When I use to make a mistake, my brain would do this...
My brain could spiral out of control in 2 seconds flat!
Back in the day I use to try and tame these negative thoughts by eating cake, drinking alcohol or taking some time out. The cake usually helped for 5 minutes, pushing 10 minutes if it was chocolate, but then I use to feel guilty for eating the cake (which is a whole different blog!). Alcohol helped distract my brain for a good few hours but in reality all it did was delay the spiralling thoughts till 5am the next morning. (Why oh why does the brain think 5am is a good time to think about everything???!)
When eating and drinking my way through didn't have the desired effect I use to take some time out. Whether it was a duvet day, a weekend away or a holiday, it would always make a world of difference to my stress levels. I would turn off my phone, grab a book and R-E-L-A-X, then after a while this magical moment would occur...
Et voila, suddenly my brain got its rational game face on and I would feel so much better.
Time out helps us tame our thoughts as it forces us out of the situation, it helps us to calm down and creates the space we need to get some perspective. Sadly though, although I do love a good holiday, this wasn't a sustainable solution due to the impact on my bank balance and work schedule! So I went on the hunt for a method of taming my negative thoughts that incorporated the elements of taking a holiday but enabled me to do it in the moment and thankfully I found the STOPP method.
What the STOPP method isn't.....Positive Thinking!
Now before I share this method with you I want to talk about 'positive thinking'. When my brain was spiralling out of control with negative thoughts the last thing I needed was advice from Bob...
Bob thought he was being helpful but let me assure you Bob was being very unhelpful. Why? Because taming our negative thoughts isn't as simple as just thinking positively and it's really annoying when someone tells us to do just that!
Why practising the STOPP method works...
1) It's not about thinking positively, it's about taking a step back and being rational and realistic.
2) Practising this method literally creates new pathways in our brain tissue. (I would use the neurological words to make this sound super fancy but I have trouble spelling the long words!) As we discovered in Part 1 of this series, our brain wants to keep us safe so it naturally thinks negatively first, we therefore have to train our brain to think more rationally.
So in a nutshell you are going to tame your unhelpful negative thoughts by creating a new mindset by practising the STOPP method.
Sounds pretty cool huh? So without further ado let me introduce you to your new best friend...
This STOPP method is base on the wonderful Carol Vivyans work (check out who her amazing self help site here) and the awesome Brene Browns book `Rising Strong' PLUS my experience of what has worked for me and in the counselling room!
It all starts with S...
In order to tame your negative thoughts you need to be able to recognise the SIGNS of when they are getting out of control i.e. when you need to STOPP!! Now this is different for everybody but you will notice it in your thoughts, feelings, body or behaviour. When I use to make a mistake I felt a pang of anxiety in my chest, I felt overwhelmed really quickly and eventually I would find myself staring into the cupboard looking for cake and that's when I needed to STOPP!
What are your specific SIGNS your negative thoughts are our of control?
Thoughts: Are you...
Mood: Do you feel...
Physiology: Does your body give you signs:
Behaviour: Are you...
Once you spot the signs your thoughts are getting out of control you need to take a break. Why? Because those unhelpful thoughts have already started to fill you with feelings, impacting your physiology and brain chemistry thus making it difficult to think rationally. So we need to caaaaaaaaalllm doooooooown.
You don't need to jump on a plane to do this, instead try this:
Feeling calmer? Great, now we can move onto observing your thoughts. Do you remember in Part 2 we explored the different types of unhelpful thoughts? Well now is the time to work out which type of thought you were having.
If you forget all the other steps then don't despair because this is where the magic happens...........shift your PERSPECTIVE!
Remember this isn't about positive thinking and pretending everything is hunky dory, this is about being rational and realistic and I have 4 awesome techniques to help you do this:
Judge and Jury:
Find a little compassion for yourself
Zoom out and get some perspective by asking yourself:
Think "What would The Beatles Do?"
So now your perspective has changed what do you need to do now?
If nothing, great then carry on with your day. However here are some things to consider:
I know that's a lotta info so let's run through an example:
Do you remember our old frenemy 'Comparison, the Happiness Thief' from Part 2?
Situation: You are flicking through social media on the train home and you read Tess has announced she has been promoted.
SIGNS: You notice your SIGNS, your mood has switched from happy to crappy in a heartbeat and your chest is tight
TAKE A BREAK: You look out the train window and take some long deep breaths. When you are feeling calmer you grab your note book out your bag and write:
So how does that sound? Ready to give it a try? Great!
