Negative Thoughts: How to Stop Them
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Negative thinking can contribute to problems such as social anxiety, depression, stress, and low self-esteem. The key to changing your negative thoughts is to understand how you think now (and the problems that result), then use strategies to change these thoughts or make them have less of an effect.
“Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all linked, so our thoughts impact how we feel and act. So, although we all have unhelpful thoughts from time to time, it’s important to know what to do when they appear so we don’t let them change the course of our day,” explains Rachel Goldman, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine.
Therapy can often be helpful for changing negative thoughts, but you can also learn how to change your thought patterns. This article discusses some of the steps you can take to change your negative thoughts.
Practice Mindfulness and Self-Awareness
Mindfulness has its roots in meditation. It is the practice of detaching yourself from your thoughts and emotions and viewing them as an outside observer. Practicing mindfulness can help you become more conscious of your thoughts and build greater self-awareness.
Mindfulness sets out to change your relationship to your thoughts. Try viewing your thoughts and feelings as objects floating past you that you can stop and observe or let pass you by.
Rachel Goldman, PhD
Become aware of how your thoughts are impacting your emotions and behaviors. Observe your thoughts. Ask yourself if this thought is helpful? What purpose is the thought serving you? How does the thought make you feel?
The objective of mindfulness is to gain control of your emotional reactions to situations by allowing the thinking part of your brain to take over. It’s been theorized that the practice of mindfulness may facilitate the ability to use thoughts more adaptively.
One study found that people who engaged in a mindfulness practice experienced fewer negative thoughts after exposure to negative imagery, suggesting that mindfulness may lessen the impact of negative thinking.
Identify Your Negative Thoughts
As you observe your thoughts, work on identifying and labeling cognitive distortions and negativity.
For example, if you tend to view yourself as a complete success or failure in every situation, then you are engaging in “black-and-white” thinking. Other negative thinking patterns include:
- : This distortion involves making assumptions about what others are thinking or making negative assumptions about how events will turn out. : This pattern of negative thinking is characterized by always assuming that the worst possible outcome will happen without considering more likely and realistic possibilities. : This pattern is marked by a tendency to apply what happened in one experience to all future experiences. This can make negative experiences seem unavoidable and contribute to feelings of anxiety.
- Labeling: When people label themselves in a negative way, it affects how they feel about themselves in different contexts. Someone who labels themselves as “bad at math,” for example, will often feel negative about activities that involve that skill. : Thinking marked by “should” statements contribute to a negative perspective by only thinking in terms of what you “ought” to be doing. Such statements are often unrealistic and cause people to feel defeated and pessimistic about their ability to succeed. : This involves assuming that something is true based on your emotional response to it. For example, if you are feeling nervous, emotional reasoning would lead you to conclude that you must be in danger. This can escalate negative feelings and increase anxiety.
- Personalization and blame: This thought pattern involves taking things personally, even when they are not personal. It often leads people to blame themselves for things they have no control over.
Unhelpful thinking patterns differ in subtle ways. But they all involve distortions of reality and irrational ways of looking at situations and people.
Goldman suggests that this step is all about identifying and labeling negative thoughts. “Now that you have observed the thought, you can identify it as an unhelpful thought (perhaps we’ve even identified it as an all-or-nothing thought, or another type of cognitive distortion). Just observe it and label it,” she suggests.
She also suggests pausing to accept the thought for what it is. Remind yourself that it’s just a thought and not a fact.
There are many different types of cognitive distortions that contribute to negative thinking. Learning more about these distortions and remembering that thoughts are not facts may help lessen the power of these negative thinking patterns.
Replace Negative Thoughts
One of the basic parts of a treatment plan involving cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is cognitive restructuring. This process helps you to identify and change negative thoughts into more helpful and adaptive responses.
Whether done in therapy or on your own, cognitive restructuring involves a step-by-step process whereby negative thoughts are identified, evaluated for accuracy, and then replaced.
Goldman suggests examining the evidence that either supports or contradicts the thought. Doing this can help you challenge negative thinking and explore alternatives that are more helpful and realistic.
