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Mental HealthResilience

Reframing Negative Situations: Cognitive Behavioural Thoughts

By August 5, 2020August 7th, 2023No Comments

Does it ever feel like only bad things happen to you? Or that you feel overwhelmed and just can’t seem to get certain negative thoughts out of your head? As humans, we have this negativity bias that becomes an impulse to focus on any thought or situation that has the potential to bring us pain, stress or worry.

Anxiety is a normal response to many situations and has an evolutionary benefit to keep us safe from danger and pain, but if anxious responses continue past the point of their helpfulness to our safety, it can lead to warped views on reality, the inability to focus on positivity, and therefore generalized anxiety.

Think about it… if we are using up all of our energy focusing on the negative, we inevitably have very little energy left at the end of the day to pull out the good that happened.

However, there is a way to develop acceptance of the pain but also bring more focus to the good – and this is called Positive Reframing. 

What is Positive Reframing?

Positive reframing is a cognitive-behavioral technique that involves changing one’s perspective to see a situation, experience, or event in a more favorable or constructive light.

The fundamental principle behind this strategy is the understanding that our perceptions and interpretations of events play a significant role in determining our emotions and reactions.

By shifting the way we view a situation, we can alter our emotional response to it and influence our subsequent behaviors and outcomes. For example, consider a scenario where a person faces rejection for a job.

A negative frame might involve thinking, “I’m not good enough, and no one will ever hire me.” This kind of thinking can lead to feelings of hopelessness and decreased motivation.

On the other hand, positive reframing might lead the person to think, “This job wasn’t the right fit for me, and there’s something better out there. This is an opportunity to refine my skills and apply elsewhere.”

This mindset promotes resilience, motivation, and continued effort. The power of positive reframing lies in its ability to help individuals cope with adversity, reduce stress, and harness challenges as opportunities for growth.

It doesn’t mean ignoring real issues or problems; instead, it’s about viewing them in a context that allows for growth, learning, and progress. Regular practice of this technique can foster a more resilient mindset, making it easier for individuals to bounce back from setbacks and face future challenges with a proactive, rather than a reactive, stance.

While positive reframing is an effective tool for managing many of life’s challenges, it’s important to note that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. There are situations where a more nuanced or complex approach may be needed.

However, for many people, adopting a habit of positive reframing can lead to greater emotional well-being, increased motivation, and an overall enhanced quality of life.

How does it work? Positive reframing works on the premise that all situations are neutral in occurrence. They only become positive or negative through our perception (which is based on your past experiences with similar situations or moral values around what you do or don’t agree with). This means that if a situation is not inherently good or bad, then it must be open to interpretation.

Consider these scenarios: Feeling completely embarrassed because you failed at something you were so passionate about? A good reframe would be to consider the fact that you put your effort all on the line in that moment, which is tremendously brave – you faced those fears!

Stuck in a situation that feels like will never get better? It must be tough but think of all the life lessons you are learning along the way, especially your capacity to deal with the uncertain. 

Could reframing your thoughts to notice the good in tough situations be as simple as turning a phrase? Of course it can, but try not to mistake simple for easy. It is a simple tactic, but it will take practice before reframing becomes natural.

Managing Negative Emotions

Managing negative emotions is a crucial skill for maintaining mental and emotional well-being. These emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, or frustration, are natural and universal, but how we handle them determines their impact on our lives.

Effective management can prevent these emotions from leading to prolonged distress, impaired decision-making, or harmful behaviors. Firstly, self-awareness is foundational.

Recognizing and naming the emotion you’re feeling is the first step toward managing it. When we can pinpoint the exact emotion, we reduce its power over us and can begin to address it more directly.

Journaling or talking with trusted friends or professionals can help in this process. Sometimes, just expressing the emotion can provide significant relief. Mindfulness and meditation practices have also been shown to be particularly effective in managing negative emotions.

These techniques encourage individuals to observe their feelings non-judgmentally, without trying to change or suppress them. Over time, this practice helps in creating a certain detachment from these emotions, allowing individuals to respond rather than react to them. Another strategy involves challenging and reframing negative thoughts.

Cognitive distortions, or irrational thought patterns, can intensify negative emotions. By identifying and challenging these distortions, one can change the narrative. For instance, if someone thinks, “I always fail at everything,” they might challenge this by recalling instances of past successes.

Physical activity can also be a potent tool for emotional regulation. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Even a brief walk can provide a change of scenery, fresh air, and a break from a stressful environment or situation.

It’s All About Being Mindful

Just like any developed habit, we have to set in action the practice of recognizing the good in any given situation, and once we do, we will be bestowed with some amazing benefits: 

  • Changing your thought process also enables you to demonstrate behaviours and emotions that you feel comfortable with.
  • Developed resilience and the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity and challenge.
  • Increase confidence through empowerment and the ability to become more in control of your reactions.

So, I ask you today to challenge those negative thoughts… what thoughts are you giving permission to shape your attitudes, your behaviour and your fears? You just might be surprised what you discover.

*This is not medical advice, please contact a medical professional if you think you need to seek further help.