Get rid of those negative thoughts and welcome more happiness

Get rid of those negative thoughts and welcome more happiness

via the Huffington Post by Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Erica Bartlett has spent most of her adult life saying horrible things to herself. As a heavy teenager, her greatest hits included: "I'm so ugly. No one will ever be attracted to me. I can't stand to see how big I look in the mirror. I have no willpower around brownies."

She started gaining weight after struggling with loneliness and low self-esteem, and her own put-downs just made her feel worse, fueling a vicious cycle. At age 24, she carried 259 pounds on her 5'0" frame. It was her mother's unexpected death from cancer around that time that made Bartlett think about mortality and motivated her to get healthy. Her goal: To climb Katahdin, a 5,200-foot mountain in Maine that her mother loved and spread her ashes. Yet, as she lost 130 pounds over the next couple years by eating better and exercising, Bartlett still kept up the self-hate: "Why does so much loose skin hang off my arms? I'll never be athletic. I still look ugly."

"I discovered that having such a negative focus was really exhausting," says Bartlett, now 39, a software product analyst and health coach living in Portland, Maine. "It takes a lot of energy to constantly criticize yourself."

We've all been guilty of dwelling on the negative. However, when that gloomy self-talk becomes a habit, over time it can make you depressed, anxious and stressed. Or it leads to destructive behavior, such as stress eating. "If you do it over and over, it becomes automatic. It becomes hard-wired in our brains like bike riding," explains Mort (Doc) Orman, MD, a Baltimore-based stress relief expert and author of Stop Negative Thinking: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Stress and Become a Happy Person Again.

Even though all that pessimistic pondering can feel like it's got a stranglehold on our psyches, it's surprisingly not that hard to change the habit. "We grow up with parents and teachers constantly correcting us," he says. "So we have to work at bringing out the positive things in life."

Here's how to deflate the power of those toxic negative thoughts.

5 Ways to Erase Negative Self-Talk (and Start Being Kinder to Yourself)

1. Know your triggers.

It's important to identify what makes you sink into a shame spiral. One of the most popular methods of squashing negative thinking is called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is based on the idea that thoughts influence feelings, which then influence behavior. The goal is to recognize your unhelpful thought patterns, so you can challenge them and create a new habit. "Doing this work empowers clients to be able to make desired behavioral changes," explains Jeff Riggenbach, PhD, a counselor based in Oklahoma and author of The CBT Toolbox: A Workbook for Clients and Clinicians.

Start by thinking back to your most recent down-in-the-dumps episode: Did thoughts of "I'm not pretty enough…social enough…or funny enough" make you feel insecure at a party? And did that, in turn, make you want to drink too much wine? With enough awareness, you can interrupt that defeating thought next time — before it does damage…

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