January 20, 2009 5:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I ignore negative thoughts without suppressing them?

I've been having a hard time focusing lately. Here are a few facts about my life:

I smoke pot at least once a day.
I am 22 years old and still going through my sophomore year of college.
I feel physically shitty most of the time.

Since going home for the holidays, I've been feeling very insecure about myself. I had a lot of tough talks with my mom, my sister, my girlfriend and other such people who have awakened a sense of despair in my soul that I haven't felt for months.

Getting back to my question, how do I ignore negative thoughts without suppressing them? I know that I'm feel crappy because I'm thinking crappy right now. I've been too damn introspective these days and have a lot of trouble expressing myself without letting my demons get in the way. How do I let myself be?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry to hear you're having a rough time. I've found the MoodGYM really helpful- it's an online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy workbook. Put aside an hour or so and do it for real, writing in detailed accounts of your thoughts, not just skimming through it. Sounds like therapy with a real person would help, too. Feel better!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:17 PM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Stop smoking pot.

Exercise regularly.

Limit your alcohol intake.

Try to sleep regular hours, or at the very least, enough hours.
posted by tiamat at 5:35 PM on January 20, 2009

Having a hard time focusing and wanting to let go of the negative thoughts without suppressing them are both things I'm very familiar with. Yes, seeking out positives to crowd out the negs is good. However, do you like Tetris? I recently got reacquainted with it on gameboy (cheap to get at a big thrift store or craigslist) and it has really improved my concentration at work, which is a real difficulty for me as my work has gotten exceedingly boring. There was that study recently in the news about Tetris used experimentally to block out certain thought patterns, coincidentally, so it makes sense it might work as relief from some other thought patterns. You are then free to cultivate concentrate on something else, if you can put the game down. :)

There are numerous books out there that talk about how to take what's bugging you and turn it into motivation for change. I really liked Marshall Rosenberg's "Nonviolent Communication" for that, but that's just me and probably not the most obvious choice on that score. It's about communicating with others, but it's rooted in knowing your own feelings and expressing them constructively. You can use it just as well to give yourself what you need, rather than asking someone else for something you need.
posted by Listener at 5:36 PM on January 20, 2009

Tiamat basically closed this question. All you have to do to feel better is stop smoking pot and exercise. There may be other issues, they will reveal themselves, but for an immediate boost and a clearer view of your situation follow tiamat's advice.
posted by fire&wings at 5:43 PM on January 20, 2009

Don't ignore negative thoughts. Try to think them a level removed. This is CBT style stuff taught to me by a life coach I had for a little while a few years back.

Say you're feeling bad about yourself. Instead of just feeling it, think to yourself, "That's interesting, I have x, y, and z going for me, and yet I'm feeling bad. Why is that?" It's probably because you're locked into negative thought patterns yourself. The trick is to recognize when you're in these patterns, figure out what's causing them, and why that's false.

For example, I might have a hard day, and think to myself, I suck, I'm doomed to failure, I'll never reach my goals, in a few years I'll have to give up and go slave in a cubicle farm the rest of my life. But then I'll stop myself and say, well, that's not true, because my basic underlying assumption is wrong. I don't suck. I rock, I'm smart, I'm knowledgeable, I'm engaged and committed to learning and growing, etc, etc. By the time I think all that, I'm usually a little removed from the negative feeling. The details you'll have to figure out for yourself, but I find even this one layer of abstraction helps immensely.

And seriously, if you're really feeling stuck, drop the green stuff, at least for the time being. I've been an immense pothead for the last 6 or 7 years, and though it takes the edge off and gets you through the day, it's no good for feeling good about yourself or advancing personally or professionally already.

I finally called it quits a few days ago, flushed most of my stuff, and left a bit for one last period of toking. The next day I got laid off. If I was still smoking I'd be a wreck, lying in bed and not doing much of anything. Instead I am engaged, helping friends with their projects, and already have new employment almost in place. I feel positive and clearheaded, whereas I can absolutely guarantee I wouldn't have gotten out of bed yet if I hadn't flushed my stuff. Take a break.
posted by yellowbinder at 5:54 PM on January 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

ACT differs from traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in that rather than trying to teach people to better control their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and other private events, ACT teaches them to "just notice", accept, and embrace their private events, especially previously unwanted ones.
posted by b33j at 6:29 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might want to re-frame the point of view. Ignoring your negative thoughts will not address them, it will just delay them.

Perspective is in order. You have none. You are self medicating yourself with pot and drinks and how has that worked for you so far in ignoring the thoughts? Hey, the occasional hit and drink are fine but you are over the line, you are not smoking and drinking for entertainment, you are in them to drown out your insecurities and negative thoughts and it is not working.

You cant gain perspective by ignoring your thoughts. Trust me, those thoughts ain't going anywhere, they will be waiting for you as soon as you return from trying to delude yourself.

Be Aware of them. Stay aware, hear them. It's OK to hear them, just know that they can be wrong and they want you to stay insecure and crappy. When you think a negative thought, let it come, then ask yourself, "is that true?" Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. I'd bet my car MOST of it isn't true. And dude, even the true ones are not that fucking earth shattering. What, you suck at small talk, so does 80% of the earth, not comfortable in social setting, neither is 80% of the earth (most fake it), etc etc, get my point? Even the negative thoughts that are true (and you probably are in no position right now to tell the difference with a pound of THC in your kidneys and brain - you need perspective) objectively it's true you are lacking in some area - so am I (a lot of areas actually!) and so is everyone reading this. Don't let it freeze you into inaction or suppress who you can be.

