Negative thinking linked to dementia

A new study has given yet another reason to train yourself out of constant negative thinking, finding it might increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research by University College London, and published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found a link between what scientists call ‘repetitive negative thinking’ and cognitive decline in participants over the age of 55.

Lead author Dr Natalie Marchant said: “Depression and anxiety in midlife and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.

“We hope that our findings could be used to develop strategies to lower people’s risk of dementia by helping them to reduce their negative thinking patterns,” she said.

Consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, Dr Elena Touroni, says: “People who are very hard on themselves tend to have what we call in psychology ‘unrelenting standards’. The sky is the limit – there is always something more to achieve. This is a psychological vulnerability that can land someone in a dangerous place.”

These are some of Dr Touroni’s tips for people who want to break out of the pattern of repetitive negative thoughts.

Don’t believe everything you think
“Just because you have a thought, doesn’t mean it’s true. When you notice you’re being hard on yourself or thinking very negatively, take a step back and question the thought you’re having. Is there any evidence to support this? Are you jumping to conclusions? Are you seeing the whole picture or just focusing on the worst possible scenario?”

Every negative thought is not bad, the point of staying alert and noticing threatening things in our vicinity is key for our survival. However, the majority of negative thoughts have no use and only create imaginary stress and drama in our minds.

Ask yourself if you’d talk to a friend this way
“Often we say things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to a friend. Next time you are being hard on yourself, try showing yourself the same kindness and compassion you’d show a friend.”

Instead of scolding yourself the next time you find yourself in a tricky position, imagine what advice you would give to a friend in the same situation.

Try to understand where this self-criticism comes from
“Do you feel like you’re trying to prove something (to yourself or others)? Can you trace back to where this all started? Therapy is a great place to start exploring your earlier experiences and how they might be impacting you now.”

You can try this exercise at home to try to discover a pattern to your negative thoughts.

Take a moment to list the negative thoughts that you have, including:

  • your fears
  • your insecurities
  • your losses
  • thoughts that regularly cause stress.

Then, in a separate column, write at least one positive thought that relates.

For example, if you fear failure, write about an instance where failure helped you to learn and grow. If you’re insecure about your skills, write about an improvement you’ve noticed in one area. If thinking about work makes you stressed, write about the people you help on a day-to-day basis or the colleagues you like to get coffee with.

Get into the habit of counteracting every negative thought with a positive one. It takes practice but it will eventually become second nature.

Dedicate time to yourself
“Commit to doing at least one thing a day that is just for your wellbeing and pleasure – and just for you. For example, run yourself a nice long bath, do an online yoga class, etc.”

Try to be kind to yourself
“Practise gratitude for things you already have rather than focusing on the things you don’t have (mindfulness can help with this).”

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” — Lao Tzu

Do you struggle with negative thoughts? How do you deal with them?

– With PA

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