Although it is difficult to think with this new style at first, over time and with practice, positive and rational thoughts will come more naturally. Cognitive restructuring can help you challenge your thoughts by taking you through steps including:
- Asking yourself if the thought is realistic.
- Think of what happened in the past in similar situations and evaluate if your thoughts are on course with what took place.
- Actively challenge the thought and look for alternative explanations.
- Think of what you’d gain versus what you’d lose by continuing to believe the thought.
- Recognize if your thought is actually a result of a cognitive distortion, such as catastrophizing.
- Consider what you’d tell a friend having the same thought.
Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests trying to focus on the positive to help combat the negative thought patterns associated with depression. Ask yourself, is there any good to come out of your current situation?
However, Goldman recommends not replacing negative thoughts with overly positive ones. If the replacement thoughts are not realistic, they won’t be helpful.
Rachel Goldman, PhD
You don’t want to set yourself up for failure by replacing the thought with something that may not be realistic. A helpful technique could be to ask yourself what would you say to a friend in this situation.
Goldman suggests that if you find yourself thinking thoughts like “I am a failure”/”I am going to fail,” you shouldn’t replace it with something like “I know I am going to succeed.”
“You instead would want to replace it with something more neutral, which is also showing some self-compassion, like ‘I don’t know if I am going to be able to do it, but I am trying my best,'” she suggests.
One study found that a single cognitive restructuring intervention helped people reduce negative thoughts and biases that play a role in contributing to anxiety.
Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast
Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares an effective way to help you curb negative thinking.
Avoid Thought Stopping
Thought stopping is the opposite of mindfulness. It is the act of being on the lookout for negative thoughts and insisting that they be eliminated.
The problem with thought stopping is that the more you try to stop your negative thoughts, the more they will surface. This is known as thought rebounding. Mindfulness is preferable because it gives less weight to your thoughts and reduces the impact they have on you.
Experts believe that the thought rebounding that takes place after trying to stop negative thoughts is much more damaging. Instead, psychologists generally recommend finding ways to deal with the negative thoughts more directly.
Thought stopping might seem to help in the short term, but over time, it leads to more anxiety.
Practice Coping With Criticism
In addition to cognitive restructuring, another aspect of CBT that is sometimes helpful for those with social anxiety involves something known as the “assertive defense of the self.”
Since it is possible that some of the time, people will actually be critical and judgmental toward you, it is important that you are able to cope with rejection and criticism.
This process is usually conducted in therapy with a pretend conversation between you and your therapist to build up your assertiveness skills and assertive responses to criticism. These skills are then transferred to the real world through homework assignments.
For example, if faced with criticism in real life, having a set of assertive responses prepared will help you deal with these potentially anxiety-provoking situations. What’s more, real-life encounters are welcome as a chance to put into practice this exercise, according to this method.
Some research suggests that facing potential “social mishaps” that contribute to anxiety and negative thinking can also be helpful. The goal of improving your ability to handle criticism and rejection is to help increase your tolerance of the distress these things may cause, which may combat your automatic negative thoughts.
Use a Thought Diary
Thought diaries, also called thought records, can be used as part of any process to change negative thinking. Thought diaries help you identify negative thinking styles and gain a better understanding of how your thoughts (and not the situations you are in) cause your emotional reactions.
Most CBT treatment plans will involve the use of a thought diary as part of regular homework assignments.
For example, a thought diary entry might break down the thought process of a person on a date, and the emotional and physical reactions that result from negative thinking patterns. By the end of the thought analysis, you can replace irrational thoughts about rejection with more helpful and positive ways of thinking.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are negative thoughts?
Negative thought includes negative beliefs you might have about yourself, situations, or others. They can affect your mood and can be present in certain mental health conditions. Examples are, “I’ll never be good enough,” “They must think I’m stupid for saying that,” “That situation is destined to turn out badly.”
Why do I have negative thoughts?
