Maybe it’s late at night, and you’re lying awake with your thoughts swirling. Or it could be midday when you’re surrounded by ordinary hustle and bustle. The “when” and “where” don’t really matter. Negative thoughts can creep up and derail your mind anytime.
Insecurities, self-criticisms, anxieties, and depressive feelings can hit you out of the blue. Suddenly, you’re caught in a hurricane of thoughts that only make you feel bad and out of control. It can feel scary, but don’t panic. Put in some conscious effort with these strategies, and you can reel your mind back in.
How to Deal with Your Negative Thoughts
1. Decide What to Change
Your first step is figuring out what sets off your thought whirlwind. It’s normal to have some negative thoughts or emotions sweep across your mind. Pay attention to what comes up most frequently. These are the ones you need to address.
Do you find yourself caught in a loop, obsessing about a problem at work or home? Are you constantly dogging yourself for little mistakes? It could be that you just always find the downside in things. Once you figure out which thoughts are causing your distress, you can target them.
2. Focus on the Positives
Concentrating on the good stuff doesn’t mean you ignore the bad things. Everything can’t always be fluffy bunnies and double rainbows. This simply means you reframe how you look at things. There’s an upside to nearly every situation — find it.
For example, you might lose your balance and get some scrapes while taking a curve too tightly on your bike. Yes, you’re injured, but you were wearing your helmet. So, be happy and praise yourself for always remembering your safety gear. Focusing on a good point won’t change the outcome, but it can change your attitude.
3. Stay in the Present
The saying “It’s water under the bridge” exists for a reason. You can’t recapture or alter what’s already passed. Don’t get caught up rethinking it or replaying ways things could have been different. You can get trapped there.
Instead, pay attention to what’s going on in the present. When you feel yourself slipping into the past, stop for a second. Concentrate on your surroundings — feel your chair, focus on the sounds. Ask yourself what you can do at the moment to change what you’re thinking.
4. Write It Down
You don’t have to be J. K. Rowling or Stephen King to put effective words down on paper. Lots of people find it’s helpful to write out their feelings and emotions. When negative thoughts transfer to paper, they’re suddenly much less powerful. By writing them, you can confront your emotions indirectly and regain control.
Keep a journal — writing 15 minutes a day can be a good way to process your thoughts. If it’s hard to write about yourself, consider putting it all down as a story. That might be easier, and you’re still expressing and processing frustrating emotions.
5. Hit the Pause Button
When you’re stressed or anxious, you can find yourself on a mental roller-coaster. You might not get queasy, but your mind can run away with you, leaving you feeling slightly helpless and exhausted. Fortunately, you can bring it to a screeching halt by just telling yourself “Stop”!
If you feel yourself spiraling, pause and take a few deep breaths and sit still for a few minutes. Taking a time out gives your mind time to reset. Your brain chemicals return to normal levels, and you’ll be able to think more clearly.
6. Hang Out in Your Own World
The world can be harsh — loud noises, fast cars, and crowded places. It can be overwhelming and send your brain into a tornado of trouble. When this happens, give yourself permission to step away. It’s OK to retreat to a safe, happy place for a while.
Take a nature walk or find a secluded bench where you can pop in your earbuds and listen to some music. Chill out on your couch with a cup of coffee or tea and a good book. Do whatever makes you feel relaxed. It will help you recapture your internal balance and control.
7. See a Therapist or Medical Professional
If these strategies don’t work well enough for you, don’t worry. It just means that you might need to talk things over with a professional. Consider seeing a therapist. They’re trained to pinpoint why you’re having negative thoughts, and they can help you deal with those causes.
Therapists can also recommend seeing a doctor or psychiatrist if they think including medication would improve treatment results. A medical professional may prescribe anxiety treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or other methods to help alleviate anxiety and negative thoughts.
8. Distract Yourself
Redirection works with toddlers, and it can work for you, too. Whenever you feel those negative thoughts start to creep in, pivot your brain to something else.
Go for a run or bake cookies from scratch. If you’re caught in a spot where you can’t escape (maybe a traffic jam), play a game like “I Spy.” Give your mind something else to concentrate on until the need to focus on the bad stuff passes.
Everyone falls victim to negative thoughts every now and then. It’s a normal part of life, but it doesn’t have to be constant. Whenever you feel like your mind wants to whirl out of control, try these strategies. They’ll help put you back on the positive path.