8 Tips to Change Negative Thinking

Negative thinking contributes to anxiety in social and performance situations. Most therapies for social anxiety involve an aspect dedicated to changing negative thinking styles into more helpful and positive ways of looking at situations.

The key to changing your negative thoughts is to understand how you think now (and the problems that result) and then use strategies to change thoughts or make them have less effect.

Usually, these steps are carried out with a therapist, but they can also be used as part of a ​self-help effort toward overcoming social anxiety.

Below are eight articles to help you change your negative thought patterns.


Understand Your Thinking Styles

Avoid thinking in absolute terms to reduce social anxiety.
Black and white thinking can cause social anxiety. Stone/Tara Moore/Getty Images

One of the first steps toward changing your negative thinking patterns is understanding exactly how you think right now. Here is a list of 10 types of "faulty" thinking patterns that might be getting you into trouble.

For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in "black-and-white" thinking.

These 10 thinking patterns differ in subtle ways but they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of looking at situations and people.


How to Stop Thinking Negatively

Change your negative thoughts to fight social anxiety.
CBT for social anxiety can help turn negative thoughts around. The Image Bank/Loubie Lou/Getty Images

One of the basic parts of a treatment plan involving cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is cognitive restructuring. This process helps you to identify and change your negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses.

Whether done in therapy or on your own, cognitive restructuring involves a step-by-step process whereby negative thoughts are identified, evaluated for accuracy, and then replaced.

Although at first, it is difficult to think with this new style, over time and with practice, positive and rational thoughts will come more naturally.


How to Cope With Criticism

Socially anxious people need to work on assertiveness skills.
You can learn to defend yourself if you have social anxiety. Hero Images/Getty Images

In addition to cognitive restructuring, another aspect of CBT that is sometimes helpful involves something known as the "assertive defense of the self." Since it is possible that some of the time, people will actually be critical and judgmental, it is important that you are able to cope with rejection.

This process is usually conducted in therapy with a pretend conversation between you and your therapist to build up your assertiveness skills and assertive responses to criticism. These skills are then transferred to the real world through homework assignments.


How to Practice Mindfulness

Use mindfulness to reduce social anxiety.
Mindfulness can help to reduce social anxiety. Gwin Photography/Getty Images

Mindfulness has its roots in meditation. It is the practice of detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions and viewing them as an outside observer.

During mindfulness training, you will learn how to view your thoughts and feelings as objects floating past you that you can stop and observe or let pass you by.

The objective of mindfulness is to gain control of your emotional reactions to situations by allowing the thinking part of your brain to take over.


Why Thought Stopping Doesn't Work

Don't try to control your negative thoughts if you have social anxiety.
Trying to stop negative thoughts will only make social anxiety worse. Rafael Elias/Getty Images

Thought stopping is the opposite of mindfulness. It is the act of being on the lookout for negative thoughts and insisting that they are eliminated.

The problem with thought stopping is that the more you try to stop your negative thoughts the more they will surface. Mindfulness is preferable to thought stopping because it gives less weight to your thoughts and reduces the impact they have on you.

Thought stopping might seem to help in the short-term, but in the long-term, it leads to more anxiety.


Understanding Thought Diaries

Use a thought diary to capture your social anxiety on a daily basis.
A thought diary can be used to record your daily thoughts about social anxiety. Westend61/Getty Images

Thought diaries are tools that can be used as part of any process to change negative thinking. Thought diaries help you to identify your negative thinking styles and gain a better understanding of how your thoughts (and not the situations you are in) cause your emotional reactions.

Most cognitive-behavioral treatment plans will involve the use of a thought diary that you will complete as part of daily homework assignments.


Sample Thought Diary

Use a thought diary for social anxiety disorder.
A sample thought diary for social anxiety disorder. Arlin Cuncic

Not sure what an actual thought diary looks like? Here is a sample form that you can use to record your thoughts and examine the connection between your negative thinking styles and your emotional reactions.


How to Complete a Thought Diary

Thought diaries should be used in a specific way for social anxiety.
Use a thought diary as prescribed for social anxiety. Ikon Images/Roy Scott/Getty Images

Here is a step-by-step description of how to fill out a thought diary like the sample form above.

In this particular example, we break down the thought process of a person on a date, and the emotional and physical reactions that result from negative thinking patterns.

By the end of the thought analysis, we have replaced irrational thoughts about rejection with more helpful and positive ways of thinking.

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