What is healthy thinking?
Healthy thinking doesn’t mean you have to be Ned Flanders 100% of the time!
We all have things that upset and frustrate us sometimes – healthy thinking does not mean being positive all the time.
We like this definition from Canada’s Here for You: healthy thinking means looking at the entire situation—the positive, the negative and the neutral parts—and then coming to a conclusion.
What’s important is becoming aware of how we’re interpreting situations, so we’re not falling into the trap of just focusing on the negative aspects. This can make you feel worse, and make you more likely to respond to the situation in ways that are unhelpful in the long term.
The first step towards healthy thinking is being aware of how you’re interpreting different situations. Some of the ‘thinking traps’ identified by Here to Help include:
- Overgeneralizing - Thinking that a negative situation is part of a constant cycle of bad things that happen. This always happens to me! I never get to do fun things!
- Black and White Thinking - Seeing things as only right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or terrible. I wanted to eat healthier, but I just had a piece of cake. This plan is a total failure! I might as well eat the whole cake now.
- Fortune Telling - Predicting that something bad will happen, without any evidence. I’ve been studying hard, but I know that I’m going to fail my test tomorrow.
- Emotional Reasoning - Believing that bad feelings or emotions reflect the situation. I feel anxious when I fly, so airplanes must not be safe.
- Mind Reading - Jumping to conclusions about what others are thinking, without any evidence. My friend didn’t stop to say hello. She must not like me very much.
- Mental Filter - Focusing only on the negative parts of a situation and ignoring anything good or positive. I met a lot of great people at the party, but one guy didn’t talk to me. There must be something wrong with me.
Healthy thinking in 3 simple steps
Our colleagues at FarmStrong have come up with a handy three-step strategy for thinking and behaving in a more positive way. Try to use it every day, until healthy thinking becomes a new habit.
- Catch it - When you find yourself feeling anxious and depressed, stop and examine your thoughts. What are you thinking? Your pattern of thinking is usually so automatic that you don’t notice it, or the effect it has on your moods and feelings.
- Check it - Evaluate the negative thought rationally. Is it really true? Is it as bad as you think? It seldom is. Would others interpret it the same way? Will the problem really matter in six months’ to a years’ time?
- Change it - Now challenge your own faulty thinking. Substitute more realistic thoughts for your automatic ones. Consciously change your thought and select a more rational response.
Here are some other strategies that can help:
- Laugh often - Laughter really can be the best medicine
- Spend time with positive people - Negative people can help you see different points of view but when you’re surrounded by negativity your stress levels will increase you may doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways. Positive people will inspire you to see the world in a positive light.
- Get your sweat on - When we exercise endorphins are released into our blood stream. These are our body’s natural painkillers and have been scientifically proven to lift our mood. If you exercise regularly, it can help you manage your stress better and can reduce symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and help with recovery from mental health issues
- Meditate - Recent research has revealed that people who meditate daily display more positive emotions that those who do not.
- Write - A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, examined a group of 90 undergraduate students who were split into two groups. The students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses. (Better health after just three days of writing about positive things!)