Brooding, worrying and negative thoughts

Updated 31. Jan 2023

Do you spend a lot of time brooding about how to cope with everyday life and coping as a student?

May cause adverse effects

This is quite natural at the start of a student’s University career, but too much brooding and prolonged worrying can lead to negative ripple effects that can spoil your day-to-day experience of University life. 

Those who struggle with anxiety and depression say they spend a lot of time brooding and worrying without the benefit of any problem being solved. They find their joy in achievement limited while at the same time feeling discouraged and worried. 

Many people feel they lose control of their thoughts and feelings, and they get stuck in a useless pattern from which they are unable to escape. A person can then easily defend their brooding by assuming that: "If I worry about my problem, I'm prepared for the worst.” Experience indicates that this is not the case. 

Mental strategies

Metacognitive therapy explores such assumptions and offers assistance establishing new thought strategies to get a handle on brooding. If you are a person who tends to brood, it may be useful to ask yourself how much value does this brooding actually have.

Is it helping you in any way? Does it help you to find a solution to what you are worried about? 

It is also not uncommon to have thoughts that eat at you during the day. Some of these thoughts are automatic and negative, and they may come at the worst time imaginable. Negative Automatic Thoughts (NAT) are spontaneous thoughts that appear like a bolt of lightning from a clear sky. They may be mental images and associations triggered by certain situations. They are part of our inner dialogue, but are often so short-lived, unexamined and difficult to remember that we are often not aware of them. When we do think about them, they may turn out to have little basis in reality, but they are so often perceived as self-evident in the moment.

Examples of such thoughts are: "I'm never going to make it", "Everyone is so much smarter than I am," "I wouldn’t dare", and these are a consequence of these automatic thoughts. We can choose to believe them and give up, or we can look at where they come from and even examine them a little closer.

Become aware of the inner conversation with the ABC model

To become more familiar with these counter-productive thoughts, we use the ABC model in cognitive theory. The ABC model is an aid to help us become aware of this inner dialogue. Occasionally there is a tendency to exaggerate the consequences of our mistakes, to underestimate ourselves in relation to others, or to take responsibility for events that are not our load to bear. The ABC model can then be used to find "supportive thoughts", alternative and useful thoughts that allow us to hope that we can do something about our situation and advise us what to do. 

Example of an ABC-model:

A : The situation    - I have an exam
B : Thoughts     - I'm going to fail. People will think I'm stupid and won’t like me. 
C: Feelings    - Experience of acute anxiety or unease, despair and stress.

Find alternative thoughts

If you find alternative thoughts about the situation you are in, the consequences can have a completely different outcome. Let's say you're able to think instead: How can I be so sure that I am going to fail? A change in thinking can lead to changes in emotion, and in order to achieve this, systematic training is often required.  

If any of this sounds familiar to you, please contact SSN´s counselling service. They will help you process such thoughts.

You can also read more about cognitive therapy and metacognitive therapy (Norwegian only).