How to Banish Negative Thoughts & Feelings
Does your ADHD cause thoughts of despair? Stay positive with these eight simple tips that are sure to bring a smile.
There is a three-inch-square magnet stuck to the door of my refrigerator with a small but powerful reminder written on it: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Ah, if I had a nickel for every time someone said those words to me, I’d be at least a few hundred dollars richer.
Too bad I don’t read (or heed) that sentiment when I stumble into the dark pit of negative thinking and despair. As the self-proclaimed ADHD Queen of Positivity, I’m embarrassed to report it happens regularly.
I don’t go willingly to the dark side, though. Life conspires to send ominous rain clouds over my good moods. I can conjure up legitimate crises that offer ample justification for staying in the pit instead of scrambling out of it.
In a warped way, my bleak outlook is so familiar I sometimes welcome it back like an old friend. I feel and act like the droopy donkey Eeyore, wallowing in the warm mud of self-pity.
Honestly, I think all this negativity is an ADHD thing. We of the ADHD ilk have a tendency to “go negative” even over trivial mishaps or encounters. We are convinced that our friend’s raised eyebrow must mean she has taken note of and judged every flaw in our vast repertoire. Or when an acquaintance doesn’t text us back within a few minutes, we search our souls to remember what we said or did to cause this rejection.
The origins of good versus bad thinking lie deep in the all-or-nothing ADHD brain. We prefer black and white to gray. In my adolescence, I was so disenchanted with nebulous gray areas that I banned the word “compromise” from my vocabulary.
I finally learned that sustainable happiness lives in the (light) gray zone of our lives. Every time we “go negative” we block the thing we’ve been seeking: acceptance, connection, and love. It’s important to pull ourselves out of the muck and into the sunlight again. Here are my favorite ways to do that:
Phone a Friend
Negative thoughts can be tempered when shared with someone who understands that this is temporary ADHD melancholy. I usually call my ever-patient husband, who listens, mirrors back my sorrow, then tells me he loves me no matter what. If you try this strategy, make sure you call someone who will listen and not try to fix the problem – or you. My dogs do nicely in a pinch, although the feedback loop is somewhat limited.
Write the Demons Out of Your Life
A subset of the phone-a-friend strategy, writing down those nasty thoughts can get them out of my system so I can be slightly more objective. The best writing is the worst writing: a for-your-eyes-only mind dump of disconnected thoughts and poor grammar.
Although a piece of paper and pen will do, I prefer writing on a private, computer-based journal like Penzu, which is available online at no cost for the basic version. My online journal time-date stamps my entries and saves them, so I have a logbook of struggles and triumphs. It’s painful but instructive to re-read them on occasion.
When life deals me a few bad cards, I react, usually badly. When my snit fit subsides and sanity returns, I reexamine the facts. I put the raw data (who said what to whom or a step-by-step recounting of the timeline) on table in front of me. Then I take a look at them with less emotion and reactivity. Some of the information rings true, so I use it to make decisions about my next step. The rest I discard, like sand falling between my fingers.
Fake It for a While
I grudgingly give this one props, only because it works. Putting on a smile when I feel like frowning offends my integrity and forces me into fraud mode. But after a while, my mood begins to match my face. Even more interesting is that when the people around me respond as if I were happy, I actually become happy.
Shake Your Body
I’m annoyed by this one, too, but my old friend/enemy exercise is credited with solving almost all the health problems of Western Civilization, including negative thinking. If I can pry myself off the couch or out of bed – a challenge when you feel down – this one is a sure-fire solution to the blues.
Go to the Sunny Side of the Street
My psychiatrist tells me that going outside for 30 minutes every morning is a proven antidote to mood disorders and anxiety. I am startled at the change in my attitude with a little sunshine. Its effectiveness is proportional to my willingness to open the door and step out into the big wide world.
Change Your Scene
Get out of the room, the office, the house, even the neighborhood when you are in a negative rut. Removing yourself from a space can open new channels of insight. Sometimes I take my laptop with me and write like crazy, banishing the demons from a different location.
Work to Inspire Yourself
I have inspirational quotes posted on the fridge, as well as in my office, bathroom, and car. “Believe in yourself,” “Problems are unsolved opportunities,” “What are you waiting for?” They catch my eye at just the right moment, and I take a breath and feel renewed.