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Does this sound like you? It can happen to anyone. Perhaps you did not get the job you felt was a sure thing, and you begin to think you will never find a job. Maybe you give a wave and give a shout to your friend across the street, but she does not respond and you think you have done something to make your friend ignore you. These types of thoughts happen automatically, and if we ruminate on them long enough, we can work ourselves into an unhappy state.
These types of thoughts happen automatically, and if we ruminate on them long enough, we can work ourselves into an unhappy state. Research has shown that our body reacts physically to our thoughts and can therefore impact our mood. When we have a negative thought, the brain activates the limbic system (emotional centre of the brain). Your muscles become tense, you may feel hot or cold, tremble, increased heart rate, etc. Positive thoughts release chemicals that make the body feel good – muscles relax, heart rate decreases, etc. This is why cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be successful as a treatment for depression and anxiety. The therapy involves identifying unhelpful thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions), and learning how to achieve balanced thinking.
As with the examples above, you do not need a diagnosis to experience unhelpful thinking patterns. These patterns lead us toward biased decision making, that is we do not always consider an alternate view. Let us look at the friend example from above. Did you have an argument with the friend? If not, jumping to the conclusion that the friend is annoyed with you is premature. An alternate view (and probably more likely) is that the friend did not see or hear you because she was absorbed in her own thoughts. However, if you continue ruminating on what you did or could have done to cause the perceived slight, chances are you will end up feeling a negative emotion - anger, sadness, etc. The unhelpful thinking style here is called mind reading - we imagine we know what someone else is thinking. Overgeneralization is another unhelpful thinking pattern. This is the case with the job example. Seeing a pattern or making broad predictions from a single event is overgeneralization. One unsuccessful interview does not equal no job ever, if it did, many of us would be without work! Persisting with this line of thinking can lead to decreased self-esteem, feeling angry with the company for not hiring you, neither of which is helpful to you in your job search.
Take a look at your thinking patterns. Can you remember a time when the longer you thought about something, the worse your mood became, and perhaps made the situation worse? Chances are you can. If you find yourself engaged in an unhelpful thinking pattern, stop and take a minute. Is your perception of the event the only possibility? Try to look at the situation from a different angle. Write your thoughts down. Is there evidence to support the thought? Evidence that does not support the thought? What would you tell a friend if they came to you with the same example?
As we become more aware of our thoughts, we can have more control over them and how they affect our mood. Look to future blogs for more strategies to balance your thoughts and regulate your mood.
Find out more about the mental health support and psychotherapy treatments offered at Renew Neurotherapy