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Reducing Cognitive Debt Series

Disclaimer: It is not my intention to imply that no one should have a negative thought or having a negative thought will lead to consequences. The purpose of this series is to explore evidenced based implications of a recurrent pattern of negative thoughts or a mental state that is defined by negative thoughts. Also, I am not advocating that we should only think positive thoughts all of the time. This state of being is toxic positivity and may result in denial of difficult emotions, unprocessed feelings and missed learning opportunities. I recommend dealing with negative emotions in a healthy way so that we can safely return to positive thinking. Balance is always key!

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s jump in! Researchers at University College London (UCL), United Kingdom found that repetitive negative thinking (RNT) is associated with declined cognitive functioning in healthy older adults.

Recurrent negative thinking is often associated with anxiety and depression. These conditions are also risk factors for cognitive decline. Excessive rumination, a form of recurrent negative thinking, is linked to a heightened stress response.

Excessive rumination and heightened stress response lead to cognitive debt by diverting cognitive and emotional resources to distressing thoughts and subsequent heightened stress response. It is as if cognitive and emotional resources are being excessively spent on taxing, distressing thoughts thus leading to a cognitive resources deficit later in life.

So how can we help prevent cognitive decline later in life? The key is to reduce cognitive debt by reducing recurrent negative thought patterns and/or treating depression and anxiety. I am excited to share strategies for reducing cognitive debt as part of a series in honor of Minority/BIPOC Mental Health Month. Stay tuned!

This is especially important to me as we are currently living through two crises: racism and racial trauma and COVID-19. As a black clinical social worker, I understand that black people are likely experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety or recurrent negative thinking as we are collectively and repeatedly exposed to police brutality and killings, white supremacy and systematic racism as we exist post Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks. It is my hope that this information will support my community in coping with this difficult time that we are living in.

Over the next few days, I will go into detail about culturally relevant ways to reduce cognitive debt. I look forward to going on this journey with you.


Negative Thinking Tied to Cognitive Decline, Alzheimer's Pathology - Medscape - Jun 11, 2020.

Marchant, N. L., & Howard, R. J. (2015). Cognitive debt and Alzheimer's disease. Journal of Alzheimer's disease : JAD, 44(3), 755–770.

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