How to handle 4 kinds of discouraging thoughts
When times are tough and the whole world feels upside down, your personal wellness goals might seem futile or insignificant. But they matter—because you matter—and prioritizing your wellbeing can be vital in helping you get through challenges and hardships, says New York City-based clinical psychologist Chloe Carmichael, PhD.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed or discouraged lately, you may have more control than you’re giving yourself credit for, she says. Read on for strategies to help shift your thinking and put yourself back in the driver’s seat.
Tips for dealing with discouraging thoughts
If you're thinking, "Ugh, I fell off the wagon by eating poorly this month," try, "What are some things I learned about myself this month?"
It’s easy to feel down after a stretch of less-than-optimal eating. But scolding your past self for that potato chip situation probably won’t help you much going forward, Carmichael says. Instead, treat the setback as a chance to review and gather intel: What are some factors that may have caused your eating to go off track? Was it stress from nonstop news consumption? Too little structure in your days? Too much structure—e.g., did you snap after eating the same boring lunch salad three days in a row?
Whatever learnings you uncover, skip the self-blame and use your insights to make healthy eating easier for “future you.” Focusing on a desired future state may help increase motivation and commitment to a goal, according to a 2017 research review in Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Some takeaway practices might include capping your news exposure, pre-tracking your afternoon snacks, and definitely leveling up your salad game.
If you're thinking, "My gym is closed—I’m bummed I can’t work out," try, "Until I can return to the gym, I'll take a walk every day instead."
Some self-defeating thoughts call for a reality check, Carmichael says. In this case, a factual statement (my gym is closed) is jumping to an assumed conclusion (I can’t exercise). Such leaps in reasoning may cause you to overlook viable alternatives, Carmichael says. Her advice: When you’re feeling powerless or stuck, write down what’s making you feel that way. Then look at what you’ve written piece by piece and ask yourself, “Is this true? What might some other choices be?” For instance, until your gym can safely open again, you might want to consider brisk daily walks or streaming workouts at home. The key is recognizing—then acting on—the choices you do have.
If you're thinking, "I'm so alone in all this," try, "It's healthy to seek support."
Social ties are good for us. Not only do positive relationships support longevity, according to a 2015 meta-analysis in Perspectives on Psychological Science; they’re associated with resilient thinking, a 2018 study of 191 adults found. So it stings when stressful life events interfere with human connection—and it’s easy to feel isolated as a result, says clinical health psychologist Robyn Pashby, PhD, founder of the counseling practice DC Health Psychology in Bethesda, Maryland.
Something helpful to keep in mind is that you’re not alone in, well, feeling alone right now—and you’re not weird for wanting support, Pashby says. Trust that others are craving connection, too, and consider reaching out. Whether through a Zoom call with an old friend, a friendly message-board exchange, or a WW Virtual Workshop, moments of connection are mutually replenishing, Pashby says. Offer support to the extent that you’re able, and if you need a helping hand, pipe up. Relationships may require a little extra creativity these days, but they still can thrive—as can you.
If you're thinking, "Everything is out of control right now," try, "I am in control of my choices today."
When life feels uncertain and your “new normal” feels like anything but, centering your thoughts in the present may help restore a sense of agency. Research shows that we tend to feel more in control when we’re zoned in on what’s in front of us right now. One exercise to try: Plant your feet firmly on the floor and imagine dropping an anchor. Slow your breath and tune in to your senses. What do you see, feel, hear, and smell? Then, instead of allowing your thoughts to unspool into the future (“Will I be able to find chicken at the grocery store in two weeks?”), focus on your present reality (“I have food in my fridge right now”). This will help nudge you toward choices you can make today, like prepping a healthy meal.
Jessica DiGiacinto is an associate editor at WW. A health and wellness writer and editor based in New York, she’s contributed to Popsugar, Bulletproof 360, and Galvanized Media, among other outlets.