Healthy thinking is a way to help you stay well by changing how you think.
It's based on research that shows that you can change how you think. And how
you think affects how you feel and act.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you know what thoughts of yours—both helpful and not helpful—affect problems or feelings that trouble you. With practice, you can replace negative thoughts that discourage you with accurate thoughts that encourage you.
Working on your own or with a
counselor, you can practice these three steps:
Stop. Notice your thoughts. When you notice a negative thought, stop it in its tracks and write it down.
Ask. Look at that thought and ask yourself whether it is helpful or unhelpful right now.
Choose. Choose a new, helpful thought to replace a negative one.
The goal is to have accurate, encouraging thoughts come naturally. It
may take some time to change the way you think. So you will need to practice
healthy thinking every day.
Test Your Knowledge
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of
therapy that can help change how you think about yourself.
Changing the way you think can help you replace
negative thoughts with helpful ones. This can help you cope with depression and
may help keep it from coming back.
Maybe you weren't able to close a sale or get a big project done at work. Or
perhaps a relationship has ended. It's normal to feel down. But you've had
trouble sleeping. You can't enjoy many of your usual activities. And you're
blaming yourself. "I'm a failure at everything," you tell yourself.
The more you think about yourself in a negative way, the harder it is to
feel hopeful. The negative thinking makes you feel bad. And that
can make you feel more depressed, which leads to more bad thoughts about
yourself. It's a cycle that's hard to break.
But with practice,
you can retrain your brain. After all, you weren't born telling yourself
negative things. You learned how to do it. So there's no reason you can't teach
your brain to unlearn it and replace negative thinking with more helpful
Healthy thinking also can help you manage
stress. Stress can increase symptoms of depression. And depression can make your outlook on life negative and daily tasks more stressful. Too much stress can raise your blood pressure
and make your heart work harder, which can increase your risk for a heart
attack. Stress also can weaken your
immune system, which can make you more open to
infection and disease.
Although you can use CBT on your own, it's
important to talk to your doctor or a counselor if you feel that your mood is
getting worse. You may need more help.
Test Your Knowledge
Healthy thinking can help you stop negative thoughts
that make depression worse.
The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about
yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head.
Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not
Ask about your thoughts
The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Does
the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true.
Or it may be partly true but exaggerated. There are several kinds of irrational
thoughts. Here are a few types to look for:
Focusing on the negative: This is sometimes called filtering. You filter out the good
and focus only on the bad. Example: "I'm sad that I don't have many friends.
People must not like me." Reality: You have some friends. So that means you're
likable and can make more friends if you want them.
Should: People sometimes have set ideas about how they
"should" act. If you hear yourself saying that you or other people "should,"
"ought to," or "have to" do something, then you might be setting yourself up to
feel bad. Example: "I should get married before I'm 30. If I don't, it means
I'm a loser." Reality: There's nothing wrong with having a time line in mind.
But you're not being fair to yourself if you make your self-worth depend on
meeting a deadline.
is taking one example and saying it's true for everything. Look for words such
as "never" and "always." Example: "I got laid off. I'll never get another job."
Reality: Many people lose their jobs because of downsizing and other things
beyond their control. It doesn't mean that you won't be able to get another
All-or-nothing thinking: This is also
called black-or-white thinking. Example: "If I don't get a big raise at my next
review, then it means I have no future with this company." Reality: There's
nothing wrong with wanting a big raise. But if you don't get the raise, there
may be reasons for it that have nothing to do with you.
Choose your thoughts
The next step is to choose a more helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.
Keeping a journal of your thoughts
is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or
unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember
at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so you can write down any
irrational thoughts as they happen. Then write down a helpful message to
correct the unhelpful thought.
If you do this every day, accurate and helpful
thoughts will soon come naturally to you.
But there may
be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you
want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something,
write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.
If you want, you also could write down what kind of irrational thought
you had. Journal entries might look something like this:
Stop your negative thought
Ask what type of negative thought you had
Choose an accurate, helpful thought
"I'm sad that I don't have
many friends. People must not like me."
"I have some friends, so I know I can make
"I should get married before
I'm 30. If I don't, it means I'm a loser."
"There's no guarantee that I'll meet the
right person by the time I'm 30. If I don't get married by then, I still have
time to find a good relationship."
"I got laid off. I'll never get
"Our company ran into financial trouble, so
I got laid off. It may take some time to get another job, but I know I
"If I don't get a big raise at
my next review, then it means I have no future with this company."
All or nothing
"I would love to get a big raise. But it
might not be in the company's budget this year."
Test Your Knowledge
Which of these thoughts is an example of healthy
This is an example of an irrational thought
called overgeneralizing. You may have had some relationships that didn't last.
But that doesn't mean that you will never meet someone and have a loving
This is an accurate thought. You admit that you
feel bad about something, but you're not blaming yourself. You're taking action
to see if there is anything you can do to improve your chances next time.
How can a daily journal help you have more accurate, rational
Writing in the journal
every day will help healthy thinking come naturally to you. It takes some
practice. It took a long time for negative thinking to become automatic. So it
may take some time to get used to having accurate, realistic thoughts.
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How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.