Everyone experiences anxiety and depression to some degree, even if they don’t have a diagnosable mental health condition. No matter where you land on the mental health scale, you probably want to minimize unnecessary negative feelings as much as possible. A myriad of factors affects mental health, some of which you have little to no control over, such as biology and environment. Anxiety and depression are often spurred by negative thought patterns, and you can learn to change them. Here are five phrases and thought patterns that can have a negative effect on your mental health––and how you can turn them around.
1. Always, never, or other absolute words.
An example of this is “This always happens to me” or “I never succeed”. Usually, these statements aren’t true. Your friends are not always angry at you. They might be frustrated with you at the moment, but this isn’t a continual state of being. It’s not that you never accomplished anything; you just didn’t get the part in the play this particular time. If you think so black-and-whitely about yourself, you will inadvertently lower your self-esteem. It’s better to think about the gray areas of life as well.
2. They think ___ about me.
You honestly don’t know what people think unless they tell you. If you assume someone is thinking something negative about you, you’re most likely wrong. Most people make the mistake of believing others are much more invested in their mistakes than they actually are. Overthinking other’s people’s opinions about you can make you too self-conscious and cause a significant amount of social anxiety.
3. ___ will happen.
Again, you don’t know for sure. You don’t see the future. Most of the catastrophes we imagine don’t happen. For example, if you fail a test, it doesn’t mean you won’t graduate or won’t get a job. Yes, you wish things had gone differently, but you can study more next time or go to office hours to ensure you understand what the professor taught and get a better grade. If you convince yourself you will fail, you may feel too discouraged to do anything to prevent this from happening, and your probability of failure goes up significantly. Spending time worrying obsessively about catastrophes that haven’t happened yet won’t get you anywhere.
4. Any insults directed at yourself.
If you think “I’m stupid” every time you make a mistake or “I’m a bad person” every time you do something against your values, you will start to believe these things about yourself, which can make you feel depressed. Maybe you’re disappointed in yourself or wish you had done something differently, but that does not define who you are. Don’t put a negative label on yourself for one action. Think of evidence against that label. For example, if you think you’re incompetent, think of a time you did well on something, anything really. I can assure you, you’ve done something right in your life.
This is one of the most harmful words in the English language, and also one of the easiest to say. Every time you think you “should” do something, it makes you feel badly about yourself and doesn’t motivate you to actually do it. For example, if you’re watching Netflix and you think you should study for your midterm tomorrow, you’ll feel guilty and probably drown your guilt with more Netflix, which prevents you from studying. It’s better to think, “I would like to be able to study more because I want a good grade on this test. The work will be worth the outcome.”
These thought patterns and how to avoid them are commonly taught in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. They are called “negative automatic thoughts” and you can read more about them here. Though it is important to note that I am not a therapist, and even if I were, this article would not be enough.
While these tricks are helpful, they are just a few tips to help keep you on your feet. If you are truly struggling with mental health, don’t just read articles to help you. There is no shame in getting the professional help you need. The sooner you accept help, the less pain and suffering you will put yourself through.