Toxic thoughts, or negative thinking, are something all of us have experienced at one time or another. These thoughts are neither productive nor true, but you might find yourself battling through a toxic cloud of negativity on a daily basis.
These thoughts can make you feel worthless, miserable, and misunderstood. So, how can you reduce these toxic thoughts? In this article, we’ll talk about how to identify negative thought patterns, and how to break the vicious cycle.
What Are Toxic Thoughts?
Toxic thoughts are negative thoughts. Ideas like, “I can’t do this”, “I’m worthless”, “none of my friends care about me”, and other kinds of self-doubting thoughts have a paralyzing effect on us, and create part of a vicious cycle.
Of course, a reasonable amount of self-doubt isn’t the worst thing in the world. Overconfidence - or even arrogance - can get a person into hot water. However, there’s a big difference between thinking: “I’ll need help for this task” and “I can’t do this because I can’t do anything right”.
The first thought is an accurate, productive self-assessment. You understand that you’ll need help with something, and the obvious next step is to find that help, so you can complete your task.
The second thought is negative, toxic, and paralyzing. Chances are, this kind of thinking will prevent you from getting the task done. You won’t seek help, and you won’t take action, because you believe that there’s no point.
Toxic Thoughts and Body Toxicity: Is There a Connection?
Toxic thoughts and negative thought patterns have a very real physical impact on our bodies.
The most obvious issue is that our mental health will suffer. Constantly feeding yourself lies and negativity about yourself is going to lead to low self-esteem and unhappiness. This can make us feel low and depressed, or even anxious about the future. Mental health issues can also cause physical symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, migraines, or even panic attacks.
People with low self-esteem or mental health issues may also start to neglect self-care and socializing. After all, what’s the point in caring for yourself if the voice in your head is telling you that you’re worthless? Why would you make an effort to spend time with your loved ones when the same voice is insisting that they don’t care about you?
This creates a vicious cycle of toxicity. We feel depressed, hopeless, and miserable, and so we aren’t likely to make positive decisions to improve how we feel. Positive thinking can become a thing of the past, and so the negative thoughts run wild. As a result, our situation only gets worse.
How to Reduce Toxic Thoughts
So, it’s clear that reducing toxic thoughts will have a huge positive impact on your life. But how can you go about reducing toxic thoughts?
Identify negative thoughts
Firstly, it’s worth noting that reducing toxic thoughts is easier said than done. Many negative thoughts are intrusive and involuntary, meaning that they can pop into your head without your conscious choice. Reducing and ignoring these thoughts is a learning process and one you might have to work at.
Start by identifying your negative thoughts. For example, if you make a mistake or say something wrong, the nasty little voice in your head might say: “You’re just like your mother.” Instead of allowing that idea to make you miserable, tell yourself that this is a negative thought and that it’s completely false. Even if you don’t fully believe that, say it anyway.
Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend.
A good rule of thumb is to treat yourself the way you would treat your friends. If one of our loved ones made a mistake, would you say to them: “Unbelievable. You’re fat, lazy, and ugly, and you can’t do anything right! You always do this!”
Of course you wouldn’t! None of us would ever say something like this to somebody we loved. In fact, it likely wouldn’t even occur to us to say something like this. Even if it was a serious mistake, we’d kindly and patiently help our friend work through the mistake and put it right.
We often treat our friends and acquaintances much more kindly than we treat ourselves. What would happen if you started talking to yourself as if you were a beloved friend?
Understand that negative thoughts are getting you nowhere.
It may sound obvious, but firmly telling yourself that these toxic, negative thoughts are completely unhelpful can make you feel better. When you identify toxic thoughts, remind yourself that this kind of thinking will get you nowhere.
This kind of thinking can help you to move on and work towards a useful solution, instead of pointless toxic thoughts.
Identify your triggers - and avoid them.
Certain people, thoughts, or situations can trigger a cycle of negative, toxic thoughts. It’s not always easy to figure out what sets you off, but spending the time to understand what triggers you is always worthwhile.
For example, if you have a bad relationship with your parents, you can come away from a visit feeling negative, with hurtful words buzzing in your head. Words hurt, and the people closest to us have the power to do the most damage.
Alternatively, long periods of isolation can leave us feeling alone and negative.
Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can focus on avoiding them as best you can - or confronting them. If a friend keeps saying or doing things that hurt you, unintentionally or otherwise, you could try having a serious, heartfelt conversation with them.
Lastly, it’s important to stay present in the moment. Mindfulness, deep breathing, and yoga are all great methods to clear your mind and bring your focus back to the now. Living in the past (and dwelling on past mistakes) is a recipe for toxic thoughts. It distracts you from happy times you could be having in the present, as well as your future.
However you choose to tackle your toxic thoughts, it’s important to remind yourself that your thoughts aren’t always right. We may take them at face value and for truth. Yet, the mind can certainly play tricks on us if we let it! Instead, focus on overcoming any toxic thoughts and stepping forward into a better and more fulfilling life.