Moodzone: Unhelpful thinking 

Dr Chris Williams helps you to replace negative thoughts with more positive thinking. This podcast is one of an eight-part series for Moodzone.

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Transcript of Moodzone: Unhelpful thinking

NHS CHOICES MOODZONE

Unhelpful thinking www.nhs.uk/moodzone

I'm Dr Chris Williams,

and I'm here to help you help yourself through common life difficulties.

In this session, we're focused on building helpful thinking.

Do you ever think negatively or worry about things

by going over things again and again in your mind?

Just like other aspects of life, we can all fall into different habits.

These sorts of unhelpful habits of thinking

or unhelpful thoughts can spoil your life.

So, some people might find they dwell on the negative.

For example, "I won't enjoy it if I go."

While others criticise themselves all the time,

saying things like, "They're much better at it than me."

Whereas, for some others, they expect the very worst to happen

and jump to the worst conclusion about everything.

"I always mess things up."

Or we may get focused on what other people think about us

and keep worrying that others find us boring or don't like us much at all.

"They think I'm stupid if I say this."

While these things might sometimes be true,

at times when we feel stressed out or low,

we tend to notice these sort of thoughts far more often.

They become harder to put out of mind.

And the thing about these sorts of unhelpful thought habits,

they're just that, unhelpful. And also, usually, not true as well.

But when we believe these things,

they worsen how we feel and also affect what we do.

So, these sorts of unhelpful thoughts tell us that we're useless,

or that nobody likes us, or not to bother doing things.

If we believe them and act on them,

they cause us to stop doing things, to withdraw.

We end up feeling even worse.

So, unhelpful thoughts talk us out of going out with friends,

applying for that new job, speaking up at meetings,

or simply doing something nice for you.

And of course, the less you do, the worse you feel.

And the worse you feel, the less you do. And we get stuck in a vicious circle.

You may have noticed that at times when we feel stressed out and low,

that's when these thoughts get supercharged

and pop into our minds a lot more.

If we fill our minds with these sort of thoughts,

we get to feel worse and worse.

And what do people often tell us when we worry like that?

"Try not to think about it."

Let's just see if that works right now. And I'll do it too.

Let's both of us try really hard not to think about a white polar bear.

Well, if you're anything like me,

you'll have found you can think of nothing else.

Or if you did manage it,

that you have to spend a lot of mental energy

thinking about, perhaps, a black polar bear, or a car, or whatever.

And that's the key lesson.

We need to find a more effective, practical way

of dealing with our unhelpful thoughts.

And doing something about these thoughts can help boost how you feel

and help you get going again.

Here's a typical example of somebody having unhelpful thoughts.

Parvin is looking for a new job and is working on her CV.

She has run out of things to say about herself

in the personal statement section.

She starts to slump in her chair and gaze out of the window.

Some of the things Parvin is saying to herself are,

"What's the point? Loads of people will be applying."

"Someone else with more experience will probably get the job."

"I can't be bothered with this. Will I ever get a job?"

And as a result, she gives up and never sends in her application.

Instead, she goes and sits down feeling upset and useless.

These thoughts are unhelpful because they worsen how Parvin feels.

Imagine if you were saying these things to yourself over and over,

day on day, week on week.

Slowly, these unhelpful thoughts would grind you down.

And just like in Parvin's case, any one of us would feel angry,

upset, frustrated, embarrassed,

guilty, sad, lonely and so on.

So let's move on to what to do when this happens.

First, we need a plan.

And that plan's called the Amazing Bad Thought Busting Programme.

Or ABTBP for short.

Firstly, label the thought.

For example, you might find yourself taking things to heart,

beating yourself up, having a gloomy view of the future,

being your own worst critic, jumping to the worst conclusions,

assuming that others see you badly, or taking responsibility for everything.

These are patterns we can all fall into time and time again.

You may have already noticed that you're more prone

to one or more of these thinking styles,

or that you notice them more than usual when you get upset.

When you notice one of these unhelpful thoughts,

before you start to get too upset and caught up in it,

just mentally try and step back and stick a label on it.

"Oh, that's just one of those bad thoughts."

And when you label an unhelpful thought this way,

it begins to lose its power.

And you realise that it's just part of being upset.

It's not the truth, it's just one of those bad thoughts.

You can even say to it, "You're rumbled. I'm not playing that game again."

Secondly, leave it alone.

Now you know what it is, mentally turn your back on the bad thought.

Don't challenge it or try to argue with it, just let it be.

Break that cycle where the thoughts go round and round in our heads,

making us feel worse.

Instead, take a step back and let the thought just be.

Instead of getting caught up in it,

choose to think about what you're doing right now.

Really focus on this moment, or on the conversation you may be having.

Sometimes, people find it helpful

mentally placing the unhelpful thought in the corner of the room,

like a child that's just been told off

and has to sit in the corner and be quiet.

This can take some practice

because like celebrities, bad thoughts love attention.

But instead, just let them be, and they'll shut up eventually.

Thirdly, stand up to it. Don't be bossed about by bad thoughts.

Because bad thoughts are like bullies, they sound strong,

but really they're weak underneath and they tell lies.

They say you won't like doing anything. They say you'll fail if you try.

They tell you you're rubbish, or you're scared, or nobody likes you.

But this is just a bad thought, not the truth, so don't be bullied.

If the thought says "don't", then do.

If the thought says "can't", say "can" right back at it.

Call its bluff, and see what really happens.

Stand up to the bully,

and you'll find that what they're saying just isn't true.

Fourthly, give yourself a break.

Bad thoughts are how we beat ourselves up when we're upset.

They make us say things to ourselves that we'd never say to a friend.

So, if you're having trouble with a bad thought,

think what the person who loves you most in the whole world

would say to you right now.

They'd disagree with the bad thoughts, wouldn't they?

They'd remind you that you're not rubbish or stupid or bound to fail.

So, try this.

Go into a room by yourself, and say what your friend would say to you out loud.

Say it again in a kind voice.

And remember that bad thoughts tell lies.

People who love you tell you the truth.

Trust these positive thoughts

and let them help you get rid of the bad thoughts.

And fifthly, look at the situation differently.

First, imagine what it would be like if it was a friend, not you,

who was experiencing the unhelpful thought.

What advice would you give? Now give the same advice to yourself.

Also, put your thought or worry into perspective.

Will it matter so much in six months' time?

Will you even remember what the problem was?

And if it won't matter in six months, it's probably not that important now.

Also, how would others deal with the problem?

Think about someone who seems to handle problems well,

and work out what they'd do or how they'd think in that situation.

You've made a great start here by completing this session.

Thanks for listening.

Thank you. For more like this visit: www.nhs.uk/moodzone

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