Imagine this scene: Someone sits in front of you at the movies and starts chatting with a friend.
If you're like most of us, your reaction might be:
"I should have picked another seat."
"The movie will be ruined!"
"This always happens to me."
"This is going to be a miserable night."
Your response to this situation is automatic; you don't stop to think or choose how to react, and you end up feeling victimized and miserable. Often we conjure automatic negative thoughts about ourselves in relation to others:
"I only got two birthday cards because I have no friends."
"I must be a terrible writer because I was asked to redo my report."
"If I'm late again my boss will fire me!"
The process resembles a never-ending, stress-producing tape in our minds. At the BHI, we teach patients cognitive restructuring so they can recognize negative automatic thoughts and become more conscious of how thoughts affect their state of mind and physical health.
Our thoughts can create a negative stress cycle that flows in two directions. For example, a headache can affect your mood and then in turn influence your thoughts, i.e. "I won't be able to get through the day if I don't feel better soon," Focusing on negative thoughts can also affect your mood and then lead to a headache. By recognizing this cycle, you can learn to examine and change some of your automatic thoughts.