I need to first point out, that I am not a doctor. I am not trained in mental health and I have no qualifications. What I do have is nearly 30 years of life experience when it comes to tackling negative thought cycles.
The trick to this is time. There is no quick or easy way to remedy negative thought cycles, but there are a few tools that you can use to help break a negative thought cycle at the stem in the moment or build a pattern of behaviours which evaporates the cycles almost completely from your life.
S0, here are 5 things to do every day to break your negative thought cycle
What are Negative Thought Cycles?
Before we get into the grit of this post, we should take some time to understand what negative thought cycles are.
Thought cycles are patterns of thinking that spiral downwards into a consistent place of negativity, apathy and depression. They are usually caused by anxiety, depression, stress, or other mental health problems. Poor mental health is very similar to poor physical health. You need to work on it every day to ensure your temple is ready for the day.
You should know that you're not alone with this.
The downside of this kind of thought pattern is that it can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and will suck you into the plughole of what you're trying to avoid in the first place. The reason for this is partly how your brain works - it fixates on danger and adapts itself to look out for these danger signs. So, the more often you're negative, the more you'll see the negatives and round you go.
It is why many people sadly get caught up in conspiracy theories and cycles of negative reflection. The world you create in your mind, is ultimately the world you see.
An example of this is quite close to home for me. I was bullied at school and people made fun of me. I thought: nobody likes me, it made me feel sad and angry. It made me feel bad about myself which started to make me worry about meeting new people. So I withdrew and I noticed that fewer people wanted to be around me, which, to me, was confirmation that nobody did like me. I was right. I had the negative thought that I must be strange or ugly or something - which made me worry and feel terrible. So I changed my appearance and the cycle went around and around. Even long after the bullying stopped I still felt worthless, was crippled by anxiety and was prone to depression and lethargy.
The world around me wasn't horrible - my brain was looking for confirmation of my negative emotions. It took years to break this habit, and I still work to right negative thoughts today.
Without more fluff, here are a few of the things I do to break my negative thought cycles.
Simple Ways to Break Negative Thought Cycles
Thank Your Monkey Brain
There are a few theories which reference the same thing. The origin of 'The monkey brain' comes from Budisim and refers to the part of your brain that is confused, unsettled and scared. When you're having an anxiety attack it is usually the monkies fault.
I like to think that there are three important parts of the brain - the input (simply and mechanically registers information), the monkey (the primal, instinctual reactional part) and the human (the part which brings the two together).
A good way to explain this is when you have a negative thought, or something bad happens.
The information from your eyes and ears is picked up by the input and the monkey is hard-wired to have a reaction you can't control. It will throw its arms around in panic and set about a physiological response to protect itself from danger. But what happens when the danger is not real and simply perceived?
The monkey brain was handy in the jungle as an instantaneous defensive alarm system so you can react to a tiger, or a lion, but not so handy when somebody calls you names on Twitter. The human part of the brain's job is to assess the situation, understand exactly what is going on and to set a course of action. When your monkey brain goes wild take a second to use your human brain and ask: "Is this real or logical?", "Are these thoughts causing, or because of, low self-esteem, anxiety or stress"? - "Am I in any real immediate danger here?".
In the moments that there is no real danger, thank your monkey brain for warning you and reassuring it that it isn't needed right now.
Keep Yourself Busy
The old sayings always ring the truest: "The devil makes light of idle hands". This is one of my favourite sayings today.
For many people, life is stagnant. There isn't too much to worry about so people tend to worry about things that ultimately mean nothing. These small problems become all-consuming. When your mind is allowed to wander freely it opens up the door for internal conflict. Internal conflict is the sinkhole to depression, anxiety and poor mental health.
It is a well-known technique, but I personally find that keeping myself busy in some way can help break a negative thought cycle. Whether I go to the gym, go for a walk, do a little bit of spring cleaning or journal, I try to do something relaxing which requires some kind of activity. You need to get up and move.
Distraction is sometimes needed to bring yourself away from negative thoughts and to get yourself into a space where you're thinking positively about a task. Just using your mind for a little bit can put things into perspective. Stop scrolling or consuming TV and do something.
Affirmations & Grinning
This is a very unusual one, but there is a literal method behind the literal madness.
Believe it or not, the act of smiling in itself can trigger a change in your brain chemistry. Researchers found that smiling tricks your brain into thinking it is happy, and it releases a cocktail of chemicals that precursor the feelings of happiness.
This practice has been linked with lowering stress, improving immune function and can break a cycle of negative thoughts. It sounds genuinely insane but it works.
Do it. When you're feeling pretty low or particularly negative, grin on your own like an idiot for 30 seconds. Do this a bunch of times and you'll instantly feel better. Keep doing this and the more you do it the easier things get.
The same goes for affirmations. They are old hat but repeating something makes it true. In the same way that your brain focuses on negativity when you repeat the same negative thoughts, your brain will become predisposed to positivity if you repeat, repeat, repeat. Afterall, it is better to repeat something positive than something negative.