how to be mindful of thoughts

Individuals with depressive tendencies may find themselves spending a lot of time labeling themselves and those around them. For example, my 27-year-old friend, Alison, is moving back to New Jersey to live with her parents after living for a while in Washington, D.C. post-college. Recently, she lamented to me, “I am going to be 27, single, jobless, and living with my parents!” I challenged Alison to instead “Think of this time as a transition, and simply that.” When we remove the labels of judgement, we feel more free.

Catastrophizing is a common negative pattern amongst people who struggle with anxiety. This thought process involves imagining the worst-case scenario or outcome of a stressful event or experience. For example: “If I fail this test, I won’t pass this class, I will never graduate, I will be unemployed and homeless and no one will love me!” While this is an extreme example, it demonstrates the negative thought pattern of jumping from one catastrophe to another.

Individuals with low self-esteem are often prone to overgeneralization. A client may tell me that they are extremely disappointed with their yearly review from their boss. They may point out that while they received positive feedback on the majority of the evaluation points, they scored low on timeliness. A person who overgeneralizes will respond to this report with statements such as, “I am a terrible employee because I am late once a week.” This client is failing to recognize the many strengths they bring to the table and is focusing instead on the one substandard piece of feedback.

The work for anyone struggling with perpetual negative thinking is to recognize that these thoughts are just that — thoughts, and not facts. Then, it’s time to challenge these automatic patterns of thinking. This is where mindfulness meditation comes in.