The article is a subjective view on this topic written by writers specializing in medical writing.
It may reflect on a personal journey surrounding struggles with an illness or medical condition, involve product comparisons, diet considerations, or other health-related opinions.
Although the view is entirely that of the writer, it is based on academic experiences and scientific research they have conducted; it is fact-checked by a team of degreed medical experts, and validated by sources attached to the article.
The numbers in parenthesis (1,2,3) will take you to clickable links to related scientific papers.
How To Stop Negative Thoughts In 5 Ways 2023
Everyone’s experienced a negative thought spiral at some point in their lives. Maybe you’ve caught yourself saying things like, “I’ll never be able to break out of this rut,” or “I’m just a depressed person,” or “Why do bad things keep happening to me?”. It’s completely normal and, unfortunately, very common in our society to think like this.
While it’s not easy to change how we think, we know the way we think and speak to ourselves matters. Thinking negatively can change our mood, ability to work maintain relationships, and even worsens anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, there are various solutions for stopping negative thoughts from entering your mind and causing mental and emotional distress.
5 Ways To Stop Negative Thoughts
- Ask questions with how or what instead of why
- Shift from the past to the present and future
- Change the channel
- Work on accepting the situation
- Challenge yourself
Why Do Negative Thoughts Come Into Your Mind?
There are many reasons why negative thoughts easily come to mind. Our thought patterns develop over time and are heavily affected by our upbringing, environment, education, and genetics.
The Negative Bias
Humans have a natural tendency towards negative thinking. It comes from our evolutionary past to not only survive but to grow and progress.
It’s normal to constantly find things you aren’t happy with because it pushes you to take action to improve things. However, the issues arise when people get stuck ruminating and develop unhelpful thinking patterns.
On top of a natural tendency to focus on the negative, most of us were not taught emotional intelligence in our crucial developmental years of childhood.
Communication skills, emotional expression, and self-regulation techniques must be learned; children can’t do this on their own.
Without these teachings, mental health conditions like anxiety and depression develop more easily. This is especially the case for people who have also experienced some level of trauma in their life.
Here are some of the conditions that can develop and lead to spiraling negative thoughts:
- Low self-worth: Feeling incapable of making change, easily overwhelmed
- High levels of self-criticism: Regularly feeling shame, overly high standards or restrictions
- Ruminating about the past: Constantly thinking about negative experiences or mistakes
- Focusing on future fears: Focusing on the worst-case scenario, leading to anxiety or panic attacks
- Black and white thinking: Thinking in absolutes and not allowing space to notice other options
Luckily, as adults, we can become aware of our unhelpful thought patterns and take action.
If you identify with some of these patterns and notice constant automatic negative thoughts taking over, consider contacting a mental health professional.
5 Ways To Overcome Negative Thoughts
There are many techniques on how to stop dwelling on negative thoughts. Whether you find yourself ruminating (constantly running negative thoughts through your mind) throughout the day or just at night, these points will help you learn how to reduce negative thinking.
Ask Questions With How or What Instead of Why
Instead of asking yourself negative thought questions, such as:
- Why does this keep happening to me?
- What’s wrong with me?
- Why doesn’t anything ever work out for me?
Try asking solution-oriented questions:
- What do I keep doing or thinking that makes things worse?
- What are the facts versus my perceptions?
- What is my black-and-white thinking, and how is it keeping me stuck?
- What do I have control over?
- What am I willing to do or stop doing to make things how I want them?
- How exactly can I change the situation right now, even if it seems small?
- How can I prevent this from happening again?
- How can I express and communicate my emotions and needs better?
Asking yourself “why” questions often leads to spiraling negative thoughts. It’s not always useful to search for the “why” because you can spin over the same thoughts and never find an answer.
Of course, it can sometimes be helpful, but if you notice it leads to self-pity, a victim mentality, and rumination, it might be time to change these automatic thoughts. Instead, challenge yourself to look for solutions to shift your thought pattern, no matter how small.
Shift From the Past to the Present and Future
If you find yourself constantly going over the past, start focusing on the present:
- What’s worked for me in the past that I could try now?
- What is already working for me right now?
- Can I refer to my problems in the past tense and not the present?
Then, shift from the present to the future with positive future-oriented questions:
- How would my life look if I broke my usual patterns?
- What would be the first step to breaking my pattern look like?
- What is an action I can take toward that first step?
Switching to the future lets you think about what you’d like to happen instead of what’s already happened. This moves you away from negative feelings and opens your mind up to possibilities.
If you want to learn how to stop negative thoughts at night, asking these questions can help you begin to visualize your future.
A helpful technique is doing positive future visualizations, including imagining yourself tackling all the steps on your way to achieving your goals and being able to see the final outcome.
Change The Channel
Once you recognize negative thoughts, you can “change the channel” to thoughts or actions that you can control. This will naturally lead you to more positive thoughts. For example,
Change Your Environment
- Go for a walk in nature; this makes your brain become more analytical and helps it to stop spiraling.
- If you usually feel anxious or depressed in one place, like at home, try coworking spaces or cafes to work, and spend time in your local park daily.
- If you have insomnia or don’t know how to stop negative thinking at night, leave the bed and move to another area of the house or go for a walk. Wait for at least 20 in a new environment before returning to bed.
Use Your Body to Release the Tension
- Whether it’s a yoga video or High-Intensity Interval Training ( HIIT) workout at home, research shows that moving your body calms stress hormones and changes thought patterns.
