Negative thinking linked to dementia risk

Here’s how to break the cycle and plot a path to positivity.

sad older man looking through the window

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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    COMMENTS

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    KSS
    3rd Jul 2020
    4:16pm
    Lots of Negative Nancys on this site!
    Horace Cope
    3rd Jul 2020
    4:25pm
    "Do you struggle with negative thoughts? How do you deal with them?"

    I don't struggle with negative thoughts although they do pop into my thinking now and then. I try and put positive thoughts in their place by thinking how lucky we are to still be here, healthy and not living on the streets. I must say that the media does us no favours with all the stories and articles showing the worst side of any situation.
    Lookfar
    3rd Jul 2020
    5:40pm
    Thought about the Post Office, it is certainly not the post office it used to be, but it does get the job done of sending huge amounts of stuff hither and thither to the happiness of the recipients of same, and I admit to enjoying going to the post office a cuppla times a week, and a lot of what I get it would be hard to digitalise so there would have to be a pretty good reason to stop it.
    Waiting on the reasons before I decide which way I wil go and not stressing till then, - lots other good problems to help solve already.
    It is always good to be able to see both sides of every situation, the inability to do that is I suspect a much closer aspect of the problem.
    If you can't learn any more why stay alive or conscious?
    Muttonbird
    3rd Jul 2020
    11:25pm
    Maybe some people have negative thoughts BECAUSE they know their memory is going down the tubes and that a less than rosy future awaits, ie the causality is the other way around!
    Lookfar
    4th Jul 2020
    2:25am
    True, Muttonbird, I would feel upset if I found myself losing my memory much faster than from age and other lifetime abuses, but one has to accept the consequences of one's actions.
    I guess that as I see my memory degrading I just try harder to get everything done before I have to leave, - that doesn't plunge me into despair, - on the contrary, but not being able to see what needs doing, that would be very sad.
    Marigold
    4th Jul 2020
    12:03pm
    One of the things I love about getting older is a closer understanding of how my thinking works and how it affects my mood. I am still prone to circular thinking, going over regrets and bad memories like a rat on a treadmill but being aware of it was an essential first step to controlling its impact on my life. The advice given in this item is good. I have rediscovered memories I am proud of and that give me great pleasure but constantly being anxious - even where there was nothing to be anxious about, like, what was I not noticing! - skewed my thinking to only the bad. I do have regrets, and I have memories that still cause pain, but I don't let them dominate anymore. It was an effort to shift my head to thinking of things I am proud of having done but the more I made myself do it, like everything else, the easier it became. I don't deny the things I regret, I just accept that no-one is promised an easy ride through life and that even those we think are lucky, lead wonderful lives and appear to never do wrong (or if they do they don't care) have their issues too. Being aware of that also drew attention to the things in my life that I really do need to change - misery is not always internal - but if I identify those things I also recognise no-one is going to change them for me, nor should they no matter how much we think they should or could. Just being aware of that doesn't bring always immediate solutions of course. It's not that easy. But its a starting point where previously there was just the treadmill.
    Elizzy
    4th Jul 2020
    3:16pm
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
    I listened to a TED Talk the other day where the speaker was talking about the 'treadmill' you describe. He said he had trained himself finally to ask 'are my thoughts useful and how do they behave?'. A useful technique I felt.
    pedro the swift
    4th Jul 2020
    5:03pm
    I think therefore I'm going nuts!


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