What’s the quickest way to get rid of negative thoughts and feelings?
In a nutshell acceptance of the negative thought will make it easy to work with.
That’s easy to say when they can feel too powerful at times and impossible to get rid of. I remember trying everything I could to think more positively as I was being told that was the antidote to my anxiety and the states of mind that came with it.
In fact it just made it worse.
I tried distraction, challenging and rationalising them but nothing seemed to touch the sides. This made me feel such a failure as surely I could get a grip and control my thoughts like everyone else seemed to be able to do?
What I didn’t know was that my limbic system which is responsible for my survival response and emotions was overstimulated and strained. This results in a limbic system hijack which left me feeling anxious and out of control, this repeatedly can cause physical alterations to the brain which scans are now picking up to show that anxiety and depression are physical conditions and not states of mind.
I call this an “injury” to the brain which is similar to a physical muscle strain. You wouldn’t try to heal a physical injury with some positive thinking, you would follow instructions from someone like a physiotherapist to help it heal.
The more you take pressure off your limbic and nervous system the easier it becomes manage negative thoughts and feelings. Over time this has a very powerful effect on helping healing anxiety and depression. Demanding 21st century living is adding too much pressure to our nervous systems so we need to take better care of ourselves or risk mental health issues.
Thoughts are not Dangerous
Thoughts are not real no matter how they feel, what they contain or how useful not they are. “Thoughts are just thoughts,” is my favourite mantra and most used mindfulness tool. I also know that deep in my subconscious it’s entertaining every possible future negative outcome it can for survival and wellbeing purposes. The more pressure there is on my nervous system the closer to the surface those negative predictions rise which can even trigger various levels of the fight or flight response too.
If you treat certain thoughts as dangerous then your limbic system will over react to them and anything similar.
Practise this with some thoughts which trouble you and build up in time to the stronger ones. It gets much easier and more automatic with time.
Instantly take pressure off your limbic and nervous system through slow and rhythmic focus on diaphragmatic breathing (down to the belly). Upper chest breathing sends signals to the brain you are in danger, to switch to safe mode you have to become a deeper breather down to the gut.
Welcome these negative thoughts as just thoughts and let them be where they appear which is usually in front of you, big in size and all blown out of proportion. This is something we evolved to trigger an adrenaline freeze, fight or flight response. Expecting them to come and embracing them changes your relationship with thoughts altogether.
Allow the thoughts to just be there no matter how tempting it is to judge, analyse or get rid of them. Accept any feelings that come with the thought no matter how strong they feel. Breathe deeply into those feelings, they are there to get you to act which is great for life and death situations but not for risks to your emotional wellbeing.
Option one – Move attention back to where it needs to be. If you are short on time or in the middle of something then by having an awareness of welcoming, allowing and accepting the thought doesn’t try to get rid of it. I can have negative thoughts, do this process and simply move my attention to something more important within seconds.
Option two – If you have time try and keep the thought there for as long a possible, breathe into it and if you get bored or distracted etc then keep bringing it back to refocus on it. You may notice your feelings with the thought getting weaker and the thought itself beginning to fade. This helps train the brain to no longer have such an issue with the thought and let the wise, rational and logical parts of the brain take back over. If it becomes harder to think of then your mind will return it’s attention to where it needs to be.
Option three – Not everyone can do this but have a go anyway to see if this works for you. Bring the negative thought into focus. If it appears in right in front of you to try and trigger a survival response then breathe into the thoughts which is just a thought and gently move it away from you. If it helps to visualise it on a screen slowly moving back to give you space then do that. Slowly shrink it and lower to the floor if you can as this helps train the brain to reduce the importance of this thought.
Repeat as needed.
Work still has to be done to continue taking pressure off your limbic system for you to feel more in control and you may find this article useful to keep that going.