Do One Thing Differently
- If you notice what usually leads to spiraling negative thoughts, think of ways to avoid or change that situation. For example, can you start journaling instead of complaining to get your thoughts out of your head?
Focus on What’s Happening Externally Verses Internally
- Use your senses to fully experience the world around you. Use the sights, smells, and sounds to take your attention elsewhere.
If you have no energy to move and just want to zone out with TV, try watching something funny. Get your body laughing to release the energy. Smiling and laughing already cause a hormonal change in your body.
Video Call or Spend Time With Friends or Loved Ones
Try calling up friends to meet; spending time with others and talking about other things can take us out of our heads. Just seeing a friend’s face can lower cortisol and boost your mood.
These distractions can give your body and mind a moment to breathe and allow your cortisol levels to lower. You may notice the negative thoughts dissipating, and from there, you can enter a new state of mind and begin moving forward.
Work on Accepting The Situation
Accepting a bad situation does not mean you ‘give in’ and become complacent. There are almost always things in our lives that we need to work on.
However, to be open to possibilities and act on them, you must give up the resistance to “what is.” Otherwise, you will likely stay spiraling in your own thoughts and be unable to overcome negative thinking.
Replace negative thoughts and words, such as:
- Should – I shouldn’t have done that, it shouldn’t be this way
- Blame – It’s all their/my fault.
- Labeling – I am depressed, I am an anxious person
- Overgeneralizing – Everyone here is against me, it’s always going to be this way
- Catastrophizing – Everything is going to be ruined, I’ll never be happy.
These words and thoughts automatically create the feeling that something is “wrong.” They don’t open your mind up to possibilities and often lead to rumination. Instead, stop using negative thinking patterns and try using positive self-talk, such as:
- Compassion – I don’t need to have everything figured out, this is human, I’m going to provide support and accept support as needed
- Release – It’s OK I’m upset, I don’t have to fight it, I’m allowed to feel whatever I’m feeling
- Mindfulness – I’m ok in this moment, I’m using my senses to focus on what calms me
- Gratitude – I appreciate myself for trying, I’m grateful for this sunset, my friends, etc.
- Forgiveness – I forgive myself, and all others, because I want to let go of this pain.
Once you accept the situation, you can focus on what you have control over. Unwanted thoughts begin to dissipate naturally when you start challenging yourself to disrupt your usual patterns and focus on how to be more positive.
Try making a daily or weekly plan for yourself, such as:
- Every time I catch myself ruminating, I’m going to…
- Set a 20-minute timer to journal and let all my thoughts out
- Call a supporting friend or family member (it might be best to alternate!)
- Put on an upbeat song (or calming yoga music) and move my body however it wants to for 10 minutes
- When I notice something isn’t working, instead of complaining I’m going to…
- Research and come up with three ideas for how I can solve it
- Communicate my needs, desires, or plans with whoever needs to know
- Set healthy boundaries for myself or those around me
The Bottom Line
Negative emotions serve a purpose. They let you know what’s working in your life and what isn’t. If you can understand, express, and finally accept your negative emotions, they will push you towards taking action to improve your life.
Taking the time to learn and practice different methods of emotional expression to release negative thoughts from your mind is essential to stop negative thought patterns.
Remember, most people were not taught how to express themselves healthily, so it is a process that takes time and effort. The work is embracing your negative emotions and allowing them to fuel you to take action towards creating a better life.
+ 10 sources
Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here
- Rozin, P. (2016). Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion – Paul Rozin, Edward B. Royzman, 2001. [online] Personality and Social Psychology Review. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1207/s15327957pspr0504_2
- Anxiety, Stress, and Coping. (2022). The case for positive emotions in the stress process. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10615800701740457
- Kochanska, G. and Aksan, N. (2006). Children’s Conscience and Self-Regulation. Journal of Personality, [online] 74(6), pp.1587–1618. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00421.x.
- The differential effects of solution‐focused and problem‐focused coaching questions: a pilot study with implications for practice | Emerald Insight. (2013). Industrial and Commercial Training, [online] 42(2), pp.102–111. doi:10.1108\/ict.
- Oddli, H.W., McLeod, J., Nissen‐Lie, H.A., Rønnestad, M.H. and Halvorsen, M.S. (2021). Future orientation in successful therapies: Expanding the concept of goal in the working alliance. Journal of Clinical Psychology, [online] 77(6), pp.1307–1329. doi:10.1002/jclp.23108.
- Berman, M.G., Kross, E., Krpan, K.M., Askren, M.K., Burson, A., Deldin, P.J., Kaplan, S., Sherdell, L., Gotlib, I.H. and Jonides, J. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, [online] 140(3), pp.300–305. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012.
- Hopkinsmedicine.org. (2021). Up in the Middle of the Night? How to Get Back to Sleep. [online] Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-how-to-get-back-to-sleep
- Hill, E.E., Zack, E., Battaglini, C., Viru, M., Viru, A. and Hackney, A.C. (2008). Exercise and circulating Cortisol levels: The intensity threshold effect. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, [online] 31(7), pp.587–591. doi:10.1007/bf03345606.
- ACM Conferences. (2022). Smiling makes us happier | Proceedings of the 13th international conference on Ubiquitous computing. [online] Available at: https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/2030112.2030114
- Social Neuroscience. (2017). Social stress buffering by friends in childhood and adolescence: Effects on HPA and oxytocin activity. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17470919.2016.1149095