At one time or another, all people go through dark times, weighed down by negative thoughts, whether depressed, anxious, lonely, sorrowful, self-pitying, or judgmental. “Automatic negative thoughts” lodge in our brains and intensify. Destructive narratives swirl in our heads, insist they are true, keep us awake at night, refuse to go away. We know it’s unhealthy to get stuck in a downward spiral, but some days it feels almost impossible to spin out of it.
Surely you’ve been there. What wisdom have you learned through the years that helps you emerge from dark places and set your mind on a healthier path?
- Pick one thing and do it. “It makes me depressed to not want to do anything, but when I don’t get anything done, it makes me more I try not to overwhelm myself with a list of fifty things to do, but pick one and just do it. At the end of the day, I feel better even if all I did was one thing.”
- Exercise. “I have to get physically moving. If I have a tricky situation, I just go out for a walk, and nine times out of ten I come home with an idea.”
- Make arrangements with friends. “I know I need to get out and walk, but I just don’t like exercise. I’ve arranged with a friend that I walk with three days a week. If I’ve made arrangements and I’ve made a commitment, then I’ll do it.”
- Play music. “Yesterday, I got out my old piano recital pieces and started to see if I could make my fingers come back. It’s just a balm.”
- Write. “During those difficult years, poetry and journal writing became a release. The sadness, the anxiousness, the frustration—it’s all there in my old journals. Writing it all out was extremely helpful in climbing out of the darkness.”
- Take control of the ongoing commentary in your head. “Everybody’s got more than one voice inside. I’ve got a worrier in there who frets and stews and who will remember mistakes and things I wish I hadn’t done. I say, ‘Stop! We aren’t going to go there.’ I acknowledge that these internal voices are different parts of me. After years of therapy, I’m in charge now, as the adult.”
- Gather perspective. “I tend to get judgmental about people inside my head. I try to understand why. My daughter will tell me when she thinks I’m way off track. When I see how she sees people, it helps me.”
- Seek inspiring people. “I do know that negativity does not resolve problems. What did I do with the awful news of macular degeneration in my eyes? A dear friend offered to take me to visit her artist friend Margaret, who is fully blind. Her paintings are displayed on the walls, and it gives her pleasure to ‘show’ her art to others. She manages to continue to paint because she knows where the colors are on her palette. She fixed tea for us, and the only thing she could not do was pour boiling water. She was inspirational. Attitude is everything.”
I realize there are far more than eight ways to banish thoughts that drag you down. What’s your secret method?