Overcoming Negative Thinking


This morning, a friend commented that Facebook is becoming “virtual torture” because of the political posts. I’ve also noticed a few people dropping out of social media because they no longer can stomach the daily feed concerning our 45th president. Those who voted for Hillary Clinton—the most qualified candidate in history—are still grieving from the election, and we’re having a hard time dealing with our negative emotions about Trump, his administration, and the future of our country.

Many find catharsis through humor—the reason Saturday Night Live has enjoyed a spike in popularity: Alec Baldwin’s “Trump” and Melissa McCarthy’s “Sean Spicer” allow us to laugh at the people who threaten us. The memes, the jokes, the articles all attempt to help us regain a sense of normalcy. But the landslide can also bury us. How can we deal with the barrage of negative news streaming from the White House and the inevitable negativity that confronts us in our daily lives? In this new age of political upheaval, we must learn to take care of ourselves . . . first.

When negativity overcomes us, our reaction might be to push it aside. But that’s exactly what we shouldn’t do: Ignoring your feelings or getting mad at yourself or telling yourself to stop worrying only adds fuel to this bonfire, creating a cycle of negativity. We need to recognize our feelings, acknowledge them, and question why we are experiencing these emotions. Acceptance is the first step to mindfulness.

Next, we need to confront our negative thoughts. Ask questions. What is causing you to feel negative, to feel depressed and overwhelmed? Identify your anxiety, your fear; then ask, What if? What is the worst that can happen? Let's say you arrive late to the airport. The security lines are long, and you get caught up in the anxiety of missing the flight. Stop. What would happen if you missed the plane? You would take a different flight and arrive later. What would happen if you arrived later? Continue this line of questioning until you have resolved your anxiety. Chances are, you'll discover that the situation is not as bad as it had seemed.

Another question to ask: Is there a different way to look at the experience? Let’s take this back to the mundane high school example: Math is not your best subject, and you have an upcoming math test. You study hard, you ask your teacher for extra help—maybe you even work with a tutor—but still you do poorly on the test. Now you have a choice:

You can tell yourself that you’re stupid, that even when you try you fail, and that you will amount to nothing; or you can realize that you do not back down, that you face challenges head on, that you work hard, and that your real talent is in art or music or writing.

People who tend to choose the negative path have often been bullied or teased as children, or they have experienced trauma or abuse. That’s why women more than men experience depression and fall into negative thinking patterns. If you cannot pull yourself out of negativity, imagine a friend with the same problem asking for your advice: How would you advise her?

Next, ask yourself if dwelling on the negative thought is helping you. Thinking about your financial problems is useful if you are seeking a solution. But being constantly angry about the election or worrying that the current administration will lead America into World War III will accomplish nothing.

Looking at the positive side of the 2016 election: Americans are now more politically active than they have been since the 1970s, and a new wave of feminism is on the rise. Americans are becoming more involved with their communities, donating to various non-profits, helping immigrants and the poor and the disenfranchised, standing up for human rights. This election has pulled us from our doldrums and forced us to fight for decency and democracy. Trump is merely a mirror, reflecting America's ugly underbelly: misogyny, racism, corporate greed, unchecked power, and a government drowning in cronyism, partisanship, gerrymandering, lobbying, and Citizens United. Now we must confront these ugly truths—not only in our government and in our communities, but also in ourselves—and work to transform our laws and our world. Our angst indicates that we are evolving; and if we insist on positive change, we might become even better.

Positive thinking

isn't about

expecting the best

to happen every time,

but accepting

that whatever happens

is the best

for the moment.

The final step to overcoming negative thoughts is to move from inaction to action. Do something about it. When I participated in the Women’s March on Washington, many people commented that it was healing: to stand up, to speak out, to march, to make our voices heard. Become active in your community, whatever that means to you—even something as simple as inviting a group of friends over to talk about the issues.

Take care of yourself. Acknowledge the negative, but choose the positive. We can do this.

© Ellen Antonelli 2017

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