We instinctively scan to notice what is negative in our environment. This helps us to avoid danger and improve our chances of survival. Or at least this was the case when we needed to protect ourselves from the threat of hungry predators.
Fast forward to modern times and rather than running for our lives, many of us are battling to maintain a positive sense of self. The barrage of social media and marketing messages makes it impossible not to compare ourselves to others. We can be left feeling that others have more success or happiness and that our lives don’t stack up.
The next time you find yourself scrolling through social media with a sense of envy or feeling that your life is not as great as everyone else’s, you can try a technique employed by many therapists. It’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). This is used to help people stop the cycle of negative thoughts that can lead to anxiety and depression.
Step 1 – Catch it
Spot when you might be having a negative thought. Sometimes our body even has a reaction like a tightening in the chest. Nipping a negative thought in the bud can help you from spiraling from “everyone’s life is better than mine” to “I must be a complete failure and nothing is ever going to get better.”
Step 2 – Check it
Is what you are thinking really true? Since most people post the positive highlights of their days and weeks on social media, isn’t this really a skewed perspective? Whoever you may be comparing yourself to is a human being just like you. They will have good days and bad, but the latter is less likely to be shared.
Consider if your best friend told you they were a complete failure, would you believe it? Treat yourself with the same compassion you would have for a dear friend. We are our own toughest critics and we believe what we tell ourselves, even when we are wrong. It’s helpful to step back and have some perspective.
Step 3 – Change it
Start substituting with more realistic thoughts rather than blanket generalizations. Remember that if you are feeling down that much of this could be due to current circumstances. Have you been dealing with a change in job, relationships or living situation? These are some of the top stressors that people face, but even smaller bumps in the road can really impact our mood and create a negative mindset.
Give yourself a break. Remind yourself, for example, “I just started this new job and there is a lot to learn. It may take some time to feel comfortable much less feel like I am winning at work.”
To make this step even more effective, you can even journal about what is causing the negative feelings. Make a note of the automatic responses that you tell yourself. Then counter those with more rational responses. Keep in mind, that due to our innate bias towards negativity, it can take three positive thoughts to counteract each negative one. So really stretch yourself to find more positive alternatives. You find a sample journal here:
October is Emotional Wellness Month. Many people deal with difficult emotions and I hope these techniques are helpful for you. However, if you are feeling levels of anxiety or depression that our tough to manage on your own, it may be time to check in with your doctor or seek the guidance of a therapist.