As many of you know, in my 20s while working as a nurse, I suffered from bulimia, medicating myself with food to combat a depression. I had no idea I could free myself from craving and depressive symptoms until I was recommended to see a therapist by a boyfriend who was breaking up with me. Back in the 80s, I thought therapy was for people who were suicidal, addicted, or "crazy". And I was a member of the healthcare community! My beliefs were due partly because of, (a) my denial of the severity of my symptoms, (b) my lack of awareness of available mental healthcare services, and (c) the stigma attached to receiving mental healthcare. Many Americans will not seek mental healthcare today, for these very reasons. One of the reasons I was so depressed (and in need of comfort) was because of all the negative and ruminative thoughts I had about myself. For example:
"You're too fat!"
"No one wants to hear what you have to say"
"You're a bad person"
"You're not enough"
"You're not worthy of love and happiness"
When I began therapy in my 20's, I learned how to identify my thoughts and feelings, as well as their origins. But they did not go away. I learned how to distract myself from cravings, but they did not go away.
Then, 9 years ago, I began to meditate. Over the past few years, being still long enough to see the negative thoughts as "just thoughts", not identifying with them, and being compassionate with myself while experiencing them resulted in a reduction of those negative thoughts, and a reduction in cravings. Finally, a light at the end of a very long tunnel!
And research bears this out! In the journal "JAMA Internal Medicine", Goyal and colleagues reviewed 47 studies of over 3,500 participants, and found that taking an 8-week class in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, can improve anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. What was most amazing is that the effect sizes for the improvements found through meditation were stronger than the effect sizes for the improvements found from antidepressant medication (unless someone was very severely depressed, then antidepressants beat meditation as a treatment modality). Because of these findings, Goyal recommended that "clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program can have in addressing psychological distress".
If you, too, suffer from negative thoughts, I first recommend you learn to meditate. Signing up for one of the classes below can help you establish a consistent daily meditation practice. If that doesn't help, consulting a therapist or psychiatrist may be extremely beneficial.
And whenever you experience those negative, pesky thoughts, I recommend you stop, take a breath, observe the thought without judgment, and then nurture yourself for having to experience it. I often put my hand on my heart and say, Oh...that's a painful thought! In addition, click on the picture below for another tool to help you identify and reduce those "stupid thoughts".
Stopping Stupid Thoughts Worksheet