A quick way to change your negative thoughts

. 3 min read
The All Mental Health Team

When you're feeling anxious or down on yourself in your life after sports, thought challenging can help.

For this technique, you can get a pen and paper and write down your answers, type them somewhere and save them, or just think or speak aloud. Whatever you do, make sure you complete each step with an answer that's specific to you.

Step 1: Identify the thought that's making you feel anxious or down.

If you're feeling a strong negative emotion now, focus on that one. If you're doing OK right now, think of the last time you felt really nervous, hopeless, agitated, or down.

Then, see if you can dig a layer deeper. What thought is underneath that feeling? We call those thoughts automatic thoughts, or "hot thoughts". They're automatic because we usually don't even notice we're having them. We just notice that we feel crappy.

For example:

Feeling: I'm feeling agitated.
Hot thought: My friends don't care about how important this is to me.

Feeling: I'm feeling hopeless.
Hot thought: I'll never feel a sense of purpose again.

Feeling: I'm feeling lonely.
Hot thought: Without my team, I have no one.

Step 2: Introduce other possibilities.

Okay, before we get into this, let's just be clear: you might be having a strong negative reaction because something bad is going on. So, we're not trying to pretend everything's okay, or that a negative thing is a positive one. But, introducing the shadow of a doubt can help you find more balance in your thoughts.

Let's take a look at those same examples.

Hot thought: My friends don't care about how important this is to me.
More flexible thought: It's true that I'm not quite getting the support I need, but I know that my friends care a lot about me. They might just not understand how hard this is.

Hot thought: I'll never feel a sense of purpose again.
More flexible thought: It's feeling hard to imagine right now, but it's possible I'll find something I care about again.

Hot thought: Without my team, I have no one.
More flexible thought: It's true that I'll never have anyone exactly like my team. But I do have a lot of friends and family that care about me.

All we're doing is zooming out, and seeing what else might be true. Usually we're unfair to ourselves when we're anxious, and we see things as entirely negative, or hopeless. Thought challenging can help us be a bit more flexible in our thinking.

Step 3: Notice how you feel.

Let's check in. Read your initial automatic, or, "hot" thought. Remember how you felt – the intensity of the emotion, what it felt like in your body...

Now, read your newer, more flexible thought. And notice the same: how intense is that emotion? What does it feel like?

For example:

Feeling: I'm feeling agitated.
Hot thought: My friends don't care about how important this is to me.
More flexible thought: It's true that I'm not quite getting the support I need, but I know that my friends care a lot about me. They might just not understand how hard this is.
Check-in again on feeling: I'm still feeling agitated, but not quite as much as before.

Hopefully, your newer thought leaves you feeling a little bit more balanced. (And it's okay if you feel the same – this process is something we have to practice over and over.)

Our feelings are not facts. But they do give us clues about what's going on underneath. Exploring and challenging the thoughts that make us feel bad can help us feel better over time.

Want more? Here's a deeper way to put your negative thoughts on trial.

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