Repetitive negative thoughts are at the heart of the depressive experience.
There are three steps vital to reducing repetitive negative thoughts, according to Professor Hans M. Nordahl, an expert on psychological therapy.
These are (1) realising that brooding is a waste of time, (2) focus on the here-and-now rather than the past and (3) be wary of habitual distractions like drinking.
These strategies and many more are covered in my anxiety ebook.
1. Brooding is a waste of time
Professor Nordahl said that people…
“…often confuse ruminative brooding with problem solving, analysis or review, but unfortunately the content tends to be self-critical and self-focused and linked to negative experiences in life.”
It is easy to get attached to negative thoughts, Professor Nordahl said:
“We’re well equipped to develop anxiety and worry, because our minds are so capable of imagining things and our thoughts become facts.
Our capacity as humans to analyse ourselves or to anticipate threatening scenarios can be used in constructive ways but can have negative and unhelpful effects as well.”
Naturally, then, the first step is to realise brooding is a waste of time, Professor Nordahl said:
“Reducing ruminative brooding isn’t as difficult as it may seem, but there are a few prerequisites you need to know before you start.
The most important thing about brooding as a mental activity is to realize that brooding itself is a meaningless and useless activity.
It doesn’t help anything and has no calming or problem-solving effect.”
2. Focus on the here-and-now
Let the negative thoughts pass and focus on the here-and-now, said Professor Nordahl:
“Get involved in other more real-life things currently happening in your life.
If you focus on the here and now, the illusions – that is, the worry and brooding – won’t take hold as much.
The thoughts may continue to churn, but just let them be there and live their own lives.
Anything that isn’t given attention will gradually disappear on its own, and this also applies to one’s brooding.”
3. Be wary of habitual distractions
People use all sorts of methods to push negative thoughts away.
These include television, alcohol, gambling, computer games and so on.
In moderation, these can pass the time.
However, it is a dangerous trap to just try and push the negative thoughts away:
“Trying not to think of negative thoughts creates a recoil effect, because the brain has to keep track of what you shouldn’t think about, and those are the very thoughts you’re trying to avoid.
There’s plenty else you can use your brain on than brooding.
Take issue with your tendency to brood about yourself and your fate.
It’s your mental rocking chair, you’re not getting anywhere with it, and it’s wasting powers that you could instead use to live your life with others in the present.”
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Professor Hans M. Nordahl is at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Unit for Psychiatry and Behavioural Medicine in the Department of Neuroscience.