Changing Automatic Unhealthy Thoughts

Without even being conscious of it, every day we make numerous decisions that have the potential to  either enrich or diminish our life. These decisions (big and small) either move us toward or away from being the type of person we want to become or the type of life we want to have. For example, choosing to skip today’s meditation may have implications that lead us away from being calm and grounded. 

The truth is, when things are going well, it’s easy to choose to do things that make life more enriching. It is typically when life’s challenges begin to present themselves that we are more susceptible to making choices that do not serve our well-being. That is when difficult thoughts filled with worry and other negative feelings may arrive. We can get “hooked” by difficult thoughts which in turn fuels our anxiety, stress, and other unpleasant feelings. 

But if we can “unhook” from the difficult thoughts when they arise, we can lessen the negativity we experience.

Here’s an example: If your boss asks you to take on a new project, your immediate thought may be about how much you already have on your plate and what little time you have to dedicate toward this new task. Your brain can stack negative thoughts and soon you are “hooked,” feeling anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed about the situation. Additionally, these feelings and thoughts are likely not in alignment with your personal values. 

There is however an alternative approach to this situation, which can leave you feeling more confident and result in a higher quality of life.

How to unhook from difficult thoughts and feelings

The better we get at stopping the cycle of negative thoughts, the better we will feel about life. Practice the following:

  • Unhooking skills – separate yourself from the negative thoughts,feelings, and memories faster by being mindful/present.
  • Self-compassion: Try speaking to yourself as if you were your own best friend. Speak to yourself with understanding instead of judgment.
  • Connect with your values: Aho do you care about? What sort of person do you want to be? Here’s a blog we’ve written to help you use your values to support your recovery.

Now, let’s look at the same situation with our boss but take a different approach in response. When your mind begins to race, notice that and pause. Then take a few breaths to calm yourself and acknowledge your feelings and thinking. Take a close look at what is happening with your mind and be thoughtful about following the steps to unhook from the negativity. Consider how this request may impact your values to determine if you have to establish boundaries or negotiate regarding your time.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.