Making good habits: Why it’s important to keep unhealthy thoughts in check

Using mental housekeeping to break out of negative thinking trap

People are looking for new ways to cope with all of the stresses brought on over the past year, but there may be one important habit, apart from exercise or your diet, that you're overlooking on your adjustment journey: your thoughts.

For many people, dealing with stress and anxiety is nothing new -- but with the coronavirus pandemic and all it has changed in our everyday lives, experts say more people are looking for solutions now than ever before.

Most of those who visit emergency rooms with a mental health problem are suffering from an acute crisis. But there are far more people, however, who never experience such a crisis; they just feel a constant, oppressive negative feeling.

Thankfully, that feeling doesn’t have to last forever. It can be addressed with something as straight forward as mental housekeeping.

“Everyone knows that everyone feels terrible,” said Dr. Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, assistant director of emergency behavioral services in the emergency department at Henry Ford Hospital. “Everyone knows that, and it’s almost like re-traumatizing to keep telling people about how bad people are feeling, versus trying to shift our way into ‘how do we get healthier.’”

Peltzer-Jones says it’s easy to attribute bad feelings to certain activities or habits, but not enough people are focused on the mental aspect of it all.

“It’s easy to say ‘don’t smoke.’ We all know that it’s easy to say ‘get more exercise,’ which is actually good for your mental and medical health,” Peltzer-Jones said. “But when we say things like ‘be careful of your thinking habits,’ or ‘stop putting yourself down ... stop living in this negative space’ ... well, I don’t think we do a lot of that.

“Everyone keeps waiting for us to get back into some type of normal. I think we all are starting to hit that phase of ‘this is our new normal now,’” Peltzer-Jones added. “But it’s important for us not to be predicting (that) everything’s going to stay miserable (just) because it isn’t the same as what November 2019 was ... that’s a bad thinking habit that we have to be careful about: predicting the future when we don’t feel good. We predict it to be negative, and then we believe it to be negative. And we fall into that negative thinking trap.”

Related: Wellness app made by University of Michigan alumni invites mindfulness through journaling

Instead, experts say we should be aware of and reflect on our own thoughts to help keep any unhealthy thoughts in check.

“If we just allow our negative thoughts to keep coming up and just live with them, they become automatic. And if we’re not looking at them, trying to change that, then we just start incomplete. We encompass them, we own them,” Peltzer said. “So, when we talk about mindfulness and meditation and reflection, it really is that time for us to evaluate our bad thinking habits. Just like bad health habits, we can develop really bad thinking habits. And then we end up miserable.”

In addition to mindfulness programs that incorporate meditation and yoga, you may have access to mental health assistance through your employee health program or your county health department. Dr. Peltzer-Jones says it’s important use some of these mediation practices and other resources early on, before you reach the point of a crisis.

More: Metro Detroit mental health resource guide: When, where and how to find help

Related: Watch here: Local 4′s ‘Mental Health Matters’ program

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.