To help you, here is a handy summary, take a screenshot and the next time you notice your signs then work your way through - STOPP.
Please remember though this is a new way of thinking and you are creating new neurological pathways so it will take a few times to get the hang of it but practising STOPP will help you tame those negative thoughts.
Missed out on Parts 1 & 2 of this series...
I hope you have enjoyed the 'Taming Negative Thoughts' Series as much as I have enjoyed writing them. If you missed out on Parts 1 and 2 check them out here:
If you would like more help...
I offer 1 - 1 counselling in London and so get in touch here: ZoeHinett@gmail.com
I need to tell you something…
I’m a recovered negative overthinker.
There I’ve said it. Maybe I could have told you that in Part 1 of this series (click here if you missed it) but I think now we are acquainted, and you’ve got to Part 2, you’ve earned the right to know. It started when I was nipper, gathering speed like an Eastenders Christmas plot in my teen years and catapulted me into my early adult life with more holes in my self-worth than a block of Swiss cheese.
To be honest most people wouldn’t have noticed, I’m naturally an introvert, I wasn’t taught to ask for help and I was very good at hiding it. Don’t get me wrong, I could function, I got through my education, paid the rent and made friends but my brain was not in a good place.
There are lots of things that have helped me to stop overthinking, firstly as we found out in Part 1, negative thoughts are natural and our brains way of surviving. This was such relief as I realised I was normal! (Okay so I’m not a massive fan of the word normal so let’s substitute that for typical - it was natural and lots of people did it.)
What also helped was to learn about my favourite types of unhelpful negative thoughts. Yep some psychologist somewhere has identified specific types of unhelpful negative thoughts and as soon as I start looking down the list it was like someone had been listening in on my brain.
So here's the deal...
If I share with you my brains top 3 types of unhelpful thoughts howsabout you to go through the list and pick out yours. I’m not asking you to share them with me (or the internet) but this is going to be super helpful as knowing your favourite types is key to taming them.
How does that sound? We got a deal. Okay let's go...
Here are my brains top 3 Unhelpful Thought Types…
In the number one slot we have my brains personal favourite unhelpful thought type ‘Labelling’. Passed on like a dodgy air loom from my parents, it’s the gift that just kept on giving, (well giving anxiety). Calling myself an idiot was part of a daily ritual for me, from getting my spelling wrong at school, to taking a telephone number down wrong to dropping a plate. My brain saw these as evidence that I was ‘an idiot’. It was like having my internal bully on repeat. Ouch.
Remember the poem "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me"? Well if you experience labelling as a repetitive unhelpful thought type you know that this is totally wrong as words like: "You’re an idiot......stupid.....worthless" pack a very hurtful punch.
I personally think this is my most impressive, I use to think I could mind read. Yep....actually MIND READ. I use to do it ALL the time. She thinks this about me, he thinks that about me. Turns out though I actually wasn't mind reading, I was just projecting what I thought about myself onto other people.
So one day in my previous life (I use to work in a city job) I was in a meeting with Wendy and she was, let's just say, a little on the touchy side. She had a face like thunder, clearly angry and was unhappy about the progress of the project. After the meeting I thought, she hates me, she has always hated me, she thinks I'm rubbish at my job and she wants me out. Twenty minutes later she drops by my desk, apologises for her behaviour and explains her Mum is ill and she is really worried. Uh oh - turned out my mind reading skills were way off track.
Mind reading is all consuming, we project our insecurities onto someone else, we get consumed in our thoughts and create conspiracy theories that are not true. Super unhelpful.
In third place we have the classic unhelpful thought type: CATASTROPHISING. All humans have the capacity to take a few bits of information and turn it into a catastrophe in the blink of an eye and I am was no exception.
So picture this, I was flying to the US about to embark on an epic adventure and shortly after we landed I started to wonder if I had left the front door open. In 5 seconds I went from merely wondering to visualising 3 robbers emptying the house, hearing the woman from the insurance company saying they wouldn't pay out and my other half leaving me for my sheer stupidity. Obvs I didn't leave it open, I've never left it open, I've never left the iron or straighteners on either but in that moment my drama queen brain created an epic movie plot scenario and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.
