Most people struggle with overthinking, negative thoughts, and worrying from time to time. For some, these habitual thought patterns can feel intrusive and take on a life of their own, causing them to feel anxious, pessimistic, and depressed.
While it might not be possible to eliminate negative thinking entirely, it’s important to remember that you can gain control over your thoughts and in turn, manage your emotions and feelings by practicing mindfulness and helpful thinking habits.
Acknowledge Your Thought Patterns
The first step in the process of gaining command over your thoughts is to recognize it when it starts to happen. Take a deep breath and notice what you are doing without applying judgment. This is a form of mindfulness that brings you back to the present moment, where you can be less reactive and think more objectively.
Here Are 6 Examples of Common Unhelpful, Negative Thinking Habits:
This is one of the ways people can work themselves into a depressive or anxious downward spiral. Dampening is an unconscious self-regulation strategy that people use to decrease the intensity of joyful and happy states, and shift into a dull mood out of comfort and familiarity.
Examples: A recurring pattern of getting sick or injured right before or after something really good happens. Picking fights or causing drama in a relationship when things are going well.
This is also known as a hangup and involves focusing on the past and struggling with feelings of regret, judgment, and self-doubt.
Example: Preoccupation with a past event or relationship, or replaying a conversation over and over in your head and not being able to move on.
This is a pattern of focusing on the future as a way to control how you’re going to feel by projecting yourself into an imagined reality that hasn’t happened yet.
Example: Imagining how sad you’re going to be when something upsetting happens in the future and getting worked up over it, even though it might not even happen at all.
Comparative thinking can compress your perspective and makes you focus on lack by engaging in scarcity thinking.
Example: Comparing yourself to other people on social media and feeling as though you are not good enough, are constantly failing, and not measuring up.
Black and white thinking and generalizations:
This type of distorted thinking makes you think in extremes, causing you to make all or nothing generalizations about yourself, other people, and your life.
Example: “Things are always easy for other people but they never work out for me.”
This pattern is related to future thinking and involves worrying about the worst possible outcome of any situation, which in turn, generates feelings of fear and anxiety.
Examples: Obsessively worrying about being fired from your job, becoming homeless, and freezing to death when there is no evidence that this will happen. Thinking about how your plane will probably crash while you are getting ready to go on a trip, you become panicked and consider canceling your trip.
9 Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking
Below, you'll find nine research-backed practices from CBT, DBT, positive psychology, and mindfulness to help you stop negative thinking in its tracks. These practices will help you to create distance between your self and your thoughts, so they have less of a hold over you and are less likely to trigger anxiety or depressive states.
1. Question the logic:
Is this objectively true all of the time, or does this just feel true right now?
What are these thoughts in the service of? Is this helping me to move forward, or does it pull me backward?
2. Stop sign technique:
Visualize a red stop sign when you notice that you are engaging in negative thinking. This will help the automatic processes in your brain to lock into this familiar image and what it represents--to stop thinking unhelpful and negative thoughts.
3. Focus on gratitude and appreciation:
Write a list of everything in your life that you are grateful for. This will help you to shift out of scarcity thinking, and into a more resourced, abundant, and balanced perspective.
4. Reflect on an intensely positive experience:
Write about your most vivid memory of an intensely positive experience. Write for at least 5 minutes, and try to get into as much detail as possible. This, along with gratitude practices can help to upregulate positive feelings and emotions.
5. Get out of your head and into your body:
Overthinking or negative thinking often means that we are dissociating, or disconnected from the body. This usually coincides with not breathing properly and not having good posture, which can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Daily exercise, a long walk, or breathing practices will help you to quiet your mind and connect with the power in your body.
6. Be of service to someone in need:
Charitable acts are beneficial to the greater good of society and can help you to feel more connected to other people and to a sense of purpose. When you give to another person in need, it helps to expand your perspective beyond your own suffering by connecting to something bigger than your thoughts.
7. Express your thoughts and feelings:
It's essential to have a healthy outlet for difficult thoughts and painful emotions so you aren't bypassing or burying them. Imagine that you are externalizing and releasing your thoughts through exercise, by journaling, making artwork, or talking to a trusted friend as a form of catharsis.
8. Focus on strength and resilience:
If you tend to engage in negative self-talk, you can shift the narrative into a more empowering one. Every evening, make a list of your successes for the day (no matter how big or small), as well as a list of your strengths and how you will be able to use them on the following day. If nothing comes to mind, write about a major or minor obstacle you faced in the past, and how you were able to overcome it.
9. Speak with a therapist:
If you find that you're dealing with negative thinking and can't quite seem to find a way out of it, it's important to reach out to a mental health professional. Sometimes our thought patterns are rooted in unresolved trauma, negative limiting core beliefs, chronic stress, collective pain, grief, or mood and personality disorders. If this is the case, ignoring recurring intrusive negative thoughts and painful feelings won't make them go away, and they will likely become worse over time. Speaking with a professional will help you to release stress, identify the source of the imbalance, and work toward a solution in a supportive and healing environment.
As with any new practice, it takes time and consistency to develop your capacity for mindfulness. The more you practice these tools, the easier it will become to interrupt negative thinking and gain command over your thoughts and emotions over time.