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Notice unhelpful thinking habits and find alternative thoughts

When living with and managing a chronic illness, my thoughts and worries concerning my illness, medication I take and general low self esteem often take over and become overbearing and controlling. I personally spend a lot of time listening to my worries, believing that my thoughts are true and my inner critical voice takes over which is really unhelpful and unsupportive.

Whether you have an illness or not, sometimes your thoughts and feelings might feel extremely real. We all have thoughts running through our minds all the time, sometimes conscious and sometimes subconscious, and these thoughts are constantly helping us interpret our world around us. Without even realising it our thoughts are describing what’s happening, and trying to make sense of our surroundings. We are constantly trying to understand and giving our own meanings to everything happening around us.

We decide in our own minds whether something is good or bad, dangerous or safe, right or wrong and we come to these conclusions based on our previous experiences - our upbringing, our culture, religious beliefs and family values. We usually make very different interpretations and evaluations of the situations around us than others would. These meanings we give our external situations, result in physical and emotional feelings. Something happens around us, thoughts are triggered and particular types of thoughts tend to lead to particular emotions.

Automatic thoughts can be words, images, memories, physical sensations, or based on ‘intuition’ – like a gut feeling or just knowing.

They are;

Automatic - They just happen, popping into your head and you often won’t even notice them.

Believable – we tend automatically to believe our thoughts, not really stopping to question them. Thoughts are not necessarily true, accurate or helpful.

Habitual – our thoughts can repeat over and over, and the more they repeat, the more believable they can become, they can set off a whole chain of new related thoughts that lead us to feel worse and worse.

Ours – they can be quite specific to us, as previously mentioned usually because of on previous experiences, our upbringing, our culture, religious beliefs and family values. However, some thoughts are so out of keeping with all those things, and that can make them seem all the more worrying as we start to try and add meaning to why we have these thoughts.

I mentioned a great method in my previous blog called the THINK method which can help us to question our thoughts from an outside perspective which can sometimes help if you are getting into a spiral and allowing your thoughts to take over.

Unhelpful thinking habits

Throughout our lives, we tend to get into unhelpful thinking habits, they usually happen just before and during upsetting or worrying situations. Once you can identify your unhelpful thinking styles, you can start to notice them, then challenge or distance yourself from those thoughts, and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.

A few unhelpful thinking habits that we tend to move towards, can you relate to any of the below?

MIND READING - assuming that we know what others are thinking (usually about ourselves)

PREDICTIONS - believing we know what's going to happen in the future

MOUNTAINS AND MOLEHILLS - exaggerating the risk of danger or negatives and minimising the positives

MENTAL FILTER - when we notice only what our filter wants us to, and we dismiss anything that doesn't fit into this thinking. Usually only catching negative thoughts through the filter and dismissing positive or more realistic thoughts

INNER CRITIC - low self esteem, putting oirselves down, blaming ourselves for things which aren't our fault

BLACK AND WHITE THINKING - believing that someone or something can only be good or bad, right or wrong, can't see between the two

CATASTROPHISING - imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will or has happened

JUDGEMENTS - making judgements about ourselves, others, events rather than describing what we actually see or have evidence of

SHOULDS AND MUSTS - Thinking or saying "I should, I must" puts pressure on ourselves and sets unrealistic expectations

Turn around a bad feeling by finding alternative thoughts/ more balanced thoughts

Once you have related to any of these thinking habits which might not be so helpful, you can start to use alternative thoughts or thinking to challenge or distance yourself and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.

Write your thoughts down

Journalling your thoughts can be a great way to get your worries and stress down on paper. It can bring a sense of emotional relief to know that you have physically written it down somewhere else instead of having to keep it stores in your mind. Journalling can also allow you to observe your thoughts, feelings or worries once written down from an outside perspective or in a more reflective way, once the worries and thoughts have passed.

You can also look back at what you write each day as a natural observer to connect to what happened that day and why it made you feel the way you did. You can also write positive notes each day, things that you are maybe happy about, achievements you made or things which you are grateful for.

I have written about journalling and the positive benefits of writing down your thoughts, please feel free to return back to my Self Care Tips blog AUGUST Edit #4 where I discuss some daily journalling tips.

Keep it simple

Zen living is all about simplicity, being mindful and allowing yourself to be in the present moment with whatever you are doing.

In my previous Self Care Tips blog, I shared some ways that we can connect more towards a Zen way of living, be more present day to day, allowing us to distance from our worries and thoughts.

Let me know what you think

I hope that you have found some of these tips helpful. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any comments, feedback or questions!

I offer 1-2-1 yoga, meditation and mindfulness sessions, if you would like to book in a session you can send me an email

You are welcome to join an online class, all levels are welcome.

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