Negativity Bias

For many of us, we tend to get stuck on negative thinking. For some reason, our brains defer to the negative. According to the National Science Foundation, 80% of our thoughts are negative and 95% of our thoughts are repetitive. WOW. That is a lot of negative, repetitive thoughts!

We all have thoughts and feelings about ourselves and important aspects of our life—relationships, work, school. We may find our brain “stuck” on the past, unable to let go. Anxious and depressive thinking can impact our ability to be fully present in the future, especially when expending time and energy worrying about the future.

Exactly how many thoughts do we have? Researchers at Queen’s University in Canada estimated that we have 6,200 thoughts-every-day. Researchers were able to establish a way to identify when a thought ends and begins thorough isolating “thought worms” which are moments of being fixed on the same idea.

Here are some common examples of negative thought patterns:

Pessimism:

  • Our “mental filter” focuses on the negative. We may minimize the positives and may “spiral” into depressive thinking.

Catastrophizing:

  • Making small problems into big problems or “worst case scenarios”, assuming the worst will happen.

Rumination:

  • Repetitive thought(s) in which your brain tends to get “stuck” on negativity.
  • Individuals may find that they have a hard time moving on. They may struggle with obsessions and experience anxious distress.

Perfectionism:

  • Placing unrealistic high standards on self.
  • Individual may find themselves being hyper-critical; feeling like a “failure” when standards are not met.

Negative and repetitive thought patterns are present in both anxiety and depression. There are many cognitive-distortions present in negative thinking. These distortions can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, using techniques such as cognitive-restructuring.

Other helpful interventions include:

  • Practicing gratitude
  • Surrounding yourself with positive people
  • Increasing awareness of negative self-talk and replacing it
  • Establishing new rituals/ habits within your routine
  • Learning how to “let go” of negativity and practice self-compassion.

Written by Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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