How to break negative thought loops

We all worry at times, but what should you do when your thoughts spiral out of control into a negative thought loop?

We all worry; it’s a normal part of being human. But what happens when you can’t get a worry out of your head? When it spirals out of control and leads to other worries that are even bigger and more concerning? We call this a negative thought loop or a negative thought pattern. How do you know when you’re in a negative thought loop, and how do you get out of it?

 

Am I in a negative thought loop?

Sometimes it’s hard to identify when you’re in a negative thought spiral.

 

“When these worries seem so real, it’s hard to identify that we’re going in a downward spiral.”

 

Research[1] suggests that our brains are conditioned to remember negative loops. They trap us into believing that everything is wrong with us, or with the world. It can be very hard to sit back and identify that they’re just thoughts, they’re not truths.

 

Common negative thought traps

The first thing to do is to learn more about different types of negative thought patterns.

Do you do any of these:

  • Catastrophising (Thinking the worst)
  • Black and white thinking (All or nothing, there are no shades of grey)
  • Overgeneralisation (A single event signals immense failure)
  • Jumping to conclusions (Making a negative interpretation even though there isn’t any evidence to support it)
  • Emotional reasoning (You feel it, therefore it must be true)
  • Rejecting the positive (Insisting positive experiences don’t count in favour of the negative ones)
  • Self-blame (Assuming you’re to blame for an event that has nothing to do with you)
  • Unrealistic expectations (Expecting perfection at all times)
  • Negative self-talk (Blaming and berating yourself)
  • Negative rumination (Picking one negative detail and allowing it to take focus over all the positive ones).

 

How to change your thinking

Once you’ve identified these patterns in your thoughts, the next step is to attempt to stop the loop. There are a few things you can try. Sometimes one technique might work, but other times it might not, and you might need to try something else. The important thing is to keep trying.

 

Try mindfulness

When we are in a negative thought loop, our minds aren’t in the present. They’re busy thinking about something that has happened already or may or may not happen in the future. Mindfulness helps us pay attention to our present moment and accept it without judgement. Research[2] suggests that mindfulness can help us notice our negative thoughts earlier and attempt to remove ourselves from them.

Mindfulness can come in the form of mindful meditation, but there are also many other ways you can be mindful. You can also enjoy mindful exercises, such as yoga or even a walk where you notice how your body feels and the sensations around you. The more we practice mindfulness, the better we get at recognising our negative thinking, which can help stop us from getting caught up in negative thought loops.

 

Challenge your thoughts

Once you’ve recognised your negative thought pattern, try to challenge your thoughts. Is it the truth, or are you projecting catastrophic thoughts onto the issue? Are your thoughts influenced by something in your past? Are you blaming yourself unfairly for something? Try not to judge yourself for feeling these thoughts as everyone does it occasionally. The important thing is to recognise they’re unhelpful thoughts and try to move on.

 

Give yourself a time limit

When you’re worried about something, instead of trying to stop yourself from worrying, you could try to give yourself a time limit. Then when that time is up, either act on a potential solution or try to distract yourself with a pleasurable activity. Go for a walk, talk to a friend, or watch a movie.

 

Talk to someone

If your negative thoughts are impeding your enjoyment of life, it might be time to talk to a trusted friend or a professional. Suicide Call Back Service is a nationwide telephone and online counselling service. We provide free support to anyone who is experiencing pain and distress and who needs urgent professional counselling. Call 1300 659 467 to chat with a counsellor.

If it is an emergency, call 000.

 

If you are feeling suicidal and need someone to talk to, call the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 to speak to a counsellor.

If it is an emergency, please call 000.

 

References

[1] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1037/1089-2680.5.4.323

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5195874/

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