So I’ve spilled my guts out, which was quite cathartic actually (thanks for listening) so now it’s your turn.
Here are 5 more unhelpful thoughts types, which ones resonate with you?
I refer to this Unhelpful thought type as 'shoulding all over yourself!'
Why? Because when you have an attack of the shoulds you are setting yourself up for a fall.
Let's give this a try....
I should always be on time, I should have a boyfriend, I should clean the house, I should be exercising, I should be this, I should be doing that...
Arrrghhh it's never ending, it's exhausting and quite frankly it's creating a ton of pressure which turns into stress, anxiety and a very full head.
Congratulations, you have been promoted.
You have poured blood, sweat and tears into getting this promotion, you celebrated in style all weekend and then, on Monday morning, this happens:
Brain: What am I doing? I don't know enough? Who do I think I am? Why did I go for the promotion? They are going to find out I'm a fraud, I'm an imposter!
Sometimes the brain can be a right killjoy.
Phoneyism and Imposter Syndrome are verrrrrrrrrry common in humans from CEOs, actors and actresses to counsellors and coaches.
Recipe for Over Generalising by Z C Hinett
EVERYTHING is terrible, NOTHING works out for me.
Come on hands up, who has this recipe down to a T?
Yep it's easy to create but thankful easy to stop once we have a good rant about the trains and a good night sleep. HOWEVER we have to be careful this unhelpful thought doesn't fester because, when it does, it snowballs in our minds and creates a whole lotta destruction.
Comparison is a great big happiness thief.
You are having a great day, you slept well last night, you got a free coffee on the way to work, you hit the gym at lunchtime (and are feeling super smug as a result) and you aced your meeting with Bob. All is well in the world until you spot Susie from Accounts who seems to be wearing the same top you bought on the weekend.
Enter Happiness thief "Comparison".....
Brain: Is that the top I bought on Saturday? Oh god she looks loads better in it than me. Why can't I be as tall as Susie? She is so pretty, no wonder she has a boyfriend and I don't. I don't know why I bother going to the gym....
From happy to unhappy in 2 seconds. Thanks Happiness Thief.
Last but not least we have discounting the positive, when we do this we are blocking out the good stuff.
"I only got the job because no-one else applied for it."
You got the job because you have lots of skills and experience and you showed all those great traits in the interview.
By discounting the positive you are taking a sledge hammer to your self-worth and confidence. Ouch.
So how did that go for you? Did you recognise your favourite types of Unhelpful Thoughts?
Yes, so what do I do next????
Well, knowledge is power people and with this new awareness we can start taming those thoughts. Over the next few weeks I want you to notice when you are thinking in these unhelpful thinking styles. Understanding your types and patterns is key to bringing them under control.
Here's a reminder of the types:
The Story so far....
We have learnt...
Part 1: Are your Negative Thoughts Out Of Control?
Part 2: Understand your Unhelpful Thought Types
Part 3: How to Tame Your Negative Thoughts
Thanks for reading....
I've had some great feedback on Part 1 of this series and I'm excited to hear your thoughts on Part 2. Why not follow me on social media and join in the chat:
Have you ever seen a happy deer?
Stick with me on this…
Deer always look on edge to me, like they are just waiting for something to come along and gobble them up. If you don't believe me then just watch any David Attenborough documentary, you know the ones, the shot cuts to a nervous looking deer like creature and then 10 seconds later it's running for it's life from a hungry lion. Sometimes the lion catches the deer but, if the deer has been scanning for danger and sees it quick enough, he/she can run it's little hooves off and get away.
So animals have good reason to scan for danger and have negative thoughts but do you?
Well it wasn’t so long ago that us humans (a.k.a. cavemen and cavewomen) also spent our days foraging for food and keeping an eye out for those equally hungry sabre-tooth tigers. Now the important bit is, even though sabre-tooth tigers are extinct and we can just pop to Nandos for dinner (don’t judge me), evolutionary wise our brains haven’t changed much. Fast forward to modern day and our brains are still trying to keep us safe so it’s natural for you to have negative thoughts too.
When are negative thoughts helpful?
So take this example, I like to think of myself as skilled crosser of a road. I remember the green cross code adverts from the 80’s and the endless hand holding whilst on school trips. Look right and left a few times, judge the traffic and stride confidently. However like everyone, I’m not perfect and a few weeks ago I was, let’s just say, a little distracted, and I didn’t see the car approaching.
