 'never' (Things never go right for me).  

Mental filter
You pick out a negative detail and focus solely on out, filtering out all the other positive details or experiences. Burns states this darkens your vision of reality as you obsess on the one negative that has happened.

Discounting the positive
You reject positive experiences by saying they don't count (boy, am I guilty of this one). It leaves you feeling unrewarded and inadequate.

Jumping to conclusions
Without any facts to back you up, you interpret things negatively. This type of thought can take two forms. By mind reading, you assume that someone is acting negatively towards you. It's like presuming you know that everyone is thinking something negative about you. By fortune-telling, you predict that things will turn out badly.

Like holding a magnifier up to problems, you exaggerate your unwanted traits or problems while minimizing your positives.

Emotional reasoning
You assume that your negative feelings reflect the way things are. "I feel guilty about the mistake I made in work. I'm going to get in big trouble." Often, how we feel isn't actually related to the reality of a situation.

'Should' statements
 This type of distorted thinking is so common. You criticize yourself or others with 'shoulds' or 'shouldn'ts'. You tell yourself that things should be a certain way or you should have done better. Similarly, Burns says musts, ought tos, and haves are just as bad.

I am forever labeling myself. Stupid. Idiot. Failure. An extreme type of all-or-nothing thinking, you identify with your shortcomings. Instead of saying "I made a mistake", you say "I'm an idiot". 

Personalization and blame
You blame yourself when something bad occurs, even if that something isn't entirely your responsibility. You see things, even things outside of your control, as your fault and you personalize the blame and responsibility for something going wrong

Burns isn't the only CBT writer to come up with distorted thought patterns. There are others out there that you may find more relatable to your own thinking.

It's also important to remember that identifying and categorising negative thoughts isn't the last step to happiness. Next, you have to challenge your thoughts and learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking.

More on that in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Don't Feed the Negativity Introduction

"To tell the truth I never had it so good. But I lacked the strength of character to bear such joy." - Saul Bellow, Herzog

Sometimes all we see is the negative. Like yesterday. Yesterday I spent the majority of the day pondering the imminent implosion of all that's good in my life. It seemed inevitable that after months of high points, I was due a fall. I would lose my home, my job, my friends. I fear my mental illness means the good things won't last. These recurring fears are based on my lack of self-worth - I've been lucky so far. I'll be found out. I don't deserve any of this. I'm not 'good' so I don't deserve 'good' things.

The thing is, my life has never been better. This year has brought me endless good fortune in work, relationships, friendships and so on. But sometimes I can't see past the good for long enough to appreciate the good.

The negative can cloud our vision; especially when a mental illness is involved. My inner voice is very critical (I am my harshest critic) and it often turns good moments into something catastrophic. My self-esteem takes a battering every day; not from others, but from my own commentary and   judgments.

This month is about combating the negative. The negative thinking. The negative self-talk. The negative mindset. The negative situations and friendships.

To better appreciate the positives, I need to eliminate the negatives that are holding me back. To understand how to defeat negativity, I will first look at where it stems from. It will be a month dedicated to CBT and re-training my ever-so-critical mind.

Is it possible to reduce negative thinking and foster a more positive outlook? I certainly hope so.