For the first 41 years of my life I was plagued with something that made me feel anxious and depressed.
It ate into my everyday life making it a struggle to enjoy what I had. My life was good, on the whole, and certainly merited much greater gratitude from me but try as I might I just couldn’t get passed it…
Here I am with my beautiful children on a visit to Cambridge
University. We don’t exactly look happy, do we!
And yet my life and theirs was quite privileged. We lived in a
large house in West London and wanted for very little.
we lived. It is taken from the end of the very
large garden on one of the rare snowy days in
I remember summer days spent playing our version of cricket in that garden, my children, my husband, my mother-in-law, my parents and me. How lucky we all were to be together in such a lovely place.
I look back on those days with fondness, with recognition for what I had and an understanding of why I wasn’t happy.
The thing that had plagued me for so long was my own negative thoughts. They were constantly in my head and this meant that even when life was going well I still felt weighed down by them.
At the time I knew about negative thinking and understood that those automatic negative thoughts were not a good thing. However, I also justified to myself why I had them…
…My relationship with my mother-in-law with whom we lived was not great at times. My relationship with my husband was not as I wanted it to be. I felt frustrated with my work-life etc., etc.
None of these things were insurmountable, but they were made much worse by my negative thoughts.
I remember days wasted by being convinced I had a major health issue and days wasted by being convinced something bad was about to happen. There days when I couldn’t eat and nights when I couldn’t sleep.
I once ended up in casualty over the course of a weekend with a heart rate of over 150 beats per minute. This time even the doctors were convinced I had a problem but after further tests and six months of yet more worry the consultant cardiologist declared my heart to be ‘plum normal!’.
Several sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) taught me more about my thought processes and gave me the tools to recognise my negative automatic thoughts and challenge them with alternative thoughts.
This helped but at the time the CBT did not get across the importance of eradicating the negative automatic thoughts from my mind. Recognising them and looking for alternative viewpoints still enabled me to engage with them and this internal dialogue kept them real to me.
So the thing I wish I had known about years ago is the knowledge that as soon as a negative automatic thought pops into my head it should be replaced immediately with a positive thought or a task of some sort.
Acknowledging that the thought is there or challenging it with other possibilities enables it to exist and that gives it the power to ruin the moment and potentially the rest of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, the strategies that I learned through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are excellent and they definitely have their place in my overall improvement. I would say though that they were all designed to help in the long-term; none of them provided me with a quick fix.
A quick fix is however what is needed when a negative automatic thought pops into your head and my advice would be to ZAP it and NOT engage with it.
You can ZAP it by almost any means that brings your brain back to full consciousness. So you can start to sing a song, you can jump up and down, you can look at an object and describe it in your head, you can picture an idyllic scene in your head, you can go and wash the floor, you can go out for a run…literally ANYTHING will do.
The key thing to remember is that you must engage your conscious brain while doing whatever you have chosen to do. Remain fully focussed for around 2 minutes.
Once you have given your unconscious brain a rest for a couple of minutes you can write down the negative thought, if you feel it is something that needs to be addressed at some point, and then give it no further thought…move on…you will deal with it later if you need to!
Soon you will quickly be able to work out the thoughts that do need further exploration and those that deserve to be discarded completely.
With practise you will become really good at this and gradually your unconscious brain will find better things to do with its time than poke and prod you with such unpleasantness!
Few of us have perfect lives. Most of us have lives that have their ups and downs. When your life is on an up it is easier to have fewer automatic negative thoughts but when your life is on a down automatic negative thoughts will make it harder.
BAN AUTOMATIC NEGATIVE THOUGHTS!
ZAP THEM AS SOON AS THEY INVADE YOUR BRAIN!