We recently examined the negative thinking patterns that turn our thoughts sour, in Gloomy guts: 5 ways that negativity clouds our thinking. Today we’ll look at four simple ways we can break out of negative thinking and bring positivity back into our thoughts.
Meditation is so often recommended to people that are struggling with their mental health that it can start to feel like a cliché - and if we’ve tried it in the past and it didn’t work for us, the entire activity can seem pointless.
The simple truth is, the reason we always recommend meditation is: it works. The benefits are increasingly backed up by medical science as well as by meditation practitioners themselves. We now know that meditation directly activates and develops the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that acts as a brake on our frantic and negative thinking.
It also allows us to develop the ability to detach from our negative thoughts and watch them go by, as if we are in a lighthouse watching the coming and going of ships. The more we develop this ability, the better we are at avoiding being swept up in a wave of self-downing thoughts.
Think of it like working out, but instead of building your muscles, you’re developing your ability to slow down your thoughts, be calm and resilient. It might not work immediately, but the more you practice, the better you will get.
It can take a while to get the hang of meditation, but slow-breathing exercises can often work almost immediately. Breathing exercises calm down our central nervous system, which can become overactive when we get into a negative thought cycle. This can have the effect of slowing our minds down as well, and ultimately releasing us from its harmful loops. If we think of our minds like a runaway stallion, with slow breathing we can be like a horse whisperer bringing it back to a gentle trot.
Simply list a few things you are grateful for. You can make your list mentally, write it down, or record it as a voice note and play it back. Whatever works for you. You can share your list anytime in our peer support community's dedicated gratitude thread.
Releasing feelings of gratitude can soothe us and help us rest in a better mental state.
Remember, the things you are grateful for don’t have to be big things - anything that makes you feel good is worth noticing.
Similarly, practising compassion for others can lead us to a state of happiness. In fact, this basic idea is one of the tenets of Eastern spiritual practices. Simply say or write a series of statements beginning with “I hope”, which express your heartfelt desire for others to have some relief from their suffering. For example: “I hope my mother can have some relief from her back pain.” “I hope my neighbour can repair their relationship with their mother.” “I hope my daughter can finally get a full night’s sleep.”
Treat yourself kindly
Very often we talk to ourselves in ways that are incredibly cruel and critical - if any of our friends talked to us like that, we would probably stop hanging out with them (we might even unfriend them on Facebook!). Remember, all of us are worthy of self-compassion, and that our worthiness comes from the simple fact that we are all human, trying our best to negotiate life’s struggles. With that basic assertion of our worthiness, talk to yourself like a dear friend - with kindness, patience and love instead of judgement and anger.
Find your way
Everybody is different, and we all find different ways to bring a little peace into our lives. Start by practicing these, and then try to find your own! We would love to hear about what works for you.