Negative thoughts are quite common. You might have negative thoughts because we’re more influenced by negative than positive, or have a negativity bias. It’s also possible that evolutionarily speaking, negative thinking was more conducive to survival. Negative thoughts could occur as a result of cognitive distortions. They can be symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
A Word From Verywell
If you struggle with negative thought patterns and it’s impacting your life, consider talking to a mental health professional. While it can be tough to share the thoughts you have with someone, therapists can assess your negative thinking patterns and help you create a healthier inner dialogue.
Goldman likes to remind her clients that the process of changing negative thoughts isn’t a quick fix. “This isn’t easy and it takes time, but with practice, it gets easier and you can create new automatic thoughts that work for you,” she explains.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Brown AP, Marquis A, Guiffrida DA. Mindfulness-based interventions in counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development. 2013;91(1):96-104. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2013.00077.x
Clark DA. Cognitive restructuring. In: Hofmann SG, ed. The Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2013:1-22. doi:10.1002/9781118528563.wbcbt02
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Major depression.
Magee JC, Harden KP, Teachman BA. Psychopathology and thought suppression: A quantitative review. Clin Psychol Rev. 2012;32(3):189-201. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.01.001
5 Ways To Kick Away Negative Thoughts Before Sleeping
It’s not just in your head. Thinking about negative and stressful things before bedtime really does keep you up at night.
There are probably few people out there that haven’t experienced this in some way. You have a stressful day, a lot to do tomorrow, or even random reflections about past events that you just can’t kick before bed.
You may even lose hours of rest regularly to negative thoughts that persist. It’s well-established in psychology that ruminating on the past or unpleasant thoughts is a risk factor for insomnia and even mood disorders like depression.
Some recent research has been focusing on how people can take control and purposefully redirect their repetitive or intrusive negative thoughts. From your bedtime to how you cope with stress, here are five helpful ways you can kick negative thoughts to get better sleep.
1. Head to bed earlier
I one recent study conducted by Binghamton University, researchers looked at participants’ propensities to worry, ruminate, or stress (all gauges of repetitive negative thinking) and at their sleep habits.
They found that people who preferred to go to sleep late (evening types) had higher levels of negative thoughts compared to early sleepers (morning types). The same was true for people who slept for shorter periods of time overall.
If you aren’t getting at least seven hours of sleep each night or you tend to keep late hours, this means it could prove helpful to shift your sleep schedule earlier. Try gradually moving your bedtime up in 15 to 30 minute increments to create a schedule that allows you to get enough sleep. Keeping fairly consistent bedtimes throughout the week and practicing some of the other relaxation techniques below can make the transition a little easier.
2. Talk positively to yourself
One method of countering negative thoughts is to practice positive self-talk, popular with cognitive behavioral therapists. Essentially, negative self-talk involves habits like focusing on the cons of a situation and not the pros, personalizing blame, anticipating the worst, and polarizing between good and bad with no in-between.
The idea is that when you catch yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, you consciously work to assess its validity and move on. Instead of obsessing over things that went wrong, look for solutions to the problem or do something to refocus your attention. (Positive affirmation, a prayer, or exercise, maybe.) Thinking about things you are grateful for can also be mood-booster, and one study found higher levels of gratitude correlated with better sleep.
3. Use guided relaxation or visualization
Guided relaxation can be helpful for clearing your mind and taking the focus off of negative thoughts. Essentially, a therapist or a recording guides you through a step-by-step process as you follow along.
There are a few different types of guided relaxation program, and different types may feel more helpful to you than others. Traditional guided relaxation will work through relaxing your body and focusing on breathing. Guided visualization/imagery has you visualize a scene to occupy your attention. Progressive muscle relaxation takes a more physical approach of gradually tensing and relaxing different muscle groups.
These types of programs can be done with a professional therapist, or you can also find numerous free videos, smartphone apps and websites with helpful resources. The Dartmouth College Health and Wellness page is one good resource with a variety of free relaxation downloads.
