The inside track . . . on negative thoughts

When you're feeling down and stuck in a negative cycle of thoughts, feelings and actions, an important first step is to go out and do something new.

Cutting yourself off from friends and family is a natural response to feeling blue, but isolation just exacerbates the negativity. Doing something that's out of your usual routine, however small – taking a brisk walk every day, phoning a friend or joining colleagues at coffee break – could prove to be the turning point you need. Taking control of the situation you're in by changing your behaviour gives a sense of empowerment and challenges that overriding feeling of helplessness. When you behave differently, others then respond to you differently, and the cycle of negativity begins to be broken.

My other top tip comes in handy in situations where you are having a lot of arguments. Try to put yourself on the same side as the other person to solve the problem, rather than seeing the other person as the problem. For example, if you can't agree with your partner about whose turn it is to take out the rubbish, start by identifying the shared problem. The difficulty is not that the other person is stupid, lazy or forgetful; it is about how to negotiate a fair arrangement and get the bin emptied. Using inclusive language such as "I'm sure we can resolve this together" can go a long way towards solving this type of conflict.

Irene Bard is a counsellor and UKCP registered family psychotherapist.

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