Life’s unpredictability challenges us endlessly, making tough situations seem endless. These negative events have the potential to trigger “Repetitive Negative Thoughts” (RNT). Our minds are constantly working, analysing information from the past, present, and future. It is how we plan, learn, and solve issues and understand the world as a whole. We prioritize well-being, yet our minds are prone to errors despite our focus. RNT is one example of this, where we get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts.
Repetitive Negative Thoughts
Repetitive Negative Thoughts (RNT) is a common phenomenon that arises in times of depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, or other forms of low mood or distress. It is simply what happens when you find yourself thinking about the same regrets or anxieties repeatedly. RNT can also trigger memories of embarrassing or shame-inducing experiences. Examples of these include:
- Reliving an instance in which you were criticised,
- Remembering an anxiety-driven inadequate presentation you have given at work,
- Worrying that your partner might find something embarrassing you did and so on.
Harboring resentment can stem from unjust punishment, unfair criticism, or feeling unappreciated for your efforts.
Unhelpful Overthinking Tactics
First, it is essential to address the common unhelpful strategies that you may be accustomed to and automatically use. These tactics are typically ineffective over time and have the potential to worsen negative thinking:
- Avoidance: Avoiding negativity involves consciously steering clear of situations, thoughts, or feelings that trigger repetitive negative thinking. Since you are not actively addressing the issue at hand, avoidance usually makes the negative thoughts worse over time.
- Reassurance Seeking: Seeking constant assurances from others can hinder progress, fostering dependence and overlooking underlying issues. Short-term relief from reassurance-seeking may overlook root causes, prolonging negative thought patterns.
- Self-Criticism: Having recurring negative thoughts can lead to excessive self-criticism, which can exacerbate the situation. Address issues with self-compassion, not harsh judgment, for proactive resolution.
Contrary to the ones mentioned above, you can employ several mental techniques to manage your recurring negative thoughts, but keep in mind that it might take some time to master such skills:
- Mindfulness: Mindfulness can be described in many ways but simply put, it means the non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment. Mindfulness practices help individuals to simply observe those repetitive thoughts without trying to control them. For example, when you think about a past mistake, you do not try to ignore or judge the memory; instead, you just let it come and go.
- Cognitive Restructuring: Challenge negative thoughts by gathering evidence, fostering a more balanced and rational perspective. Examine evidence to balance thoughts on why bad things happen, avoiding extremes of negativity or positivity.
- Positive Self-Affirmation: This practice entails considering your good traits and characteristics with kindness and compassion. If you find yourself feeling guilty about past mistakes, try to bring yourself back to the moments when you were a devoted worker, a loving parent, or a trustworthy friend. This will help you view the situation with greater compassion.
Some strategies may fit your personality and natural abilities better, or you may already be using them successfully to deal with other types of negative thinking, so they may speak to you more. For instance, people with an analytical mindset frequently favour cognitive restructuring, whereas people with an intuitive mindset may favour mindfulness techniques. Remember that without the assistance of a mental health professional, mastering the evidence-based strategies mentioned above can be difficult.
Public access self-help resources to address negative thinking such as this blog are available but there are circumstances in which self-help may not be adequate on its own. It is critical to get in touch with a mental health professional if you experience severe emotional distress that does not go away, interferes with your everyday activities, or is linked to a traumatic event. Additionally, it is advisable to seek professional assistance if you notice a sudden and significant change in your emotional well-being, including a major shift in your personality. Do not hesitate to get in touch with a mental health professional because doing so can be a critical step on your path to improved mental health.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Seray Soyman is working as a Clinical Psychosexologist within the Willingness team, providing psychosexual education and sexual support sessions, as well as delivering training and workshops. She has a master’s degree in Clinical Psychosexology from the Sapienza University of Rome. Seray’s research interests are sexual communication, sex-positive behaviour, LGBTQIA+ studies, and sexual health.
Clark, D. A. (2020). The negative thoughts workbook: CBT skills to overcome the repetitive worry, shame, and rumination that drive anxiety and depression. New Harbinger Publications.