4. Breathe with purpose
Breathing techniques are a well-established way to promote relaxation and minimize stress. Similar to guided relaxation, the idea is to follow a set pattern that places the focus on your physical body and off of the thoughts that are bothering you. Breathing also affects heart rate, which can help you feel calmer.
These techniques can be helpful for relaxing in bed, but can also be used anywhere whenever you feel stressed:
Tips to Overcome Skydiving for the First Time Anxiety
Nervous about skydiving for the first time? No sweat. Here at Skydive Long Island, we are familiar with all kinds of first jump jitters, and skydiving anxiety is something we encounter pretty much every day we are in operation. We won’t tell you to just relax because what you are feeling is completely natural. Skydiving for the first time anxiety is a good thing! It means you’re a living, breathing, rational human being.
Now, we will say that there is plenty you can do to minimize your skydiving anxiety to keep it from becoming overwhelming, and there are even a few things you can do to help turn that skydiving anxiety into skydiving excitement! Keep reading for some tips and tricks to handle skydiving for the first time anxiety.
Read All About It
Fear of the unknown is one of the primary triggers for skydiving for the first time anxiety. That being said, familiarizing yourself with what to expect (as well as learning some general skydiving facts) can do wonders to help ease the pangs of skydiving anxiety and keep those nerves at bay. Truly, doing even just a little bit of research can go a long way.
Skydive Long Island has an entire section filled with articles covering multiple skydiving topics. Give a few of them a read through. We guarantee you’ll learn quite a bit about what to expect your first time skydiving and even more about the sport of skydiving . If you don’t readily find the information you’re looking for, you can also check out our frequently asked questions section. And, of course, you can always give us a call. Our staff is happy to answer your inquiries.
Know the Facts and Stats
As we said above, some general skydiving facts can help alleviate skydiving for the first time anxiety. For example, did you know that every skydiving container (the backpack looking piece of equipment you see skydivers wearing) contains two parachutes?
That’s right, within each skydiving container, there is a main parachute and a reserve parachute. The main parachute is the primary parachute deployed during a skydive. The reserve parachute is a backup parachute used in the very unlikely event there is an issue with the main parachute. Because of the important role that the reserve parachute plays, only individuals with an exceptional amount of parachute knowledge are allowed to handle the reserve parachute. Every 180 days, the reserve parachute is inspected and repacked by a certified parachute rigger who has received accreditation from the Federal Aviation Administration.
As far as statistics are concerned, though it is considered an extreme activity, the sport of tandem skydiving has an impeccable safety record. Per the National Safety Council, a person has a greater likelihood of being killed by getting struck by lightning or stung by a bee. Over the last ten years, there has only been one student fatality per 500,000 tandem jumps. While skydiving does have inherent risks, these risks have been mitigated by strict safety standards, training policies, and improvements in skydiving technology and equipment.
Plot The Course
Being familiar with the steps of your skydiving journey and what the day of your skydive will look like can help quell the stirrings of skydiving anxiety. Skydiving is a process: while we try to expedite your experience as much as possible, you generally cannot stroll in and immediately hop on a plane. Here’s what the day of your skydive will be like.
Because of current COVID-19 precautions we require our students to fill out their waiver before arriving on site. When you arrive on site, we will review your paperwork. After check-in, you will go through a tandem training and briefing. In this briefing, you will be given instructions for the skydive: how to enter the plane, how to exit the plane, freefall body position, and landing protocol. When it is your turn, you will be paired with a professional licensed skydiving instructor to begin gearing up. After you’re harnessed and the skydiving equipment has been inspected, it’s time to board the plane and get ready to fly!
Get Ready For The Adventure of A Lifetime
The body processes excitement and anxiety in much the same way: your palms sweat, your heartbeat quickens, your breathing becomes a bit more rapid. The mind is a powerful thing, so sometimes, all it needs is a little nudge in the right direction. Focus on how thrilling this adventure will be. Think about how exciting it is to challenge yourself and take flight. You might just find that anxiety transforming into skydiving excitement!
Ready to overcome skydiving for the first time anxiety? Give us a call and book your tandem skydive today!