Vitality - Healthy Aging NewsletterSpring 2011

Dealing With Persistent Negative Feelings

Have you seen the movie, "Yes Man," with Jim Carrey? He plays a character with a negative outlook on life, but after attending a "Yes!" seminar, vows to stop being a "No" man and answer yes to every opportunity.

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This may sound far-fetched, but if you find yourself sinking into negative thinking more than you’d like, take heart. Dr. Evette Ludman has tips for staying more positive, and shared the following thoughts with Vitality.

What causes negativity as we get older?
Many of us suffer sadness and regret over losses. As we age, we lose spouses, family members, and friends, as well as the ability to do things we did when we were younger. We may feel anxious and angry about a chronic health condition, or useless because we’re no longer contributing in a workplace environment. Instead of dwelling on a loss, take time to grieve, and remember that grief slowly diminishes over time. Then, find activities that bring pleasure, a sense of accomplishment, and new ways to express yourself.

Can gloomy thoughts influence how we feel physically?
Yes. If you tend to dwell on the negative, you’ll feel tense, tired, and irritable, and perhaps sink into depression. If you focus on positive thoughts, you’ll feel happy, energetic, and buoyant. So try substituting more optimistic or realistic thoughts for the negative ones. For example, instead of thinking, "I'll never be able to do that," say, "I think I can do this! What have I got to lose by trying?"

How does negative thinking begin?
Negative thoughts often begin with doubt and self-criticism, which can launch a cycle of negative behavior. Or, they may be triggered by an event or situation that is out of your control. What they have in common is that they make you feel bad, and can seriously erode your mental and physical health. Negative thoughts may also become reality, because they can blind you to other, healthier ways of thinking.

How can pessimistic thinking spin out of control?
One example is having an old friend cancel lunch at the last minute. You could jump to conclusions and think, "She's tired of me," or "I'm not important to her." Or, you may blow it out of proportion and think, "She never really liked me," or "She always lets me down." Instead, consider an alternative. Maybe something came up at the last minute, or she had a family emergency. Give your friend—and yourself—the benefit of the doubt.

Is it possible to stop runaway thoughts?
Yes. When a negative thought pops into your head, just say "No." Wear a rubber band on your wrist and give it a snap. Imagine a stop sign in your head. Play some music, go for a walk, volunteer your time, visit a neighbor, or bake a cake. One client visualizes negative thoughts as annoying phone calls, and hangs up. Another imagines feeding them into a paper shredder, which becomes compost to plant flowers of positive thought.

When should I see a doctor?
Guilt, sadness, and irritability are normal human behaviors that can sneak up on you when you have a cold or miss a good night’s sleep. However, if these feelings persist every day for more than two weeks, see your doctor or call Behavioral Health Services to make an appointment These are signs of depression, which can be treated successfully.

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