Then get it through your head that everyone is insecure to a degree and has some fucked up parts of their lives. Not even Obama is Mr. Secure in Myself Confident Man 100% of the time.

Look at others as if they were you, trust me, they have insecurities, some about things you'd think were silly but it is not silly to them, like yours are not silly to you.

If dealing with insecurities were an easy thing we'd all be a lot more confident and care free. It's not easy. Regardless of the deep root history of whatever churns up your particular insecurities, you can mitigate them enough to be happier.

Take a break from the pot and drinking for a month, just make that one target goal, no one says forever, no forever promises, after that you can see if you want to go back to it occationally. The first week will suck, deal with it. Take nice long walks (as exercise, if you dont want to jump into the gym stuff), try to focus on something you know you like. (Whatever - video games, computer magazines, reading, putting your mp3s in order, take your girlfriend somewhere.)

And breathe, the thoughts are OK, they just aren't all true.
posted by Kensational at 6:37 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I agree about stopping pot smoking and doing exercise... but you may not want to make those changes yet...

Ironically, if you try to ignore negative thoughts, they get louder and more insistent.

I would say the best way manage negative thoughts is just to acknowledge them. Notice them, observe them, and then talk to yourself about them. The key thing here is to stop passing judgment on yourself, which I suspect you are doing.

"Oh I suck. Why do I always think like this... ??? Oh wait... I'm thinking crappy things, and now I'm criticizing myself for that... hmm, I'm sure hard on myself! Oh well, enough of that, I'm going to think about nicer things now... " etc.

That's what the conversation in my head sounded like for several months, as I got out of the habit of being mean to myself!
posted by Locochona at 6:51 PM on January 20, 2009

What worked for me is writing them down, and then applying some basic techniques of CBT. Are you familiar with the most common "cognitive distortions"? Do you have thought patterns that fit any of those in particular?

I actually had a journal in which I would write down each negative thought as it occurred, along with the emotion/s it was associated with. Then asked myself "How is this inaccurate? How is it unhelpful?" and wrote the answers down. After a few weeks of writing certain negative thoughts in my journal, I no longer had to suppress them because I could instantly see the pattern of inaccurate, unhelpful thinking. (Only for specific thoughts related to a particular behaviour, mind you - others are much more deeply ingrained!)

While you have a pen in hand, can you also brainstorm what you think (or know) that pot does for you? e.g. relaxes me, numbs me, whatever... is there any other activities that would do the same? When I was 22 I smoked pot nearly every day too, for around six months. Not trying to sound patronising, but I can relate to your situation and trust me - life looks a whole lot brighter when you're not peering at it through a fog of lethargy every day.

Good luck!
posted by Weng at 6:51 PM on January 20, 2009

You can look at my brief posting history with this sockpuppet to see that I'm not the one to come in and tell you by kneejerk default to cut out the weed. That said, inducing introspection and introversion is sort of one of the things weed does, especially if you're not baking in a group where the yapping joking and laughing stoner-circle provides a balancing influence towards extroversion. So yeah, if too much introspection is a problem for you right now then cutting down the weed would probably help cut down the introspection.
posted by Sockpuppet For Naughty Things at 7:30 PM on January 20, 2009

You are very very young, you need to know that. I remember being 22 and thinking how I had missed so many chances in life to be what I wanted to be. Now I look back on those years and all I can think about are the things I didn't do when I had the chance. Do the things you want to do. I'm not saying you should start chasing some dream - it's rare to even know what you really want to do with your life at that age - but do something - anything that interests you. Once you show yourself that you can be passionate about something/anything a whole new world will open up to you and finishing your degree and getting healthy will have purpose. Until you get some real passion in your life everything you see will be an obstacle instead of a portal.
posted by any major dude at 8:01 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another thing to try, if you're so inclined, is meditation.

I'm thinking in particular that you might be interested in the Buddhist ideal of mindfulness. Roughly speaking, mindfulness means noticing what your brain is up to without getting carried away with it. In your case, that might include being aware of the negative thoughts without succumbing to negativity.

I'm not trying to prosyletize here — Buddhism is just what I know. There are plenty of other kinds of meditation that seem to have similarly good stuff to offer.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:56 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Does your school health department have any type of counseling available? It would definitely be worth stopping in if they do.

You say you want to ignore but not suppress thoughts. I take that as meaning that you want to keep them in your awareness, but not allow them to dominate your attention.

There are two activities I recommend for this:
1> Keep moving - when you are up and doing active and notice one of those thoughts don't ignore it right away. Instead say "Ahh, I see that you are here again. You are part of me, but you don't control me. This other thing I am doing is more important to me right now." Then go on with your other activity.
2> Meditation - in quiet times this is an opportunity to practice the ritual I mentioned above. Having set the time aside as not producing a particular outcome you can allow yourself to be aware of and observe your thoughts. There are many good sources on meditation so I would encourage you to seek them out, even better if you can find a coach to work with you, perhaps a supportive classmate.

I want to emphasize what was said above. You are young, you have opportunity, and you will no doubt make good intentions and fail along the way. That is to be human. Celebrate it. Say to yourself "Aha! Today I intended to acknowledge but not be controlled by that thought, but instead it came into my mind and I spent an hour indulging in it. That isn't what I intended. I see that and it means I am frail. I am human. I rejoice in my humanity. Tomorrow I can get up and renew my commitments. Tomorrow I will focus on doing what I care about."

Good luck, and be sure to seek help as you need it.
posted by meinvt at 9:20 PM on January 20, 2009

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