You know that feeling where time slows down, your body feels like you’ve just downed 10 cups of coffee and your tummy is flipping like an Olympic gymnast? Yep, that happened. This was because my ancient negative brain thought, ‘If you don’t get out of the way you are going to get run over and that’s going to hurt” (or words to that affect with the possibility of an expletive). On thinking this it then it did an amazing thing, it hit the ‘Danger’ button in my brain sending my body into the fight/flight or freeze response to help me get out the way.
I say amazing but I know if you have anxiety you are going to fight me hard on this one but let me explain. In this life threatening situation my body was pumped with hormones, these helped my heart beat quicker, moving the blood and oxygen round my body to my main leg and arms muscles so I could run. It then tried to empty my bladder and stomach so I was lighter to run away and it pumped hormones to my brain so I could just focus on the danger. It even pumped hormones around me to help my skin heal should I get hit.
The outcome....in split second I did a sprint to pavement that Usain Bolt would have been proud of and I even had energy to do a little ‘sorry’ wave to the driver. Now whilst I’m not a fan of my body trying to empty my bladder mid road I am super grateful to my brain for being negative and seeing the danger because that could have got a little tricky.
So when are our negative thoughts unhelpful?
When the situation is not actually life-threatening.
Clear. No? See if this resonates…
Situation: Congratulations your boss is so pleased with your work on a recent project that she wants you to stand up at the next company-wide meeting and present your work for 30 minutes! She could have given you a bonus or a raise but no, she gives you the chance to shine (literally with sweat!) in front of 150 people. Now this isn’t life threatening so why do most people have tummy flips, sweaty hands and a pounding chest at the mere suggestion?
This is because your negative brain is first on the scene to assess this so called ‘opportunity” and it’s throwing out some disaster scenarios worthy of an Oscar movie plot.
As the negative thoughts flow the brain hits the ‘Danger’ button and the body naturally wants to run and avoid. As you can't literally run away you may find yourself getting a little creative with your excuses...
If you do go ahead then let’s cut to the morning of the presentation. You have been awake worrying since 4am, your mouth is dry, your hands are sweaty and you have been to the toilet four times. Your hands are shaking so much that you think you might start a mini earthquake and you find it difficult to remember your own name let alone any of the presentation.
I'm afraid your negative brain is at it again and having some seriously unhelpful thoughts. In it’s defence, it’s job is to keep you safe and true to form its hitting the ‘Danger’ button and getting you ready to run away, flight or freeze.
So you are now in front of 150 people, your body is heavily signally to you to run away, which sounds like the best option out of a bad bunch. I mean fighting 150 is going to be a tad difficult and, let’s face it, loosing your job is going to be the least of your problems. Freezing is just going to prolong the agony so, yep running seems like the best option but your brain says it’s too late, you’re going to look an even bigger fool if you run away now. So you start to talk and you feel like you are watching yourself do it, it feels slow and your hands shake but as you start to talk you start to gain momentum, you stumble across a few words, and you forget a few points but miraculously 26 minutes later it’s over and you survived!
Phew. What a relief it’s over.
Or is it.
Unfortunately, as we now know, our negative brain thinks first so it gets first dibs on feedback and sometimes that feedback is brutal. As a counsellor I’ve heard many peoples ‘critical voice’ and they range from passive aggressive sarcastic meanies to full on aggressive bullies.
Gosh it's exhausting isn't it.
Our example clearly shows how easy it is for our unhelpful thoughts to spiral out of control. If your brain does this day in, day out then it can wreak havoc in your life.
Do you understand the consequences of your unhelpful thoughts?
Overthinking is exhausting and can have serious impact on our emotions, behaviours, physical health and self-worth.
Still not sure if you negative thoughts are unhelpful and out of control?
Here are 10 signs to look out for....
This is all interesting stuff Zoe, but how can I tame my unhelpful thoughts?
Well I’m glad you asked.
So we now know we don’t want to get rid of the negative thoughts because they can literally save our lives but we do want to filter out those unhelpful ones. Thankfully there is a way and I am going to share this with you in my next two blogs over the coming weeks:
BLOG 2: Know your unhelpful thought types
BLOG 3: Taming your unhelpful thoughts
Can't wait for the next Blogs? Drop me a line at ZoeHinett@gmail.com to see how I can help you or following me on social media for more, blogs, tips, techniques...
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