“You can’t stop negative thoughts from popping into your head, but you can choose to stop letting them control you and your life.” ~Lori Deschene
Some of us are more prone to negative thoughts. They start out subtle and quiet, a small voice in the background of your life, until suddenly they’re shouting at you that you’re not good enough. They shout so loud and so often you think it’s your own voice and you start to agree.
There was one day in particular, a few years ago, where this problem became clear to me.
That day (and week and year) felt like everything had gone wrong. Things had broken, things had spilled. Things had burnt, things had been destroyed. I hadn’t slept well, and I was in chronic, agonizing pain. My inbox was full of rejection letters, and I felt like a failure.
I was angry and frustrated and depressed.
I was a failure.
I wasn’t talented enough.
I wasn’t good enough.
I was a burden on those around me.
I could feel my body becoming more and more tense, my muscles seizing and my fists clenching. I had what I call “bad energy,” and I knew if I didn’t do something soon, I’d have a full-blown panic attack.
So I did what I’ve learned is the best thing to help calm me down: I went for a walk.
I shoved myself into a jacket and hat and hugged my body tight as I tromped outside, slamming the door behind me. What I really wanted to do was curl up in a ball and disappear, but I couldn’t let that happen because I knew it would spiral out of control. My thoughts would swirl and multiply, and I would cry and shake and scream and my body would be hijacked by these emotions for the rest of the day.
I’d been there before.
So I walked.
And I cried silent tears of anguish, feeling a deep sense of despair that felt like a weight hanging from my sternum, sliding along the ground like an anchor.
I stared down at the ground directly in front of me and trudged along from my neighborhood into the next one, listening to the unfiltered negative thoughts hammering in my mind.
I’m not good enough.
I can’t do anything right.
Why can’t I catch a break?
A sob escaped my lips with this last thought.
The negativity continued to peck away at me, and I continued walking and crying.
As I rounded the next corner, I looked up briefly at the horizon and came to a sudden halt.
I looked around and thought furiously about a concept that had just raced through my mind, so quickly I almost missed it.
I was being a total jerk.
In my mind there was this voice, my voice, saying all these mean things about myself, and I was just… letting it. I was letting it happen. Not only was I letting it happen, I was agreeing with it.
I was allowing those thoughts to have power over me.
I thought about if a friend or loved one had come to me and started saying these negative things about themselves, would I let them talk about themselves that way? No, I would try to remind them of all the good things and try to make them feel better.
So why was I letting myself do it?
A car honked and I leapt in the air.
The thought had struck me so quickly and so hard I had stopped walking in the middle of the street.
With a quick wave of apology, I began to walk again, this time a little more slowly as I was so focused on my thoughts.
I’m not a mean person, and there’s no way I would ever say the things I was saying to myself to someone else.
What would happen if I tried to flip the script and give myself praise instead? What would happen if I treated myself the way I would treat anyone else if they were saying these things about themselves?
So I tried.
I am strong.
I am capable.
I am loved.
No, I’m not, I’m a failure. I’m a burden. I’m not good at anything.
That negative voice wasn’t letting go so easily. It had become the dominant voice in my head for years without me realizing it, and it was used to being in charge.
I am worthless. I am not–NO.
I AM IMPORTANT.
I AM WORTHY.
I AM CAPABLE.
The negative thoughts kept creeping back in and I didn’t have much control over that, but I realized I did have control over how I reacted to them. I did have control over adding the positive thoughts to provide a counterbalance and help lift me out of the darkness.
I said no to the negative thoughts and continued with my positive affirmations. I let the negative thoughts flow through and focused my mind on the positive ones.
I am strong.
I have been through things most people can’t even imagine, and I’m still here.
My arms fell from the hugging myself position and were down at my sides, fists no longer clenched in anger.
I am talented.
I am accomplished.
I am worthy.
As time went on, I found myself walking with my head up, looking ahead, arms swinging, back straight.
I was calmer. I was more confident. I was thinking more clearly than I had in a long time.
I was happier.
When I got back to my own door and finished my walk, I was open and light. My muscles were relaxed, and I was ready to start my next project.
When I had started my walk that had seemed impossible.
What, exactly, had happened?
First, I recognized that my depression and anxiety were starting to take control of my body. I realized a panic attack or depressive episode was only minutes away, so I went for a walk.
I know a walk can increase blood flow, clear toxins, release endorphins, decrease inflammation, open up your lungs, and more. I know from experience and research that walking is one of the best things you can do for these issues, so I pushed myself to do it.
Second, I suddenly recognized that not only was I being mean to myself with my negative thoughts, I was letting it happen and allowing those negative thoughts to have control over me. I was letting that negative voice tear me down and giving it far too much credit.
I wasn’t being a very good friend to myself.
So, third, I challenged myself to say positive things in the form of “I am” statements. These statements can be extremely powerful in helping not just overcome your negative thoughts, but prevent them from becoming overwhelming, when you do them regularly.
You can’t always choose your thoughts. Sometimes those negative thoughts will pop into your head unbidden, and that’s okay. The important thing is you recognize that it’s happening and try to breathe out that negative energy, letting it flow through you, and turn your focus purposefully to your positive thoughts and intentions.
Now I start every morning listing off at least ten positive statements to try and overcome and prevent the negative thoughts before they even begin. And if they do start to creep in there, which happens, I do all the many things I know can help, like going for a walk, having good posture, using breathing techniques, stretching, and focusing on all the things for which I’m grateful.
You don’t have to let your negative thoughts take over.
It’s not easy, especially when they’ve become such a habit, but the good news is you can make new habits, ones that help you be a happier, healthier person overall.