Simon explains how he deals with negative thoughts to improve his sense of wellbeing while living alone.
The focus on wellbeing feels more widespread than ever before. After seemingly endless lockdowns followed by an ongoing cost of living crisis, it can feel increasingly difficult to remain positive. If you live solo and are not wholly comfortable with times of solitude and being alone, then negative thinking can be exacerbated.
In previous articles, I discuss some of what I do to thrive while living alone, despite challenges posed by issues such as finding a work/life balance and financial concerns. Today, I talk about an aspect of wellbeing that may affect you while living alone by sharing my experience of what I do to deal with negative thinking. While you read, ask yourself what are the unique challenges you face and what do you think are the best ways to overcome them.
Identify when your wellbeing can suffer
Everyone is different. Personally, my wellbeing tends to suffer during quiet evenings when I’m alone and have no plans. This is something that has risen to the surface since I began solo living. My mind tends to drift towards negative thoughts, and I completely lose concentration, even if I’m doing something like reading a book or listening to a podcast. This swiftly turns into a negative thinking rabbit hole, and my mind takes a long time to climb out of it.
Of course, I am fully aware it is not the same for everyone, but I have heard of other people suffering wellbeing dips at other times of the day. For instance, some wake up and are instantly consumed by negative thoughts and anxiety. Meanwhile, some people are struck by random negative thoughts while eating dinner or lying in the bath.
The moments when negative thinking takes its grip will be different for all who experience them. What’s important is being able to recognise and identify the specific times and events that cause or trigger your sense of wellbeing to dip. When you are able to recognise those moments, my suggestion is, you can then take actions to address and deal with your negative thoughts with the aim of doing what you can to enhance your overall wellbeing. The big question is, what actions can you take?
Look for the small wins and enjoy the little things
We all love looking forward to big events – a holiday, moving house, or a big night out. But let’s face it; for the majority of the time, we don’t have those big events to look forward to. That can adversely impact our wellbeing, and unless you’re a lottery winner or Premier League footballer, you can’t make big plans to fill every second of the day.
To overcome this hurdle, try to focus on the small things in life that bring you some comfort and joy. What makes you smile or gives you even a tiny slice of happiness or contentment? Maybe it’s reading a book, watching a new series on Netflix, pottering around the garden, or even changing your bed sheets.
Look at these seemingly inane, small events as big positives. After all, they make you happy, which is hugely important. Those small joys can motivate you and improve your wellbeing. It’s possible that until you start thinking of them, you will be unaware of the small wins that make you happy. Take some time to consider what everyday small wins are for you.
Adding up the small joys and wins and making them a regular part of your everyday living can be the secret to living alone well, so don’t undervalue how powerful small wins can be. Who knew the delight of seeing a plant’s greenery come back to life just after watering counts as a small joy! Granted, it’s a tiny joy, but it still counts.
Try to revel in the success of seemingly small successes. I recently completed some minor DIY for the first time in my life. It’s not going to turn me into a master builder or change my life, but it was a small victory I can look back on with pride and feel a sense of accomplishment moving forward.
My tip is, don’t underestimate the positive impact of small joys or wins and learn to recognise when they happen in your life and while you are home alone.
Close your eyes and try meditating
Until about six months, the idea of trying meditation seemed utterly ridiculous to me. For a start, I assumed I wouldn’t be able to do it, thinking it would just be listening to somebody drone on about clouds and trees. I’d either want to burst out laughing, or my ADHD would mean I’d be unable to concentrate.
I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong. A counsellor convinced me to try five-minute meditation exercises. Despite being sceptical, I gave it a go one evening using the Headspace app. There was no lightbulb moment at the time, and I didn’t immediately realise that meditation was the answer to life’s problems, but neither did I find the experience a complete waste of time.
Intrigued, I persevered a few more times and gradually improved at the meditation exercises I set for myself. I realised I was finding a way to switch off and get sucked into the exercise. I could relax my mind and empty problematic thoughts from my brain. Best of all, it made me feel better afterwards and for the rest of the day. I can now do 20-25 minute meditations and, for all intents and purposes, hypnotise myself for that period. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but given the benefits I experience, I can honestly recommend giving meditation a try.
I’m a planner. It’s how my brain works. I like to have my days set out in blocks – work, exercise, eating and so on. That’s the best way for me to accomplish my goals. I enjoy doing it, and it’s a great way of improving my mental health.
I use daily planning to help combat negative thinking. Most days, I spend a bit of time in the evenings planning the following day. Naturally, this includes important issues like work, but I also make sure I include small activities that bring me pleasure. Blocking off time, for example, for ‘Ten minutes reading’ or to ‘Watch the new episode of ________ tv show’ and incorporating them into a daily plan may seem trite, but it really helps lift my mood and makes me feel positive about the next day.
I also try to include a meditation exercise in my daily plan at least three times a week. It makes me far more likely to do it, and I now see it as something else to look forward to.
So I end up with a daily plan that features pretty much everything I am going to do each day. I can then look ahead and see in my daily plan the things I am going to enjoy the following day and realise I have plenty to look forward to.
You do you
I’m always in two minds about trying to give wellbeing advice. I’m no expert, and I’ve often been cynical about receiving wellbeing tips myself. My immediate reaction is, ‘That’s lovely, but it’s not aimed at me.’ After all, what works for one person might be a complete waste of time for another.
So don’t feel or think for a minute that the tips above are a silver bullet. You might find all or some of them useful, but feel free to completely disregard them in favour of your own strategies. They are merely examples of what works for me when dealing with negative thoughts and help me improve my sense of wellbeing while living alone.
What is helpful, though, is recognising when negative thoughts strike and figuring out what might work for you as a response and using those responses in ways that will improve your sense of wellbeing. Perhaps it does mean planning your day and week, including meditation practice and recognising the small wins.
Or, maybe your best route to improved wellbeing and dealing with negative thoughts is something completely different. Share your helpful ways of dealing with negative thoughts by commenting below, and good luck finding what works best for you if, like me, you decide to tackle negative thinking. Here are a few websites to help you on your way.