Being stuck in a negative thought loop can take a toll on your mental health. It can cause you to lose sleep and may increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. Sometimes, the more you try to will yourself to stop thinking, the stronger the negative thoughts become. Stopping the negative thought loop may not be easy, but it can be done.
What Is A Negative Thought Loop
A negative thought loop occurs when you think about something troubling or distressing over and over again and you can’t let it go. It could be something you said or did that you deeply regret, or something that was said or done to you, or something future or past oriented. As you ruminate on what occurred, you feel the feelings related to it. This can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression when you can’t let go of the thoughts. Although some self-introspection is quite helpful and healthy, negative thought loops are not. This is because your brain can’t easily distinguish between what is actually happening and what you are telling it is happening. When you focus on repetitive negative thoughts, you begin to judge yourself negatively as well.
Why Try To Stop It
Since you are a thinking being, negative thoughts will occur. However, when you get stuck in a thought loop that you can’t get out of, distressing feelings can increase and your mental health can suffer. You can have trouble sleeping and become easily agitated. It can even begin to change your world view and sense of safety. When you are stuck in a negative thought loop, it can impact your sense of self. Instead of your thoughts being about what happened, it can turn into being about what is inherently wrong with you. How you are not good enough and what a horrible person you are. When this happens, the negative thought loop reinforces the negative self-beliefs which can lead to unwanted behaviors. However, there are some things you can try to stop the negative thought loop.
Write It Down
Write the thought loop down on paper. The act of forming letters engages the logical side of your brain. This helps get you out of the imaginative side of your brain where you can catastrophize a situation and make it much worse than the reality. Sometimes just writing it down is enough to stop the thought loop. If not, you can read over what you wrote and check it for accuracy. If it is not accurate, or if you can think of other ways to look at it, write those down as well. Writing down your negative thought loop can help you look at it more objectively.
Feel Your Feelings
In order to stop a negative thought loop, you will need to feel the feelings associated with the thought. While it is normal to want to avoid uncomfortable feelings, you can’t fully process them until you feel them. When you ignore the feelings that come up related to the thought loop, the thought loop can actually become stronger. There is nothing wrong with your feelings and you can feel anything you need to feel. You can set aside a set amount of time everyday where you spend 10 or 15 minutes feeling your feelings. This way you allow your feelings to be experienced so they can be processed. Once you process your feelings, your thought loop might stop.
Practice Thought Stopping Techniques
As you develop the habit of feeling the feelings related to your negative thought loop, you will want to practice thought stopping techniques if the thought loop continues, or comes up during other times of the day. This can be done in several different ways. You can engage in an activity that helps distract you from your thoughts. This can include exercising, reading a book, or doing crafts. You could repeat a mantra over and over again to help drown out your thoughts. A visualization technique such as picturing a stop sign and reminding yourself that you have to think of this tomorrow can also stop the negative thought loop. When you have a set time everyday to feel your feelings and focus on your thoughts, it can make it easier to use thought stopping techniques at other times.
Accept your thoughts for what they are. A thought is just a thought and you can have a thought without attaching to it or making it bigger than it needs to be. Allow your thoughts to be and practice self-soothing. Focus on your breathing while you let your thoughts come and go without judgment. Go for a walk, talk to a friend, take a bath, or find something you can do that helps distract you from your thoughts. Be gentle and kind with yourself and with your thoughts. Use the emotional freedom technique (EFT) to help you calm down and accept yourself, no matter what your thoughts are.
Reframe your thoughts to help you get out of the negative thought loop. To reframe your thoughts, check them for accuracy and consider other ways to think about it. If they are not very accurate and you are instead catastrophizing, change them to something more accurate. If they seem true, come up with another way to say it that is still accurate, but also kind. For example, instead of saying I made a mistake becuase I’m stupid, change it. Instead you could say something like I made a mistake because I overlooked something and I can look at things more carefully going forward. You can also observe your thoughts as if you are a third party and they are not about you and think of what you would say to this other person. Reframing your thoughts can help you accept the situation so you can let the thoughts go.
When you practice gratitude you look for the good and the way things went well, instead of focusing on the negative. The more you practice this the easier it becomes for your brain to search for the good. Thinking about what you are grateful for can help you feel better about things. Keep a gratitude journal and notice all of the things you are thankful for. If you get stuck in a negative thought loop, your thoughts will more naturally shift to the good things when you make gratitude a daily practice.
When you find yourself stuck in a negative thought loop, you can try the above tips. If you continue to struggle with negative thought loops that are impacting your emotional well-being, therapy can help. With practice, you can learn to stop your negative thought loops so they do not take over your life.