How to Reframe Negative Thoughts as A Coping Mechanism

When it comes to coping with issues regarding low self-esteem, a poor body image, and a string of failures, too often we’re our own worst enemies. We hold an internal record of negative thoughts and harsh judgments – criticisms that may have come from a parent, guardian, an older sibling or cousin, a coach, tutor or teacher, or supervisors and colleagues at work.

We can prevent further damage by choosing what we allow to enter our minds. But what about those remarks that have already been part of our belief system? Those that have planted themselves and taken roots, and are holding us from bouncing back, aiming higher, and achieving greater things?

Reframing Your Thoughts

Reframing negative thoughts as a way to cope simply means shifting your mindset towards something more encouraging and positive, without denying your reality. It means recognizing the efforts you’ve already done and giving yourself a pat on the back, while acknowledging tasks you still need to do.

Practical Ways to Use Reframing as a Coping Mechanism

Let’s say you’ve been feeling sluggish for the past several months, have very little energy, and are struggling to turn in work promptly. You hop on the scale and discovered you’ve packed on more than 30 pounds.

You used to enjoy riding your bicycle and jogging at the park every Saturday morning, but you can’t remember the last time you’ve worked up a sweat because you’ve gone out with friends nearly every Friday night, ordering round after round of drinks and having a good time.

And yet, carrying excess pounds is now taking a toll on you. You resolve to start eating healthfully, cut back on those weekend nights out, and even availed yourself of a gym membership.

But you soon find out that the journey isn’t going to be easy. There were days when your workouts had to be put at the backburner because of the need to put in overtime at work. And sometimes the company of friends is just too enticing.

You gathered enough courage to weigh yourself, and you almost cringed because you have whittled away only a third of the weight you originally intended to lose.

Now, take out a blank notebook, and start the process of reframing. Instead of writing down, “I feel like a failure for being inconsistent with my workouts and still giving in to my friends,” start scribbling along the lines of, “It’s been almost six months since I resolved to live more healthfully. I may not have lost as much weight as I initially planned, but I have given up a couple of bad habits and replaced others for better ones.”

That statement comes with an acceptance of where you have fallen short, but you also aren’t berating yourself because you’ve done something right to lose a bit of weight.

You can further write down, “I pour myself a glass of wine after the occasional hectic day at work, but I’m eating more and more salads now and lean portions of meat and chicken breasts instead of fast food and salty chips. Also, I’m no longer binge-drinking almost every Friday night.”

Now, doesn’t that sound more pleasing and comforting, without taking away the awareness that there’s still more than enough room for improvement for long-term weight loss?

And instead of coping with the disappointments and challenges of building a healthier lifestyle by slipping back to your old patterns, that brief moment of reframing will spur you on to maintain those practices that have already worked for you, and lead you to acquire more healthy habits.

Reframing is Also Effective When Coping With Low Self-Esteem

I know a certain guy who spent much of his 20s hopping from one job to another, never seeming to find a good fit, and ending up frustrated and feeling like a failure. That was until getting involved in a string of short-term volunteer programs paved the way for him to be a speaker and livelihood trainer for a nation-wide platform that promotes entrepreneurship on a small scale.

Imagine going through all those moments experiencing pent-up feelings of worthlessness, and attacks on his self-esteem. To cope with this threat, this is how reframing might sound for him:

“I may have started out on the wrong foot by not establishing tenure in my previous jobs, but I can capitalize on my public speaking skills and passion for crafts to mentor housewives and stay-at-home moms. I can teach them how to make accessories and purses out of colorful beads, and sell them in order to augment their husbands’ income.”

Reframing as A Tool to Cope With a Life-Altering Event

A death in the family, a divorce, and relocating to a new place aren’t the only commonplace, life-altering events happening in our society today. People can meet a vehicular accident, rendering them an invalid or unable to work for a long time. A serious addiction can also mean a need for rehabilitation.

But even being made redundant at work can force a retrenched or laid off worker to seek a career change, which can be life-altering as well.

While losing a job can cause negative emotions to rear their ugly heads, here’s how to use reframing to cope with feelings of seeming unwanted or unappreciated:

“Losing my job was a result of the company downsizing its workforce, and I know it’s not personal. It sucks to be made redundant after spending a good number of years at a career I have grown to love. But I know I have transferable skills, and I’m still connected to a network of professionals to whom I can turn to put in a good word for me to hiring managers by securing recommendation letters.”

Such words will immediately reduce, if not relieve, one of his self-doubts. He can proceed to assess any advantages he still has, and plan concrete steps.

Putting Together Vision Boards as A Coping Mechanism

In his blog Confined to Success, which focuses on helping people cope with disabilities, Stephan Zev talks about the benefits of putting together a vision board. We’re all aware that the sight of a cluttered room, unfolded laundry, or an unwashed car can potentially add to our stress and anxiety levels. A vision board with photos (e.g. puffy white clouds, a flock of birds, a dream catcher, a waterfall, etc.) and words (mindful, aware, sedated, etc.) can often be referred to induce feelings of tranquility and a state of calm.

Or let’s say you’re coping with the effects of prolonged overspending, and you’re slowly cutting back on your expenses, clip magazine photos of a piggy bank, a leather wallet, and affordable stuff with which you’ll replace the usually expensive ones you buy from shops (e.g. generic-looking basics as opposed to branded clothes, coffee in sachets instead of pricey lattes, dollar-store or DIY decor).


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